Oct 12 2006

High-Tech Schools Get High-Level Results

From kindergartners to high school seniors, there isn’t one student within the Carmel Clay district’s 13 schools who is not benefiting from technology.

On any given day, science students at Carmel High School in Carmel, Ind., perform complex laboratory experiments in which they mix potentially dangerous chemicals. This learning experience is being embraced not only by teachers and administrators, but by parents as well.

But rest assured, there is no imminent risk. The students are engaging in a unique, interactive science simulation program. And it’s just one example of the numerous technological tools helping to prepare these budding young scientists—as well as mathematicians, journalists, entrepreneurs, teachers and stockbrokers, as the case may be—for the world beyond the classroom.

Meanwhile, just down the hall, a class is relying on a similar program to replicate the time period surrounding a historical event they are researching in their social studies class. A third group is producing the school’s daily radio show, while another works on reconstructing Carmel High School’s ever-evolving Web site.

“I can’t think of any level where they aren’t using [technology],” says Bruce Thompson, technology supervisor for the Carmel Clay school district. “Students today are very technologically oriented, and a lot of our classes use technology as an integral part of the curriculum.”

Indeed, kindergartners who might not have even mastered their ABCs can still take full advantage of the computer labs at Carmel Clay’s 10 elementary schools. Each classroom boasts computers where students can participate in individual or group activities.

“At the elementary level, [students] use a variety of programs that help them organize their thoughts,” Thompson explains. And elementary school teachers are able to measure students’ progress in reading and math with the assistance of educational software programs.

Technology at Work

As most parents will attest, the social life of a third-grader can present significant scheduling challenges. Fortunately, this year, the Carmel Clay district introduced a new tech aid that has taken this daunting task to a heightened level of efficiency: personal digital assistants (PDAs) in the classroom. Third-graders, each using his or her own PDA, are learning the ins and outs of contact management, calendar keeping and other key scheduling skills, all designed to enhance their planning and organization skills and to prepare them for the high-tech experience post-classroom.

Within the growing district’s two middle schools, students also have access to six computer labs, where they learn various components of Microsoft Office. In addition, middle school students can take advantage of three wireless mobile labs. These carts, which are stacked with wireless notebooks, are rolled into classrooms, enabling students to perform tasks for various courses without ever leaving their desks.

However, the best window from which to view technology at work is the district’s 3,700-student high school, the largest in the state. In addition to the simulated learning experiences within the classroom, the school has its own radio station, 91.3 FM, The Edge. The first high school station in the state to broadcast 24/7, The Edge also features a live Internet stream from the school’s Web site. Students utilize a wide array of media tools to facilitate the station’s daily shows and programming.

With the help of cutting-edge broadcasting and computer equipment, the high school students also manage their own educational television station, Channel 21, which broadcasts sports events, videotapes special programming and highlights school activities. Furthermore, the school boasts an award-winning online newspaper, the HiLite Online, which covers news events, sports stories, entertainment, perspectives and restaurant reviews.

Another area where technology is being implemented is the high school’s Web site, which is reconstructed annually by students. “They learn from the ground up what it takes to make a Web site,” Thompson notes.

Considering Carmel High’s extremely varied extracurricular and course options, it’s no surprise that students are exposed to a large number of different applications, making them very well-rounded from a technological perspective. Students routinely rely on Microsoft Office programs to present their work, and many are also skilled in such applications as Autodesk’s AutoCad, Adobe PhotoShop and Microsoft FrontPage.

The journalism and yearbook classes use Adobe PageMaker on Apple Macintosh computers to create their work, while other students partake in computer programming classes or computer aided design courses. Some even take a Cisco Networking Academy course, where young networking aficionados can experiment with hubs and routers. Each school also maintains its own “information services team,” consisting of a technician, media specialist and technology coordinator.

“Our goal is to prepare students for the way they’ll work when they get out of high school,” Thompson explains. “We’re trying to give them the same tools a person in the workplace would have in order to accomplish the things they need to accomplish.”

Head of the Class

If the statistics are any indication, the Carmel Clay schools are achieving their goals. Nearly 90 percent of the district’s high school seniors take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), with the same percentage of students continuing on to pursue a higher education. The district closely follows the success of its graduates, notes Thompson, who adds that a large number choose to further their studies at the nearby Indiana University or at Purdue University.

The technology supervisor, who spent 18 years as a teacher within the district’s middle schools, credits the high availability of technology with enabling students to be more efficient and with preparing them for real-world experiences. Thompson adds that technology makes the curriculum and studies more appealing to most students. “Students are a lot more interested in what they’re doing,” he says. “Their attention level is increased.”

And students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the use of technology. Teachers and administrators, all of whom are provided with a PC or notebook computer, use their devices to share calendars, communicate via e-mail and complete attendance and grading procedures.

The district is also working to expand distance learning by upgrading the bandwidth of its wide area network (WAN) to facilitate the sharing of information among schools across the globe. With the use of a remote cart setup on the WAN, teachers have been able to gain access to classrooms at other schools and participate remotely in workshops they otherwise would not have been able to attend. “It’s as if they were right there in the same room,” Thompson says.

Perhaps most importantly, instructors are using technology to unlock the secrets that will help them provide the best lesson plans for students. With this year’s introduction of a data warehouse software program, teachers can electronically track and manage standardized test data in order to study student progress in various areas.

“We’re trying more and more to use measures of student progress to help us determine what’s working,” Thompson explains. “These technological tools allow us to do research and combine student data so we can really establish what works best for students.”

And, after all, that’s the real purpose of using technology in schools: to help students be more successful—in school and in life.

Melissa Tamberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.

At A Glance

School District: Carmel Clay Schools

Location: Carmel, Indiana

Superintendent: Dr. Barbara Underwood

Schools: Ten elementary schools; two middle schools; one high school

Teachers: Approximately 1,000

Students: Nearly 13,000

Future Plans: Third middle school in 2004-05; ninth-grade building 2005-06