Technology Articles

Two Students Awarded San Francisco Trip Through CO:de Catalyst Program

Two USJ students were chosen to travel to San Francisco this summer through the CO:de Catalyst program. Upper School students Larissa Rose and Evan Patterson won the trip from the Co. They follow in the footsteps of Chinaza Nwokolo, who went on the trip last year as the first USJ student to ever win the opportunity.

Larissa and Evan spent the fall semester learning Treehouse, a web platform that teaches students how to build a website, learn to code, build an application, or start a business.

The two students came at the course with different opinions of coding.

“I was not able to fit anatomy and physiology in my schedule,” says Larissa. “In place of that, I was offered computer coding, which I grudgingly accepted. Although I wanted to opt out of the class, my parents advised me not to and so I decided to take the class. It only took me about a week or so to develop an interest in the class.”

Evan was more excited at the start. “I've been working with computers ever since I was a little kid, so it was pretty obvious that I had to further my knowledge with it by learning to code.”

Once she grew comfortable with coding, Larissa enjoyed creating a website most of all. “It was nice being able to make it look however you wanted it to, rather than following a website template. Also, looking back at all the written code for the website made it feel like quite an accomplishment!”

Students go through Treehouse at their own pace, earning badges and working on projects to earn a certain number of points. Curriculum focuses on HTML and CSS coding and also incorporates PHP and Java.

Both students are excited to visit Google and see the Golden Gate Bridge on their trip.

“When I realized I had won, I was absolutely blown away,” says Evan. “It's one of my first huge achievements, and I am very proud of it.”

USJ participates in international Hour of Code

USJ joined the international mission to introduce 100 million students to computer science during the movement known as the Hour of Code.

Lower School Technology Teacher Heidi McDaniel and Computer Programming and Robotics Teacher Jan Wilms led USJ’s participation in the initiative. Wilms’ AP Computer Class students kicked off USJ’s first hour-long session on December 8 when they introduced first-grade students to computer programming in the Lower School Computer Lab.

The first graders learned how to use blocks of code to find their way through obstacles. The purpose was to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics, McDaniel said.

“Computers are everywhere, but fewer schools teach computer science than 10 years ago,” McDaniel said. “Girls and minorities are severely underrepresented. The good news is we’re on our way to change this.”

USJ held multiple Hour of Code sessions between December 8 and 14, joining schools in more than 180 countries that held 57,000 similar events throughout the week. By the end of the week, about 350 Lower School students were introduced to computer code.

In one week in 2013, 15 million students tried computer science. The movement grew to almost 100 million students in 2014.

“The Hour of Code is a statement that today’s students are ready to learn critical skills for 21st century success,” McDaniel said. “That’s why USJ students joined the largest learning event in history.”

Lower, Middle students take ERB tests online

Through the efforts of guidance counselors Laura Moore and Debbie Anton, Lower and Middle School students turned to technology to complete standardized ERB tests this year.

Middle School students used laptops to key in answers, while students in fourth and fifth grades used iPads. The experience was more cost-effective and time-efficient, and USJ’s IT staff was around to handle any glitches, Anton said. “It seemed to me like it was a fairly easy transition. We were very pleased.”
A testing program managed the time while displaying one question on the screen, which helped prevent students from accidentally skipping a line. “The kids just took to it pretty easily,” Anton said.

By abandoning the penciling-in-ovals format of old, the results from the tests were immediate and more accurate. “It was great,” Moore said. “I was able to get the reports back to teachers the next day.”

Results from the old format could take as long as a month to come back. With faster results, teachers can make faster changes in their classrooms to adjust their planning and curriculum as needed to help students succeed.

Anton said the new process was embraced by faculty and students, and the ERB plans to phase out all paper and pencil testing in the coming years.

“It just makes the whole experience more user-friendly and useful,” Anton said.

Middle School teachers, students embrace technology

When USJ purchased laptops for students in sixth through 12th grade last year, Middle School teachers embraced the opportunity to integrate them into the classroom.

Students use them in many ways in all of their classes for typing, vocabulary, test taking, presentations, videos, extra practice, and study materials.

“They are learning to communicate with each other through technology in order to create and share products, which adults use in everyday working life,” said Sixth Grade English and Literature Teacher Laura Stack. “The laptops are preparing our students for that future.”

Seventh Grade English Teacher Dana Simmons said her students use them almost every day. She uses Google Forms, and students open their laptops and visit her teacher website to submit responses for each day’s lesson. “They love them,” she said.

The 1:1 laptop program was implemented by USJ to incorporate more technology and enhance learning. Each student in Middle and Upper School is given a MacBook Air as part of their tuition.

The school installed multiple Wi-Fi access points after the start of the school year to cope with the new demand. Simmons said the experience with laptops has gone well since then.

“I think it takes a little bit of time to transition, but the laptops make things easier,” Simmons said.

Ruth Ann Morrison, who teaches eighth-grade English, said the laptops have been a wonderful addition to her curriculum. She uses them for online vocabulary and writing programs in class.

“Perhaps the best use of the laptop is for writing research papers and essays,” Morrison said. “By having the laptops in class, I am able to critique the students’ writings by standing over their shoulders. Now when my students turn in papers to me, I do not have to worry about the MLA format because we set it up in class together.”

By embracing the 1:1 laptop program and further integrating computers into the curriculum, Middle School teachers are preparing students for the work they’ll face in Upper School and college.

Middle School Director Courtney Burnette said teachers have done a great job with the new technology. “I could not be more pleased with them and their enthusiasm for integrating technology into their daily teaching strategies.”

Lower School easily adapts to using iPads in class

Lower School teachers in each class have jumped at the opportunity to enhance the learning experience for their students with iPads.

After a $50,000 donation from the Parents Club before school started this year, USJ was able to purchase 120 new iPads — enough to put a few in each classroom. Students use the tablets for research, science, math, and social studies. Older Lower School students also incorporate them in the Reading Buddies program with younger students.

“I love it,” said Lower School Director Debbie Ford. “Teachers across the board have embraced these opportunities.”

It has not been difficult for students to learn how to use them, said Fourth Grade Teacher Patsy Hollman. “They pick them up very easily.”

Classrooms in the fourth grade are now equipped with six iPads and two computers. Students share the tablets or work in groups during lessons, but they also borrow them from other classes for tests.

“A good portion of our testing this year has been on iPads,” Hollman said.

Taking tests with iPads allows for immediate results and feedback, which helps the students learn.

They are also useful for research. For example, during a discussion about the solar system, students visited NASA’s website to enhance the lesson. “They could get specific, real-time information about what’s going on around the world,” Hollman said. “It does make education for them so much more relevant.”

Another time, during a lesson about civil rights, Hollman’s class discussed the first African-American Major League Baseball players and the role they played in the movement. Then they took a virtual field trip to Cooperstown, New York, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The iPads allow the students to visit places they wouldn’t have access to otherwise, but they also provide a valuable lesson about sources. Students are learning to determine which websites are reliable.

Learning about technology and the resources of the Internet at a young age is an important lesson that they’ll use as they advance through USJ and graduate.

“It’s essential,” Hollman said. “You can’t function in society or be trained for a job without it. The fact that they’re actually learning this in the fourth grade prepares them for what’s expected of them in middle school, high school, and beyond.”

Online assesment helps juniors learn about themselves

The College Advising Office partnered with YouScience to offer an online assessment profile for the Class of 2016. The tool provides insights about students’ professional strengths, and it helps them determine which major and career path they could pursue in college.

“This profile gives us great insight into the questions that often give USJ students the most anxiety when considering college,” said Director of College Advising Carol Ryan. “YouScience measures students’ aptitudes and interests and then matches them to majors and careers that fit them best.”

Students took the 2.5-hour assessment during the week of January 12. The profile took them through 14 key aptitudes utilized in the professional world and offered suggestions about the environments where they could succeed. It covered possible careers that matched their skills and interests, as well as majors that lead to those careers.

In addition, YouScience offered students a list of adjectives and suggestions on how to describe their strengths and how they work best. “It’s a great list to have as they write college essays and provides information they’ll want to access later as they prepare for job interviews,” Ryan said.

After developing their profile, students met with USJ’s college advisors to analyze the results.

Although many prestigious independent schools use YouScience profiles, USJ is the first in West Tennessee to adopt the program.

“We were impressed with the quality of the feedback that this profile provides,” Ryan said. “It gets rave reviews from students, teachers, and college advisors.”