By Drew Frank

Davis Academy Lower School students shoot video against the green screen in the Idea Lab.

Davis Academy Lower School students shoot video against the green screen in the Idea Lab.

Twenty-first-century learning, technology integration, blended learning, virtual classrooms, distance learning and mobile classrooms have been buzzwords in education for the past decade. All of these terms and ideas recognize the growing role that technology and connectedness play in the present world that today’s students are growing in, as well as in the world of their future.

It is essential that schools harness the opportunities that technology can provide when such tools open doors to deeper learning, enable avenues for creativity and content creation, and connect students with the global network of learners and teachers. It is equally important that the technology not be the end goal of the learning but rather the tool that enhances and magnifies it.

This learning-focused integration is the basis for the entire educational approach at the Davis Academy, which aims to empower students to become active learners, problem solvers and contributors to a global knowledge base.

Rising fifth-graders Jack Anderson and Carson Wolf took home first place for their robotics project at the North Atlanta Jewish Technology Fair in January.

Rising fifth-graders Jack Anderson and Carson Wolf took home first place for their robotics project at the North Atlanta Jewish Technology Fair in January.

Convertible tablets and laptops, iPads, Hummingbirds, Lego EV3s, Lego NXTs and Spheros are but a few of the tools that Davis is investing in while working with teachers and students to enhance learning. Furthermore, the use of social media to connect our classrooms with primary source learning and our participation with a global audience have become integrated into the curriculum and culture of the school.

The Davis Academy, in Sandy Springs, is the largest Reform Jewish day school in the country.

Whether our kindergartners are engaged in mathematical problem-solving challenges with students in New Zealand, our third-graders are sharing in daily grammar learning with a class in Manitoba, our fifth-grade entrepreneurs are connecting with industry leaders as background research for creating their own business plans, or our eighth-graders are live-streaming a re-enactment of the 1775 Continental Congress with six classes across America and Britain, this approach creates heightened levels of engagement, enhances retention, and affords opportunities for future connections and exploration.

The result is to unleash imaginations and facilitate collaborative and self-directed learning regardless of what the current technological trends are. Students love it.

The annual eighth-grade re-enactment of the Second Continental Congress has taken on a modern twist with the addition of an interactive Skype session with students from around the country and Britain.

The annual eighth-grade re-enactment of the Second Continental Congress has taken on a modern twist with the addition of an interactive Skype session with students from around the country and Britain.

Last year, for example, Davis Academy 21st-century learning coordinator Stacy Brown started a monthly event called #MakerMonday in which Lower School students drop by the Idea Lab, where they can experiment, even beyond the opportunities they have in their classes, with programming and invention using tools such as Lego Robotics, Sphero Balls and laptops. #MakerMonday turned out to be hugely popular with the students even though their attendance is completely optional.

Although #MakerMonday is offered during recess, many students choose to participate because it allows them to pursue their creative passions while guiding their learning with the help of the latest educational technology.

Brown reports that students are so excited by all the possibilities of programming and invention. Some of them come up with complex robotic projects. The students have so much fun during #MakerMonday, which is reflected in their pride through exploration and discovery.
The Davis Academy also provides students with innovative learning spaces. The Lower and Middle School Idea Labs, for example, are equipped with “green screen” walls for video and broadcasting projects, as well as erasable surfaces for writing and brainstorming sessions.

Other environments, such as Davis’ new Nature Sanctuary, are not high tech at all. The Nature Sanctuary is a beautiful outdoor garden and amphitheater space that promotes a quieter imaginative process, spirituality and appreciation of the natural world.
As a learning community, Davis Academy teachers are continually immersed in their own continuing education. Professional development includes not only traditional curriculum topics, but also best practices from one another, as well as from other experts around the world. Teachers build personal learning networks through Twitter, RSS feeds and professional conferences. In the past year, 15 percent of Davis Academy faculty presented at local and national conferences focusing on topics such as storytelling, feedback, and visualizing and verbalizing.
Ultimately, the Davis Academy’s vision for the future is always guided by our goal for our students: to enable them to become confident individuals who have a strong sense of identity and community, are excited about learning and discovery, and aren’t afraid to think differently.

Drew Frank serves as the Davis Academy associate head of school and principal. He is one of the founders of #blogamonth and a member of the #PDPosse and last year was named one of the Atlanta Jewish Times’ 40 Under 40. He is a graduate of the Day School Leadership Training Institute and describes himself as a compulsive computationalist who loves cards and mathematical games.