Arundel classrooms increasingly high-tech

Survey says county is above average

May 13, 2007|By Nina Sears | Nina Sears,Sun Reporter

First-grade students fidget in a Millersville Elementary School classroom decorated with handmade ladybugs, butterflies and suns as teacher Christine Butters leads a read-along.

"Spring is pots and pans, pans and pots," they say together. "Spring is wet, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip, drip."

The traditional lesson about weather takes a turn for the high-tech when Butters heads over to the whiteboard.

On the interactive screen, Butters shows the class a short clip from a weather film available at www.unitedstream ing.com. Later, a boy uses the electronic pen on the white board to uncover answers about the four seasons.

"This is going to revolutionize learning," Principal Diana Strohecker said in an interview. "It enhances the content of our classes."

Millersville Elementary is one of many county schools increasing its use of technology to engage students, reflecting the results of a recent state report.

The Maryland Business Roundtable for Education found last moth that Anne Arundel County has shown improvement in using and offering access to technology, including the Internet, webcams and even the Activote device, which instantly records students' answers to multiple-choice questions.

Sixty-eight percent of county schools use technology to get information from a variety of sources, up from 60 percent last year. The county's ratio of students per computer dipped from 3.8 to 1 to 3.5 to 1.

"They've made progress," said Roundtable Executive Director June Streckfus. "Anne Arundel County is much above the average."

Despite these improvements, the coalition of 100 Maryland employers believes the county, as well as the rest of the state, still has a long road ahead to reach its potential.

While students are using the technology, county schools overall aren't focusing on some of the technological skills necessary to be successful in the workplace.

According to the study, 7 percent of Anne Arundel schools reported using such technology as Excel spreadsheets in experiments nearly every day to take measurements and collect data, up from 5 percent last year.

An average of 41 percent of schools said this skill is never taught in classrooms, which is higher than the statewide average of 35 percent.

County schools have been more diligent about integrating computer writing programs such as Microsoft Word into their curriculum, with an average of 57 percent using them daily to teach students how to draft and revise their prose.

All schools use this technology at least occasionally, the report said.

The results raise concerns as the county braces for a major influx of white-collar workers at Fort Meade as part of the base realignment and closure process.

It will be harder for the Army post, the National Security Agency next door and defense contractors to hire high-level workers if schools don't offer a foundation in technology, Streckfus said.

"When students graduate, we want doors to be open, rather than closed," she said.

Part of the problem of integrating these technological skills into the schools' curriculum is not all teachers are comfortable with them.

The report found that nearly a quarter of county teachers don't have an intermediate knowledge of technology integration.

As a result, she suspects too few teachers are using technology to analyze student achievement.

Once teachers do use technology, Streckfus said, "you'll see a dramatic improvement in student learning."

"The more veteran teachers have their own styles of teaching," said Emily Minnigerode, a special education teacher who has extensive white board training. "If you're not tech-savvy, it's a little intimidating."

The county offers voluntary training, online and in the classroom. The first set of classes focuses on basic skills.

Once teachers or administrators feel proficient, they can move on to more advanced classes focusing on theories of technology.

Teachers who coach their peers or offer on-site technical support to other instructors in their school can get extra compensation, said Val Emrich, county instructional technology manager.

It isn't cheap for schools to have the appropriate technology and training.

At about $4,000 per white board, schools could spend more than $100,000 to accommodate everyone.

Individual schools, such as Millersville Elementary, had to raise the funds on their own with minimal help from the county.

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