Schenectady County

Smart Boards help keep students’ interest

The students clicked their buzzers to determine the right word for library — in Spanish. No, they w
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The students clicked their buzzers to determine the right word for library — in Spanish.

No, they weren’t trying out for some type of “Jeopardy!” teen tournament. They were students in Lori Sammons’ class at Scotia-Glenville High School, practicing for an exam before the holiday break.

Sammons is one of the few teachers in the district who is using a Promethean “Smart Board” in her class. Although it looks like an ordinary white board for markers and dry erasers, it is actually connected to a computer that can run lessons and games.

Students competed in groups and used hand-held devices from a company called “Activote” to select the right choice — a, b, c or d — from different pictures on the screen.

In another exercise, students used a special pen to drag the words and place then next to the picture where they belong.

Fourteen-year-old freshman Julianna Zyra of Glenville said she enjoys using the Smart Board.

“It’s interactive. It’s fun. I guess we remember things better than we would normally,” she said.

Sammons, who has been using it since April, said the students seem to be more engaged and enjoy the competition.

“For them, it’s a game. It’s not learning,” she said. “They ask for it. They say ‘can we play the buzzers.’”

David Versocki, director of technology for the district, said there are two of these boards at the high school, one at the middle school, and one at both Glen-Worden and Glendaal. Sacandaga and Lincoln schools do not have the devices yet.

The Smart Board is just one example of the latest technology that is being used in regional schools.

Versocki said in November the district rolled out an interactive Web site titled Edline, which allows teachers to post information for students and students to have access to assignments. Teachers can post reminders of homework assignments and students can customize it to see their entire calendar of work and other activities.

CITY DISTRICT

In Schenectady, Chief Technology Officer Lawrence Murphy said the district has about 35 of the Smart Boards. The district would like to bring them to all classrooms, but the teachers need to have some professional development to be effective. The boards can cost anywhere from $1,100 in the low range to $3,000 for the new models with an integrated projector.

Murphy said he envisions another use of the boards would be to record teacher’s lesson plans so students could study them.

“Say Johnny is in a math class and that day, on the board, the teacher taught him how to do this particular quadratic equation. He doesn’t remember. If we could digitize that and have it on the Web site, Johnny could click on that and see the teacher do that all over again,” he said.

Sal D’Angelo, technology services coordinator for the district, said they also use a “classroom response system” similar to the one Scotia-Glenville has that allows students to click on choices and for teachers to see the response.

Another way the district is using technology is through its credit recovery program, which is for students who have failed a class but passed the Regents exam in that subject. Murphy said instead of having to repeat the class in the next school ear, they can take a self-paced online class.

The district is working on developing a system where parents can go online and see their child’s attendance and grades.

Murphy said ultimately he would like to move education beyond the four walls.

“I think we’re limited to our own imagination,” he said.

SCHALMONT PLAN

Susan Cook, director of curriculum for the Schalmont Central School, said the schools are also using Smart Boards at the middle school, high school and Jefferson Elementary School. It is also using “Mimios,” which is a device that connects to an ordinary white board and converts it a Smart Board. It is also less expensive than Smart Boards, at a cost of $800. These devices hook up to personal computers that allow connectivity to the Internet.

“Basically if you can use a computer, you can use a Smart Board or a Mimio,” she said.

The school has had the Smart Boards for two years and the Mimios since last spring.

Cook said the district also have a pilot program in the high school’s foreign language with a device called the Onfinity cm2, which the students have dubbed “the magic wand.” This device has a small computer in it. It allows for wireless connection to a computer and it can make any white surface a computer screen. The wand allows people to move objects on the screen around.

The wand costs about $1,000 and is extremely portable. Students seem to enjoy the interactivity, Cook said.

“They’re so used to seeing computer screens that it’s so familiar to them.”

The district also has a program at the middle school called eSchool, which is kind of a homework hot line. Parents and students can log in from their home. Officials are also exploring the possibility of creating a student e-mail system. They currently do not allow students to e-mail because of security concerns. However, there are certain companies that are developing software tailored to students.

Cook said the school also has a Texas instrument classroom for its advanced mathematics courses. Cook said the teacher is able to assess student work. They also have “document cameras,” which is a high-tech overhead projector that can project three-dimensional objects and print what the teacher has written,

The district has about 600 Macintosh computers at the elementary schools and 400 at the high school.

However, Cook said, it is not all about technology. “You still need the best teachers possible,” she said.

Duanesburg Central School District Superintendent Christine Crowley said the district is in the process of evaluating its technology needs. It submitted a survey to faculty and staff about its general needs, though not specific to just technology. Faculty and staff are also evaluating a new computer program for students to use and plan to make a decision in February.

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