Best in Tech: Piloting New Technology
This issue we celebrate the districts that are incorporating new technology, and the educators who are leading the charge.
Getting pilot programs off the ground requires enlisting a district's most energetic and adventurous leaders. Our experts share their experiences with new technologies and practices.
Reviewer: Ruthie Bass, coordinator for business management/education, North Shore Senior High School, Galena Park ISD, Houston, TX
Products We Use: Realityworks Business Education Simulations
How We Use Them: The simulations are used in the business management and entrepreneurship courses as an enhancement to lectures about owning and operating a business.
Goals: We wanted to address the needs of students to become competent consumers, employees, and entrepreneurs and make appropriate business decisions. Several simulations were reviewed, and Realityworks included more true-to-life activities. The school district was able to use Perkins funds.
Response: It gives students the opportunity to make decisions and see the outcomes of success or failure immediately. Students enjoy making decisions about what to do when they are losing money, sales are down, or production is too high/low. They also enjoy competing in teams.
Learning Curve: The simulations, along with the teacher and student guides, are really user-friendly. Downloading the program from the Internet is quick and easy. Since the program is self-explanatory from beginning to end, no additional training or professional development is necessary.
What's Ahead: We will get feedback from students on their experiences, and make any adjustments. We hope to increase students' interest in business through a game-like interface.
Reviewer: Steve Atwater, superintendent, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Kenai Peninsula, AK
Products We Use: Discovery Education digital content, curriculum alignment, and professional development resources
How We Use Them: The short segments of information are ideal supplements to-and at times, primary resources for-instruction. We've been using Discovery Education to stream health and science content to the entire district, so adding professional development and curriculum alignment services dovetailed beautifully with our digital plans. The move to access content digitally shifts much of the in-class focus to higher-order learning. And the number of users is increasing.
Goals: KPBSD is a sprawling semi-rural school district. We can't afford content specialists at all schools, but we do have a robust Internet, so Discovery Ed is a great fit.
Response: Favorable—parents and students love the at—home feature. Great investment.
Learning Curve: We established a cohort of teachers, and with Discovery Ed's help, intensively trained them in its use. This approach allowed us to build an internal capacity that will move our PD model to an in-building approach, which cuts down on the need for substitutes to cover classes.
What's Ahead: Continue to build capacity, so that its use is a seamless, more interactive, attractive delivery of instruction.
Reviewer: Christopher Craft, tech educator, Lexington and Richland Counties District 5, Columbia, SC
Products We Use: InFocus IN3916 interactive projectors
How We Use Them: We use Google Earth for virtual field trips. During presentations, we can annotate to amplify thoughts or ideas. For group activities, students work with the projector and board using a wand. It's easy for them; it's like writing with a large marker. While the interactivity of the IN3916 is a wonderful feature, the variety of inputs—HDMI, two VGA—and ability to narrate over a video or audio presentation through a microphone make this a versatile classroom tool.
Goals: We have a fair amount of technology, but teachers felt tethered to the board, spending too much time in front of the class. Interactive projectors allow the students to help guide learning.
Response: The projector adds a new layer of interactivity, and frees us from front-of-the-room lecturing. Kids love it because they are able to focus on the content. They ask me to move out of the way.
Learning Curve: The interactive portion of the projector does not require any professional development since it works right out of the box. There aren't any difficult drivers to install. Press a button and the wand becomes an annotation tool in Microsoft PowerPoint.
What's Ahead: The projector has many advanced features that we will work to employ.
Reviewer: Mary Griffin, instructional technology facilitator, Comal ISD, New Braunfels, TX
Products We Use: Mobi View whiteboards
How We Use Them: At the elementary schools, they are used daily. All of my teachers have either eInstruction CPS Chalkboards, Interwrite tablets, or Mobi Views in their classroom, with Workspace software. At the middle school, the math department is piloting and evaluating interactive solutions. Everyone wants a Mobi View.
Goals: We needed a portable tablet that would allow a teacher to control his/her computer from anywhere in the classroom, annotate over the desktop, and even make class notes. We were looking for a device that was whiteboard-like, but within our budget.
Response: Students like writing on the tablet even more than going up and writing on the whiteboard. Our special needs kids use them easily. Teachers like walking around the classroom with the Mobi, while maintaining instructional focus.
Learning Curve: The basics can be shown during a 45-minute workshop. Most teachers are able to use a Mobi the very day I take one into their classroom! It does take teachers a bit longer to adapt it to their own curriculum and teaching style. But there's an online chat feature on the company's troubleshooting page, and the technicians are very helpful.
What's Ahead: I can't wait to see and/or beta-test more new technology devices from eInstruction.
Reviewer: John DiDonato, assistant superintendent for youth development, Bridgeport Public Schools, Bridgeport, CT
Products We Use: FrontRow Pro amplification system
How We Use Them: The teacher's voice is amplified through speakers that are placed around his or her classroom. Our instructors wear the microphones like a necklace, leaving their hands free. As a result, there are no more "dead zones" in the classroom. In addition, FrontRow Pro ties together the teacher's whiteboard and computer for interactive lessons and activities to enhance student engagement and learning.
Goals: We needed an amplification system to provide for hearing needs of students in a non-intrusive, inclusive manner.
Response: Teachers are discovering that the FrontRow Pro system clarifies and evenly distributes their voice around the classroom. They have noticed a positive effect on behavioral issues, not just in students with hearing issues. It's also helpful with English language learners. In short, the technology is well received by teachers, and generally perceived to be good for the students.
Learning Curve: Fortunately, minimal training was needed.
What's Ahead: Although our district doesn't have a huge budget, we are seeking grants to increase our FrontRow Pro capacity. We also plan to study our data to determine the positive pilot outcomes.
Reviewer: Barbara J. Marin, assistant superintendent for elementary education, Hempfield Area School District, Greensburg, PA
Products We Use: MimioClassroom
How We Use Them: Teachers use the products every day, along with ceiling-mounted projectors. Teacher and student pages are posted on the company's website, Think Central, along with teacher-training videos and instructional software. We are in the very early stages of implementation.
Goals: We wanted to affordably maintain consistency of equipment in all of the schools, and were looking for something that was very portable and could easily be moved from room to room.
Response: Teachers and students are very excited about using it. They want more technology.
Learning Curve: We scheduled a district-wide training for staff. Teachers rotated through stations to learn some fundamentals about using the equipment. Then we scheduled two additional hands-on trainings for teams of teachers in each school.
What's Ahead: We will be involved in a language arts adoption for the 2011-12 school year, and would like to acquire additional MimioClassroom suites for the other elementary schools. Eventually we would like to outfit every classroom with an entire MimioClassroom line, but realize this will have to be phased in. We have come to the conclusion that we need to hire a technology coach. Since these products are less expensive, we can outfit more MimioClassrooms for our money.
Reviewer: Mimi Gamel, graduation coach/special education preK-12, Crabapple Middle School, Fulton County School System, Roswell, GA
Product We Use: My Graduation Plan
How We Use It: When the Georgia DOE created a statewide Graduation Coach program to identify and provide early intervention services to at-risk students, we implemented My Graduation Plan. It provides students the ability to work alongside their teachers to design an individualized plan for graduation. Students watch motivating videos, take interest and ability surveys, and learn more about certain careers.
Goals: We wanted to increase graduation rates, while reducing dropout rates, as well as comply with Georgia's BRIDGE Act. We needed to empower students to work alongside their teachers to design a graduation IEP.
Response: This program provides staff with information and tools to support work designed to improve the graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate. Students learn to become accountable and try for
good grades, as well as work toward a college degree. It is a life-changing program.
Learning Curve: At-risk students can learn how to actively engage steps for improvement by setting and organizing their personal and career goals.
What's Ahead: Hold weekly plan meetings. Graduation coaches will be essential to improving the graduation rate and decreasing the dropout rate within our county schools.
Reviewer: Kim Bearden, executive director and language arts teacher, Ron Clark Academy, Atlanta, GA
Products We Use: Security Alert for Education (safe) System
How We Use Them: We installed safe and an audio system into every classroom. Every teacher wears a discreet microphone with a function button on it. When that button is pushed, a silent signal is sent to the monitoring station in the administration office alerting the staff of an emergency. Additionally, the network camera can be used throughout the school day to record teacher lessons and student performances, and even for teacher evaluations.
Goals: We wanted to keep our students and teachers safe, and provide our staff with assistance in getting an appropriate response to any emergency.
Response: We've had a great response from the entire community. Parents feel safer knowing the school has a classroom security system in place to help with medical and custody-related emergencies, or instances of violence. And teachers like that the response time to any emergency situation is faster and appropriate to the situation.
Learning Curve: Once the audio system is in place, it takes only a few minutes for teachers to be trained. The safe system is "plug and play."
What's Ahead: There will be new software called ViewPath, powered by safari Montage, that will allow emergency situations to be recorded and saved onto a safari server.
Reviewer: Trevor Honohan, principal, Audubon Park Elementary School, Orange County Public Schools, Orlando, FL
Products We Use: Promethean ActivBoard 500 Pro whiteboard, ActivInspire software
How We Use Them: The third-grade students using the board became experts and smoothly navigated through flip-chart pages. We use the pen and touch technology as well as Windows 7. Students can touch the board with their fingers, which is quite intuitive, or use the traditional pen option. Promethean's ActivInspire software gives teachers easy access to resources such as math tools, sounds, templates, and gesture touch applications. They can drag out the ruler tool with a finger, hold it in place, and then use the pen tool to draw a line.
Goals: We wanted to challenge and engage students with a variety of interactive tools.
Response: The pen and touch capability of the ActivBoard 500 offers the best of both worlds and provides a more intuitive and fluid way of working. Students took control of the board and partnered with teachers. Promethean has changed the culture of learning and teaching in the elementary school setting.
Learning Curve: For today's tech-savvy students it is minimal. The technology is smooth, natural for kids and teachers, and easy to maneuver.
What's Ahead: The students will continue to evolve with this technology and discover new ways to use it.
Reviewer: Vera Da Vinci, AP/IB program manager, School District of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
Products We Use: Shmoop SAT and AP exam prep programs.
How We Use Them: We're pairing the online test prep from Shmoop with instructor-led AP and SAT exam prep classes. To measure usage across the district, Shmoop sends us the number of teachers and students who have registered on a monthly basis.
Goals: We were looking for an engaging and affordable product to pilot an online test prep for SAT and AP exams at school or home. We needed something to provide onsite training for teachers and counselors in our district.
Response: The feedback has been extremely positive. Both teachers and students find the resources helpful and enjoyable to use.
Learning Curve: Once they log in to Shmoop, students and teachers have reported they find the products very easy to use. Each SAT and AP exam prep course includes deep content reviews, hundreds of drill questions, and full-length interactive practice exams.
What's Ahead: We're raising awareness of this free resource throughout the district, with flyers in our parent resource centers and district headquarters, as well as encouraging more teachers to use the online test prep with their students. After our success with Shmoop, we're looking forward to expanding our pilot to include PSAT and ACT exam prep.