Interactive gadgets latest classroom innovations

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
Long gone are the days of students being called to the chalkboard during class.
Now they’re called to the high-tech interactive computer system.
Just ask 10-year-old Taeya Teasley, a fifth-grader at North Rowan Elementary School.
During a recent science lesson about machines, Taeya used an electronic pen to identify pictures of levers, gears, pulleys and other devices.
And she enjoyed it.
“You can do lots of stuff on it,” Taeya said of the Promethean computer program, an interactive classroom tool that projects images. “You can play games, just at the touch of the pen. It’s like normal life.”
For Taeya and her peers, “normal life” involves more and more electronics รณ computers, video games and fancy gadgets.
The school system is trying to catch up in its quest to capture kids’ attention.
“They’re very excited about technology in general,” said Larry Britt, a science and math teacher at North Rowan Elementary.
Promethean programs are now in every high school in the county, said Phil Hardin, executive director of technology for Rowan-Salisbury Schools.
Interactive teaching tools started popping up in career and technical education classes at local high schools about four years ago, Hardin said. Last year, a grant from Food Lion allowed the school system to put the program in every high school.
Some middle and elementary schools also have Promethean.
“Ideally, we would like them to be in all the classrooms … because it does really expand the educational environment,” Hardin said.
Lisa Sigmon, principal at Bostian Elementary in China Grove, loves what the new program has done at her school. More students are engaged, she said, and teachers can gauge how much their students are learning.
During a math lesson in Joan Godwin’s class, third-graders clicked pictures of food items and put them together to create virtual meals. Then, when the lesson moved to probability questions, students each got an egg-shaped device that let them electronically cast their answers to questions.
What was the probability that a certain number would be even?
Students pushed a letter on the Activote device that they thought corresponded to the right answer. Immediately, the system told Godwin that 14 of her 18 students got it right.
“You did great,” Godwin told her class.
Instant assessment can be a big plus. Teachers can quickly adjust their lessons for students’ needs, Hardin said. If a lot of students get an answer wrong, a teacher can realize the need to re-teach it. If only a few students get it wrong, a teacher can move on with the lesson and later work individually with those kids, he said.
At first, creating lessons through Promethean means more time teachers have to devote to planning, Britt said. But now that he’s created the lesson about machines, he can reuse it.
Updating the lesson in years to come might mean bookmarking different Web sites to show his students.
Britt and his fifth-graders agree the computer program beats textbooks any day. Britt can use visuals to teach students who have trouble reading.
“This brings it to life so when they do see it in text, they can relate to it,” he said.
His students, like 10-year-old Christian Allmon, enjoy getting out of their seats instead of always reading from books or listening to lectures.
“It keeps you from sitting at your desk all day doing nothing,” Allmon said. “Plus it adds some fun into it.”
But bringing Promethean to every classroom won’t be cheap. A board where the images appear costs about $1,100, Hardin said. The projector costs an additional $700 to $800, he said.
For a school like Bostian Elementary, which has more than a dozen homerooms, the cost quickly adds up. Sigmon was able to get the program into almost every classroom at her school through PTA fundraising efforts.
Sigmon said the results make the cost worth it, though. “It’s just the way for the kids to learn,” she said.
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-4683 or snagem@salisburypost.com.

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