Technology gives students a boost

Parr's Ridge Elementary aims to prepare children for a high-tech future

October 21, 2007|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Sarah Parsons' kindergarten students were on a mission: to spot the objects inside her I Spy book that began with the letter J.

But a practical obstacle stood in their way.

They couldn't see the pictures inside the slim, small book, they said, even though Parsons held it up for inspection.

"Why not?" Parsons asked.

"Too little," they said.

The Parr's Ridge Elementary teacher pulled down a large projection screen and slipped the book under a document camera.

Its pages instantly appeared on the screen, large and easy to see for anyone in the room.

"That's better," Parsons said.

The use of technology to improve instruction pervades Parr's Ridge Elementary School.

The Mount Airy school, which has students from pre-kindergarten through second grade, was conceived as a testing ground of sorts, where technology would become an integral part of the classroom, as subtly omnipresent as a chalkboard, as natural to flip on as a light switch.

Now in their third academic year, teachers and administrators say the idea has worked, that they regularly turn to their technological bag of tricks and wouldn't know what to do without it.

Document cameras and laptop computers have taken the place of overhead projectors. Large screens have usurped televisions.

And it's not unusual to find a handful of students quietly clicking a mouse at computers in a mobile lab that supplements lessons.

"It's really about the future," said Ann Marie Blonkowski, the school's principal.

"We're preparing our children for a future."

Gary Davis, the school system's chief information officer, worked with Blonkowski to pilot the technological features in the school while it was being built.

The goals, Davis said, were to look for multimedia experiences that could improve the curriculum and to give teachers control of those experiences in class.

"We really are using this as a learning experience for everybody on how we can utilize the technology," Davis said.

"It really is the model. These kids will be better prepared in dealing with things because they've had it from the start."

Ebb Valley Elementary, which is scheduled to open next year, is also being built with the use of such tools in mind, he said.

Beyond the convenience, "the technology is so motivating," said Cindy Porter, an instructional assistant who helps teachers with their high-tech devices.

"They love practicing their skills."

"It just seems like a lot of lessons come alive when we do use technology in the class," said Allison Baker, a first-grade teacher. "The students are just instantly engaged."

Her students look forward to having their work showcased on the document camera, she said, which she sometimes uses to share examples of good work.

"It's just another strategy to get them involved in learning," said Wendy Gahm, a kindergarten teacher.

Her students reach the end of the year with the ability to make PowerPoint presentations, Word documents and graphs, she said, thanks to Scholastic Keys, a program that brings Microsoft Office software down to a primary level.

Sometimes the technology provides an impromptu lesson.

One afternoon in Parsons' class, small groups of students took turns at the mobile computer lab, going through a PowerPoint lesson on numbers.

Braydon Dixon, 5, sat down at one of the computers, and began to click through a "Ten Frames" program. He and his classmates practiced identifying the number of circles that appeared inside a 10-cell table.

Suddenly, Braydon stopped.

"Oops, I think I messed up," he said, staring at the screen. "It's black. All black."

Only the words "end of slide show" appeared.

"Just click again," advised Benjamin Lausch, 5, from his station.

Braydon clicked once more, and the presentation started anew.

"Yeah!" he said.

Parsons later observed what had happened: The boy's fingers were pressing the roller in the middle, not the left button.

"You want to click on the button," Parsons said, holding up a mouse to show the class.

"Don't use this rolly ball. It makes it go too fast."

The classroom technology makes things more efficient, Parsons said, and, in the case of her miniature books, easier to share.

"It helps to make learning fun," Parsons said.

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