Area schools work to utilize latest technologyPublished 10:07am Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Students can leave their binders and pencils at home in Selma and Dallas County because the technology offered in schools has classrooms in every system going paperless. Students in area schools — both public and private — have access to the latest technology and equipment to better their learning experience in competition with schools around the state.
Walking around Southside Primary School, an elementary school in Dallas County, each teacher can be observed teaching from a Promethean Board. These are boards that are almost like glorified projectors, but they are interactive white boards that allow students to learn by participation.
Teachers at Southside Primary use these for every subject and in every classroom. During math, teachers allow students to work problems on the board. During reading, students play fill in the blank games to choose nouns and verbs. Even science topics are covered on the board, using interactive curriculum that shows pictures and videos to explain topics like protons and neutrons, and how prisms work with light.
“We try to help our students learn with technology by having students using technology to gather, organize and analyze information and using this information to solve problems,” Jerolene Williams, director of the Dallas County Career Technical Center said. “In this way, the technology is used as a tool and teachers and students (not the technology) control the curriculum.”
Southside Primary’s tech coordinator, Mary Cofield, said in her 30-year experience at the school she has never seen students as engaged in learning as they are with the white boards, portable iPad labs and computers throughout the school.
“I love what we have here,” Cofield said. “The students are much more challenged. They are exposed to so many different things here in the technology world.”
Teachers across the board have found it easier to teach with the interactive white boards than with just the old school chalk and dry erase markers. Some even say they can never go back to that way of teaching.
“The biggest thing with using any new technology is you have to jump in and not be afraid to try it,” Karim Oaks, director of instruction at John T. Morgan Academy, a private, AISA school in Selma. “Teachers have to jump in and try and we have had some teachers embrace that and some have held back. The ones who have embraced it are just charging on ahead.”
Morgan, along with Selma City Schools and Dallas County Schools, use the interactive boards. Both Oaks and principal of Southside Primary, Melanie Wright, said when there is a glitch in the system, and the boards do not work, the teachers find it hard to go to the old school method of teaching.
Oaks said the students of today’s generation are fearless when picking up new technology, while adults are hesitant, scared they might mess up and break the new system.
“We are keeping the students more in tune with what we are teaching because — lets face it — with this generation technology is helping us keep their attention and keep their focus,” Oaks said. “When teachers can’t figure out something on the Promethean Board, the students are the ones telling us how to fix it.”
But, the local school systems and schools are able to boast Promethean and Smart Boards. Morgan Academy uses online classrooms and grading systems, so that parents are abreast of all assignments, due dates and their student’s progress. Morgan’s online classrooms on Edmodo.com have social networking features similar to Facebook so that students and parents can interact and chat with teachers about assignments at home.
Selma High School even offers students a chance to learn from college professors by using technology.
“They can be taught from either another high school from somewhere else in the state or even on the university level,” Earl Coleman, tech coordinator for Selma City Schools said. “We have some partnerships through an access program where some college professors teach the high school honors classes — either through the Internet or by video conferencing systems.”
Every school in the area is equipped with multiple computer labs, Selma High School has eight, Coleman explained. The school also has a computer check out system, where students can check out computers like they would a book in the library, so those students are not restricted in online assignments at home.
Dallas County Schools, such as Brantley Elementary School have encorporated equipment such as NEO2 — devices with full keyboards and small screens that allow teachers to receive immediate feedback on lessons.
“At Brantley Elementary, we are proud of the Renaissance Learning NEO2. This tool offers formative assessments and progress monitoring technology,” Brantley Elementary’s Hollie Lubinsky said. “It enhances core curriculum and supports differentiated instruction. Teachers are able to personalize activities in reading, writing, and math
The NEO2 provides teachers with tools to manage daily activities for students at every level.
“As a result, teachers are able to accelerate learning, acquire more satisfaction from teaching, and help students achieve higher test scores,” Lubinsky said. “The students at Brantley are finding the NEO2 very engaging and exciting to use.”
Though systems like Dallas County and Selma City Schools boast an array of technologically connected curriculum incorporated into every subject, Morgan Academy has a long history with technology and pursued involving it in curriculum before the state made it mandatory.
Oaks said one instructor at Morgan, Betty Carol Swindle, has been teaching computer classes since the early 1980s.
“In 1984 I started here with an Apple 2E computer and it had 62KB of memory,” Swindle said. “It’s tremendous as far as the power and speed of what we have today. When you turned them on before, you had a black screen with a flashing light you had to know what to type in nothing would happen.”
Swindle now has former students that work in the technology field — some even come out to service the school computers.
“One of my students was in the first wireless engineering programs at Auburn University and he is now in Florida doing really well,” Swindle said.
She explained when she first began teaching technology at Morgan, some students were resistant to the education. Now, she said, all her students are eager to learn more about computers.
Local school systems and schools have all changed their budgets and equipment to better compete with other schools in the state.
“I won’t say we have made a complete turn around, but we have really advanced from just your basic dial-up-type connectivity at the schools to high speed connectivity,” Coleman said, and explained that Selma City Schools spend about $300,000-$400,000 a year on technology thanks to state and grant funding. “Some other school systems have bigger budgets and can offer more things than we can, but I think we are pretty much in the same park as everybody else.”
Both Dallas County and the Selma City school systems — and the private schools in Dallas County — seem to be headed in the same direction as far as what is next for technology in the classroom.
All are in the discussion phase of how to become one-to-one schools, meaning for each student there is either one laptop, e-reader or iPad tablet for school books and assignments. However, the cost is extremely high for the online textbooks.
“It is important that our classrooms provide technology that can provide updated, challenging, stimulating learning opportunities for students” Terry Grissom, of the Dallas County district technology, team said. “Our hope is that our technology will equip our students with the knowledge, skills and abilities that essential to success in the 21st century.”