Best in Tech 2012: Different Ways to Go Interactive
Seven experts explain what tools they chose to maximize their districts' interactivity.
Reviewer: Mark White, superintendent, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools (Ohio)
Products we use: Latitude e6420 laptops, OptiPlex 790 desktops, Cisco networks
How we use them: Upgrading infrastructure was a priority for us. A cadre of teachers led the way. We're blending traditional learning and curriculum with a modern approach, so there are some challenges.
Goals: We have a new type of high school, Lincoln High School. The unique design of the building was essential to promoting the teaching and learning we envisioned. We are working to break away from the nine-month school year.
Response: Parents appreciate the progressive approach. Teachers are enthusiastic but need support-they are being challenged to keep up with the latest tech trends and are pushing themselves to transform their curriculum. Students appreciate the technology and learning freedom.
Learning Curve: Our principal, Dwight Carter, did an exemplary job training teachers and pushing them to think in new ways. The staff is committed and shares the vision.
What's Ahead: Our new tech-equipped high school must find ways to move its philosophy to our traditional K-12 building. The district advocates a BYOD ("bring your own device") philosophy, and it must determine how many students will bring in their own devices and how many the district must purchase.
Reviewers: Mark Leary, assistant director of learning technology; Jessica Levene, learning technology specialist, Volusia County (Florida) School District
Products we use: eInstruction Mobi, Mobi View, CPS Pulse, Edmodo
How we use them: Students use Mobis and clickers to respond to questions and get instant feedback. Teachers use the data to provide enrichment or remediation, and they can control their computer from anywhere in the class with Mobi View. Teachers and specialists connect with Edmodo.
Goals: Our Edmodo goal was an asynchronous, collaborative environment online for teachers and students. With Mobi View and CPS Pulse, our goal was to provide interactive and engaging tools that allow students to send feedback during classroom lessons.
Response: With Edmodo, school-based and district-wide groups can share best practices, lessons, and strategies.
Learning Curve: Providing information and training is key to successful implementation of both Edmodo and Mobi View. Technology services created a district learning group for teachers. Each school has two volunteers, who served as school technology leaders.
What's Ahead: As our district explores BYOD initiatives and schools begin to integrate iPads, Edmodo serves as a central location for teachers and students to share information. eInstruction is working on ways to incorporate its software for BYOD use.
Reviewer: Russ Ewell, chairman, Hope Technology School (HTS), Palo Alto, California
Products we use: HP TouchSmart PC and Voice Notes
How we use them: Students can play music, video-chat, check the weather, or watch TV. Children with autism use the device to practice speaking. Students send video e-mail using the webcam and create videos for class projects. A favorite activity is Jeopardy, with the answers derived from coursework.
Goals: We needed an affordable solution that helps students with disabilities learn and interact more easily.
Response: TouchSmart technology has accelerated learning and helped to bring HTS students with special needs out of social isolation. The TouchSmart PC has been easy to integrate. The device costs roughly one-fifth the price of traditional assistive technology tools developed with proprietary hardware and software.
Learning Curve: Teachers and students have found it extremely easy to use. The TouchSmart is an all-in-one touch-enabled PC-making it unique. Users simply touch, tap, or sweep a finger across the screen to access information, the Internet, or social media. No keyboard or mouse is necessary.
What's Ahead: HTS is developing software to help those with special needs match icons and speech to communicate. It has opened a pilot technology lab to make devices available to the community at large.
Reviewer: Audra Cervi, K-3 reading resource specialist, Audubon Park Elementary, Orange County (Florida)
Product we use: Letters alive
How we use it: We use Letters alive as an intervention for our kindergarten students-as well as for our regular education, ESOL, and ESE students-to teach letters, sounds, color words, and sight words. Blended and segmented sounds can be taught with the root words application.
Goals: We want to introduce and teach our lowest kindergarten students the letters and sounds and introduce sight words. We also use Letters alive to teach vocabulary words to our ESOL students.
Response: The program keeps administrators, teachers, and regular education students fascinated, as it engages and teaches even the most remedial and struggling students.
All of our teachers are very supportive of the program and can't wait to try it out in their classrooms.
Learning Curve: Letters alive can be used immediately with minimal instruction. It comes with video tutorials that make it easy to get started and give instruction in placing the 3D cards. The computers need to have enough memory to run the augmented reality cards and animals.
What's Ahead: We are putting Letters alive on a media cart so it can travel throughout our school. This way we can share the program with all of our kindergarten classes, our ESE students, and our students with autism. It's a perfect supplement to our core reading curriculum.
Reviewer: Melodie Brewer, fifth- and sixth-grade gifted teacher, Canyon Ridge School, Dysart Unified School District (Arizona)
Product we use: AVer H300 Video Conferencing System
How we use it: Recently, students video-conferenced with a museum. We found the images to be very clear and crisp, and the audio is terrific-no delays or skipping! I love that the webcam is remote-controlled, allowing me to focus on the students who are speaking.
Goals: Global communication and collaboration have become necessary skills students need to develop as 21st-century citizens. Videoconferencing is an important tool that can be used to help promote these skills in my students.
Response: It works well for our students. Other videoconferencing solutions were designed for professional use and I couldn't trust using them in my classroom-there were popups and spam, and students couldn't work independently.
Learning Curve: Setup took about 45 minutes, and it was easily installed by my IT department. After playing with the system for a few minutes, I found it very easy for a beginner to use-even though I'm sure there are probably many features I don't even know about yet. I look forward to learning more about them.
What's Ahead: I have recently written a grant that will allow my class to participate in 10 to 12 videoconferencing opportunities for collaborating with both experts and peers around the globe.
Reviewers: Susan Dupre, district technology facilitator; Constance Wallace, English teacher, Morgan City High School, St. Mary Parish (Louisiana)
Products we use: Promethean ActivBoards and ActivInspire, Microsoft PowerPoint, HP netbooks
How We Use them: We started by looking into Inanimate Alice, an online, transmedia digital novel. Promethean and the Inanimate Alice site have flip charts and other resources for whole-group ActivBoard activities.
Goals: We wanted to give teachers new ways to reach students. The first step was to upgrade the 27-inch monitors with Promethean ActivBoards.
Response: Amazing. We successfully introduced Inanimate Alice to a small group of English teachers, and we're encouraging others to use it. Students love it; they were 100 percent engaged from the start. By blending interactivity with challenging content, we have been able to meet all state and Common Core standards in literacy.
Learning Curve: Each cohort received three training sessions with a Promethean consultant, which successfully scaffolded their learning.
What's Ahead: We want to do research to see if there is a measurable increase in mastery of the basic concepts by students who use Inanimate Alice and the ActivBoard together. We would also like to survey student reactions to classroom technology.
Reviewer: Byron L. Ernest, department head, agriculture science, Lebanon High School, Lebanon Community School Corporation (Indiana)
Products we use: SMART Board 685 ix/600, the UF65 projector, Response systems, and Notebook software
How we use them: Our agriculture science classroom has SMART Board technology. In advanced life science, students are asked to present using Notebook and SMART Boards on group wikis. Response systems gauge student knowledge.
Goals: We're designing a learning environment that integrates all the SMART technology: whiteboards, mobile tech, laptops, and applications.
Response: Everyone is on board with our strategic tech plan. Students have presented to our school board, parents, and the community. They love coming to class and immersing themselves in the educational process through collaborative learning and the use of technology.
Learning Curve: First-round teachers help with training and share lessons. The SWELL (SMART Worldwide Effective Learning Lab) classroom allows for designing each lesson to meet the needs of individual students. We also include specially developed administrator training.
What's Ahead: Our school is under-going a renovation to equip all classrooms as SWELL classrooms. We'll also have a 24/7, one-to-one computing environment for students in grades 6-12.