Archive for Thursday, November 15, 2007

District invests to stay current in technology

November 15, 2007

Technological advances have so improved how we do things that it's hard to imagine buying airline tickets without the Internet or living our on-the-go lives without cell phones and iPods.

With the passing of the school bond Nov. 6, the Eudora School District now can ensure that learning will be yet another area that technology will further saturate.

Don Grosdider, Eudora USD 491 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that there is a nationwide movement to integrate technology into the classroom.

"There's a large demand for differentiated instruction in classrooms because of the varied needs of kids and the expectations, that you're meeting all their needs," Grosdider said. "It's very difficult to design lessons to meet the needs of each student. But the more technology that you can infuse into the classroom, you create a more flexible environment in the classroom that helps meet those needs."

Such is the impetus for the addition of interactive white boards, voice amplification systems and more laptop computers throughout Eudora schools.

As Eudora school board members began to talk about the bond, they decided that technology would be integral to improving what already is an exemplary school district. They focused on the new elementary school because it would be built first.

The board then sent a group of elementary teachers to attend the Technology and Learning Conference in Dallas. One of the items that the teachers especially liked was interactive white boards.

Not your father's

white board

The chalk board, with all of its sneeze-inducing dust and propensity to wreak havoc on dark clothes, appears to be something out of the Stone Age when compared to a dry-erase white board. However, the traditional white board appears especially obsolete when in comparison to Promethean Activboards.

Prometheans project images from a computer onto a white board, creating an interactive experience that allows students to manipulate words, and pictures that appear on the board. The district currently is piloting one of the systems in the classroom of West Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Niki Rheuport.

"It's unbelievable how it has completely changed the way I teach," Rheuport said. "It's just so interactive. The kids are going home and playing video games and using computers so this is something that they just know."

The systems come with a vast amount of software that allow teachers to use the white board as a computer desktop, employing different backgrounds and displaying information in a manner that keeps students engaged throughout each lesson.

Though Rheuport's white board does not, some systems also come with handheld devices for students that have the potential to make them feel as though they are contestants on a game show, even though they may be doing something routine such as learning multiplication tables.

The ability to make learning more interactive is what Rheuport sees as one of the strengths of the system, especially for students who are having trouble with some concepts.

"Those kids that are struggling are the ones who need the more interactive, hands-on type of thing," she said. "This makes it a lot more fun for them."

Rheuport said that the Promethean system even has made her lesson planning more enjoyable, as there are different kinds of software for all of the core subjects.

"It's a lot of work, but it's fun," she said. "It's neat to be so creative; it's endless what you can come up with."

Basic training

Whereas some new technologies end up replacing people, teachers still will be needed to use Prometheans.

"Technology is never going to replace the classroom teacher," Grosdidier said. "Teachers will always be there."

Grosdidier said the that training teachers received would be an important part of the process.

"You can't just purchase these programs and put them in the classroom," he said. "You've got to have the professional development pieces in place so that teachers know how to use those technologies from an instructional standpoint. That's a huge part of the white boards."

Grosdidier's plan is to provide some basic training for teachers and then a technological mentor -- someone who not only knows how to use the equipment, but also knows how to integrate it into instruction -- will be placed in each building.

Rheuport said that such a scenario would only improve what already was an invaluable gadget.

Going wireless

Another piece of technology the school district will be purchasing is a voice amplification system for teachers. Grosdidier said that kids don't always hear teachers, for one reason or another, but research shows that kids pay closer attention to a teacher's voice when it was amplified.

Rheuport used one of the amplification systems when they were piloted last year, and she said that it made a marked difference when she spoke. More notably, though, was the difference it made when she let the students use it.

"The students could come up to the front of the class and use it, and that was great because some of them don't always speak loud enough," she said.

The final type of technology that the school district would like is laptops. Eudora schools this year purchased Macintosh laptops for all teachers, who will continue to submit attendance and grades via the Internet application called PowerSchool. However, the intent is to get to a point where students in two or three classrooms share a total of 25 computers.

As much as they would like to get to a one-to-one ratio of computers-to-students, that is now would be cost prohibitive, Grosdidier said. The district also wants to work towards turning schools into wireless environments.

Grosdidier said the goal was to bring it all full circle by creating connectivity between laptops and the Promethean boards.

Solid infrastructure

a key component

As much as technology helps, it can also hinder. For instance, those who exclusively use cell phones don't know the phone numbers of the people they call because they don't have to. The school district does not want to fall into such a trap.

"We don't ever want a situation that they are so reliant upon the technology that if it ever goes down that they wouldn't know what to do," Grosdidier said.

In any case, he said that the amount of foresight used in planning for the new additions should make problems few and far between.

"I think that if we build a good, strong infrastructure -- that's what we've been working on over the last two years -- that can support the new technologies and the IT (information technology) department is manned at a level that can support the new technologies, we'll be alright," he said.

The technological systems will improve what state assessment scores indicate already is a great teaching staff, who instruct an intelligent group of students, Grosdidier said However, he said that money is not being spent simply because it's there.

"All of our decisions from an instructional standpoint, a technological standpoint, an assessment standpoint are made based on the curriculum," he said. "You shouldn't go out and purchase software applications and teach something just because you can. You need to make your curriculum decisions first, and that drives everything else."

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