Friday, February 08, 2013

NYC Private School Embraces Technology

Chris Whittle’s new, upscale Avenues school has really embraced technology:

Before enrolling at Avenues: The World School, a new for-profit academy in Chelsea, sixth-grader Isabelle Levent had little interest in technology. She wrote her short stories by hand or tapped them out on an Olivetti typewriter she got for her ninth birthday. When her mother bought a flat-screen television, she called it a waste of money.

Now, Isabelle submits homework online, films classes on her iPad to show her mother and no longer struggles under the weight of a book-laden backpack as she commutes from the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn. Almost all her textbooks are digital.

"I thought it was actually pretty cool because usually you don't use technology in class," said Isabelle, an 11-year-old who attended Public School 104 last year. To avoid distraction, she added, "when I get home and start doing my homework, I try to start without my laptop."
Educators have experimented with technology for decades, starting with dusty computer carts shoved into corners in the 1970s, but perhaps no school in the nation has integrated digital tools into the classroom on the scale of Avenues, which opened in September.

Almost every aspect of Avenues involves cutting-edge technology, from audio-sensitive cameras on the walls intended to connect classrooms around the world to the replacement of most physical textbooks with multimedia versions accessible only on iPads (and frequently created by teachers).

All students at the nursery school to 12th grade school have access to iPads, but starting in fifth grade, all are equipped with an iPad and a MacBook Air—an approach that some experts called unprecedented and, perhaps, redundant.

There are 6,000 physical books at Avenues, but an additional 70,000 books, magazines and databases are available digitally, with plans to expand both collections. "Yes, there are students who love that physical book," said Alia Methven, director of library services. "but that instant access of the virtual books is very appealing."

The school has a technology and library staff of 10—some have teaching backgrounds and are tasked with helping teachers use digital tools.

Fusing technology into the classroom "was so baked into our DNA early on, it almost didn't rise to the level of decision," said Avenues CEO Chris Whittle. "If you're going to be a modern school, you're going to be advanced in this regard."

 Subscribe in a reader