Teacher light years ahead in teaching through technology
Being called a nerd is an honor in Trailside teacher Sam Thompson’s fourth-grade classes. Thompson, a self-admitted techno-geek, uses inexpensive electronic games as teaching aids in his classroom, games that he has adapted to help kids learn core subjects. It might almost seem unfair to students of former eras, to hear learning these days can be downright fun.
Thompson recently won the 2007 Utah Coalition for Educational Technology’s technology teacher-of-the-year award.
"When I won the award I was a little embarrassed, but I was excited too," admitted Thompson. "It’s nice to be recognized for what you are doing in the classroom."
Thompson was nominated by Trailside principal Martha Crook.
"Sam has taken it to the nth degree. He’s our resident geek," Crook said. "I am seeing how engaged his kids are and how excited they are." Crook, a former school technical director, knows the importance of technology.
"Kids look at technology as a way to communicate, with instant messaging and My Space, and they are doing it all at the same time," Crook said.
Thompson had praise for Crook, too. "She’s extremely supportive, he said. "She sees the importance of technology for the future."
Thompson believes the key to the future of education is learning how to find information instead of the old-school method of simply memorizing facts, although, he admits that some memorization is necessary for a good foundation in subjects like math.
"Kids expect instant knowledge. In my day, if you wanted to find out about Babe Ruth, you had to go to the library," Thompson said.
Thompson uses electronic teaching aids so kids will not only have fun learning, but will also become comfortable using technology which will undoubtedly be integral to their futures.
"Technology is dictating so much of our lives," Thompson said. "It’s getting to where not having a computer or cell phone is an oddity."
Thompson has shown himself to be an innovator, adapting a mental acuity trainer for the elderly to sharpen the speed and skills of his students. "Brain Age, software made by Nintendo, quizzes users on skills such as reading fluency, math facts and patterning. Speed of answering adds to the fun, and students seem to be enjoying the experience testing their skills, as much as if they were playing a "Star Wars" video game.
"The kids need to know these things, and what better way than through a video game," Thompson asked.
Thompson saw a friend playing "Brain Age," and immediately saw an application for his classroom. Thompson wrote a grant, and soon after the Park City Education Foundation responded, providing the funds to purchase units. But there was a delay, as the Nintendo units that power "Brain Age" were so popular with gamers, they were on back order during the holidays.
Thompson likes to talk tech with teachers like Patty Shirey, a computer teacher who he "bounces ideas" with. He also keeps up with the latest technology by attending USET seminars and it helps he works part-time for a computer company.
Thompson’s dream is to someday have a laptop on every student’s desk, with an Internet connection, but in the meantime, he is appreciative of what he has, and said he feels lucky to "be in a district that is so supportive." Besides, he enjoys the challenge of finding new ways to use the technology he already has.
Thompson said he loves teaching, and sees himself as a kid who has fun with technology. Being a geek on Thompson’s math group "The Geek Squad," may not be such a bad thing.
Thompson paraphrased Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, saying, "Be nice to geeks, because someday you might have to work for one."
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