Monday, May 1, 2006

SmartBoards, other technology make a difference in classroom

From Daily Republic
By Roxanne Mancha

"Middle school! What a challenge!" I frequently hear when asked where I work. True, a challenge, but also a delight, especially with such a truly diverse blend of students as we have at Crystal Middle School in Suisun City.

Although easily distracted, these adolescents, with their smiles full of braces, are curious investigators of the world around them. Once something captures their attention, they work hard to understand and conquer the skill.

The key is to capture their attention and technology in the classroom can unlock that door.
These adolescents have never lived in a world without instant communication and information. Their futures depend upon informational literacy skills as much as the content standards for each academic subject.

Teaching students means so much more than talking at them, it also involves coaxing them to ask good questions and connect with previous knowledge to make sense of new information. Using technology provides the tools to help them discover how things are connected and create presentations to demonstrate their understanding.

At Crystal Middle School, students' science and history teachers have SmartBoards that display information from the teacher's computer, and record both the teacher's and the students' notes on the board with a touch of the special pens. Students can work on a spreadsheet, stop a video and diagram it, change handwriting into printed text and collect data from the Internet - all with touches to the SmartBoard surface.

Gone are the days of chalkboards. These new devices allow students to interact with displays from places such as the planetarium or Smithsonian as a regular part of their lessons in the classroom.

English teachers use computer labs to teach students how to improve their writing skills with word processing, editing programs and a visual thesaurus that can even help them learn how to pronounce unusual words. Selecting and reviewing source material from the Internet builds critical reading skills. Technology communication expands the school walls to the world beyond as when at Grange Middle School, eighth-grade English students studying the Holocaust were able to talk to an actual survivor through video conferencing.

In math, we teach about the coordinate grid and geometric shapes with software such as Geometer's Sketchpad. Teachers use Interwrite pads and PowerPoint to present lessons on skills. Some are even starting to link these presentations to their individual Web sites so students and parents can review the concepts from home.

There is no lack of drill and practice as the district has invested in an interactive math practice program called Larson's that nearly all students use weekly. Students wear headphones and work out problems with markers on individual whiteboards, or in their math journals, while a voice coaches them and gives them immediate positive feedback with comments such as, "Precisely!" or "OK!"

The technology in our classrooms not only makes it possible for us to better prepare students for their future, but it also gives us the ability to communicate with parents. E-mail and teacher Web sites (many with student grades posted) are more readily available than ever .

You can link through to all schools' main Web sites from the district Web page.

Roxanne Mancha is a math teacher at Crystal Middle School.

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