COLUMBIA — Toward the end of Beth Newton's first-period science class recently, pairs of teens poured water into plastic bags filled with calcium chloride and baking soda.
As the air in the bag expanded, the mixture began to fizz. Students scooted their chairs away from the tables, and the room erupted with noisy chatter. Newton shouted over their voices, asking the class to compile three observations about the chemical change they had just seen.
Each team picked up an iPad and scrawled their responses on touch screens. It is just one example of how Newton uses new technology to transform the way her students learn.
She has taught eighth-grade science in the same room at Oakland Junior High School for the past 16 years, but the way she teaches is perpetually evolving.
Her room is filled with tools she uses in the classroom — iPads, laptops, a SMART Board, electronic probes, cameras. Sometimes she lets the students bring their own devices, and they will whip out smart phones to complete their assignments.
"The biggest part is trying to figure out how to use it every day because you can always do a project at the end where you have the kids make a movie, but how do you integrate it on a daily basis that makes it important for students?" she said.
When her students started their chemistry unit, she handed them each an iPad and a sheet of paper lined with QR codes. They used the codes to access links to videos and activities for the assignment. Another code hung on the wall for them to check their answers.
"The technology allows me to set up the classroom where students can be more self-directed and independent," she said.
Self-direction helps her build a student-centered classroom — fewer lectures, more conversations, extra time with students needing additional help and enrichment activities for those moving at a faster pace.
She’s known for a long time that she wanted a high-tech classroom, and she earned her master’s degree in educational technology in 2004. In 2006, she received a technology grant from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and has since explored different possibilities for engaging her students.
"I never saw my classroom without technology, so I’ve always tried to find ways to have it as a part of my daily routine," she said.
The technology-rich experience spills out of the classroom for her students. She'll give them a QR code to a video or a resource to watch at home, and they'll discuss it for a warm-up exercise the next day.
"It always changes," she said. "What I’m doing this year is really different than next year because there’s more available.
"So I think the important piece is realizing that it’s going to change, and no matter how great something is now, there might be something better."