The River Region's Wave of the Future!
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Many area schoolchildren have been hooked up to new technology this school year, and school officials say the upgrades -- everything from electronic white boards to laptops -- have engaged students and revamped lessons.
"Kids today are so digitally inclined," said Cindy Veazey, a Wetumpka High School assistant principal. Veazey's school is part of Elmore County's Instruction, Data and Technology program, which has placed millions of dollars worth of technology into three Wetumpka schools.
"They are multi-tasking kids. ... That's their world. They have so much information," Veazey said. "It's part of our job to teach them how to manipulate and use information available to them."
Many educators talk about the idea of students "powering down" to attend classes. Students have access to so much technology at home (smart phones, laptops, MP3 players, etc.), and then they come to school and use textbooks and a pen and paper.
The new technology, Veazey said, is a way of relating to students and preparing them for a college and then a global economy where they will need to be tech-savvy.
"Our students need to be engaged in lessons these days," Veazey said, adding that if they're not and teachers don't take advantage of new technology, "they almost tune out."
The Instruction, Data and Technology program, or IDT, is part of a pilot program funded by the city of Wetumpka and a private business. At the high school, all 52 classrooms are now "21st-century classrooms," meaning they are equipped with an electronic white board, or SMART Board, a document camera and other items.
Teachers are using the document cameras to display everything from the page of a textbook to the dissection of pigs and frogs. When objects are placed under the camera, they are projected onto the SMART Board for the whole class to see easily.
The first leg of the transformation started last year with 14 rooms. In August another 15 rooms were equipped, and last week the rest were completed.
"The teachers, there are some who jump right in. Others, let's face it, the older we are change comes harder," Veazey said. "They are having to learn things the kids already know."
Professional development for teachers started recently. She said once a week the school has a specialist come in all day to work with teachers during their planning time and after school. She said those teachers who had the equipment last year also have been helping their colleagues.
Veazey said in a perfect world there would be more time to train teachers, but they're doing what they can.
In neighboring Montgomery Public Schools, educators also are using recently installed SMART Boards in creative ways. The devices have allowed students to take field trips without leaving their seats.
Niketa Dean, the system's director of technology support services, said that by using the SMART Boards students are able to stream video of locales, as well as talk and ask questions online about the locations. So far, students have visited the Manhattan School of Music, the Early Works Museum in Huntsville and the Tennessee Aquarium, among other places.
Virtual field trips first started in 2006, but Dean said they are more routinely used now as budgets get tighter and technology gets better.
The school system also added a significant number of SMART Boards this year with the opening of the new Carver High and Bellingrath Middle schools, where each classroom has one. Schools also are using video broadcasting capabilities, saying goodbye to morning announcements via the PA system. TV screens also are being set up in lobbies to broadcast important information.
"We live in a globally competitive market. We want to graduate students from this district that can compete globally based on the experience they received in the system," Dean said.
Interactive learning isn't the only draw of the new technology though. Some local teachers have said it just makes life simpler.
"I'm at the point I'm addicted to it. I can't live without it," Edgewood Academy teacher Lori McVay said about her SMART Board and document camera. "I don't remember life without it. It's easier to use, and it's just more professional."
McVay, who teaches English, art and music appreciation, and drama, said teaching is so much more streamlined now. She recalled a recent class period in which she was teaching students about Leonardo da Vinci.
"I was able to instantly bring up portraits and things he's drawn and constructed and link all that information together, and even got a video clip of his life from the History Channel right there instantly," she said.
Before, viewing the clip would have meant hunting down a VCR and TV, and showing da Vinci's art would have meant holding up a textbook for students to squint at or making handouts.
Cathy Payne, a fellow Edgewood teacher, also has enjoyed cutting back on copies and tossing her overhead markers, which left her hands a mess. But the most important thing, she said, is how the new technology is exciting students.
"Even just to be able to come up and mark on the SMART Board they were jumping out their seats," she said.
Payne said she has used her document camera to teach English by displaying sentences from the textbook immediately on screen, as opposed to having to copy them by hand on the board. She also has used the SMART Board to project slides from underneath a microscope for the entire class to see.
"I think this is really changing the face of learning. ... It has improved the interactive nature of the classroom. Kids are able to interact with the SMART Board," Payne said, later adding, "their participation has just improved exponentially. The kids are engaged in learning."
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