Our Readers Talk Budget And Rave About New Technologies For The Classroom

Readers weigh in on dealing with budget cuts, revolutionizing classroom presentations, implementing VoIP, and praise new educational technologies.

Budget Cuts Shouldn’t Mean Tech Sacrifices

The severe budget cuts currently faced by schools around the country don’t have to translate into a death sentence for their technology initiatives. Ours is a poor, rural school district in southern Illinois, yet we’ve always managed to provide our faculty and students with the best technology available. Our secret is a strong and persistent team of staff, administration and board members.

Grants and district funds have helped us lay a fiber-optic network between four schools and our administrative building and install T1 lines to replace our inadequate 56k connection. We just put in another T1 line for a new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) initiative.

Thanks to grants and district funds, we’re a wireless district with several state-of-the-art Mac and PC labs and an award-winning media center. Every teacher in the district has a computer that’s no more than five years old.

It’s practically a full-time job keeping track of all the grants, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s been wonderful for the students because they have total access to computers from kindergarten through 12th grade. They know databases, spreadsheets, word processing; they can go out into the workplace and adapt to any application or technology.

Cindy Black, Technology Coordinator, Harrisburg CUSD #3, Harrisburg, Ill.

Bringing History Back to Life

I’ve had my new interactive whiteboard for three weeks and I’m still amazed at the way it’s revolutionized my history classes.

The whiteboard connects to my computer and projects onto a large white screen. I can control my computer with a simple touch of the screen, so I’m no longer tied to my keyboard and mouse. I can pull up atlases from the Internet and, with my class, I can trace points around the world right on the screen.

When my class and I were trying to figure out what motivated Columbus, I posted a letter he wrote to the king and queen on the whiteboard and we were able to analyze it line by line, underlining key sections, to try to gain some insight. My students can’t wait to use it for their own presentations.

And at my parent/teacher conference the other night, the parents were amazed. The whiteboard is addictive. I can’t wait to get formal training for it so I can learn all the bells and whistles. This is it. This is what technology’s been promising us for a long time.

—Rich Blackford, Social Studies Teacher, Selvidge Middle School, Ballwin, Mo.

Presentation tools like the interactive whiteboard have indeed revolutionized classroom instruction. Your enthusiasm for this new tool is likely to pique the interest of your students so that you have their full attention and participation-any teacher's dream. You can find more information on this interactive technology in our Cutting Edge section (p. 30).

VoIP is Ready to Roll

The Kansas City, Mo., school district (featured in Ed Tech Summer 2003) is planning the first step in transitioning to its new Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system on Sept. 26.

A successful implementation will open up the data bandwidth for the schools, providing quicker access to district-level resources. The VoIP gateway system will give us the ability to use legacy PBX digital phones and new IP-based phones simultaneously, allowing the district to implement VoIP to the desktop at its leisure with minimal impact on existing systems.

With the Siemens 3700 VoIP gateway, the district will be able to use new IP telecommunications technologies and leverage future uses of VoIP technology. The increase in bandwidth at the school level will enable limited use of other technologies such as video teleconferencing and video streaming. Education information technology is fighting a never-ending battle between maintaining existing infrastructures and implementing new technologies with limited funding. Technology such as the VoIP gateway, which lets us grow at our own pace and budget without extensive system overhauls, is just the kind of syste m school districts need.

—Dennis D. Peterson, Technical Services Manager, Kansas City School District, Kansas City, Mo.

Ever-Improving Educational Technology

This is an exciting new year at Little Tor Elementary, thanks to the DVD-equipped plasma screens that we just put into all of our first- through fifth-grade classrooms. It’s a reminder of just how interactive technology has made our schools over the years.

We have a fully automated library, notebooks for fifth-graders and a 30-station computer lab. I teach PowerPoint to fourth- and fifth-graders and, by the end of the year, they’re able to present very sophisticated final projects. I teach them how to use Web search engines and how to question the sources of the research they gather. Students are so engaged in our reading programs, like Scholastic Reading Counts, that they think it’s a game. We now require that teachers build technology into their curricula, and when they apply for tenure, their technological knowledge is a big factor.

When kindergartners can walk into a room, turn on computers and get to work on their own, that’s clearly progress. It’s amazing what they can do. Because of technology, it’s a different and far more exciting world for our students today, and it keeps getting better.

—Kristen Ward, Library Media Specialist, Little Tor Elementary School, New City, NY

Starting Fresh With Educational Technology

Midway through my career, I decided it was time to leave advertising and make a real difference as a teacher. After observing other teachers and substitute teaching, I’ve made some astonishing discoveries about just how big a difference I can make for my students as I begin my student teaching assignment.

When I was in high school in the 1980s, technology was so new that students knew more about it than their teachers did. In today’s schools, however, teachers and students are fully engaged in educational technology.

Technology is an especially valuable asset in inclusive classrooms. During one of my observations at Willow Grove Middle School, the teacher wore a special microphone during her lesson. It connected to a hearing-impaired student’s hearing aide so that he wouldn’t miss any of the material. In a science class at Ramapo Middle School, the teacher equipped his classroom with an Internet-connected presentation system that projected onto a big screen so that all students, regardless of where they sat, could see it. As a student who had to sit in the front row to see the blackboard, it’s clear to me how valuable this tool can be for students who are visually challenged or hearing impaired.

Technology has become a vital teaching tool and I’m excited to be able to use it to make learning fun for all of my future students.

—Jonathan Oglio, Student Teacher, Nyack Middle School, Nyack, NY, and Valley Cottage Elementary School, Valley Cottage, NY

Technology does open new doors to learning. You’re starting your academic career at an exciting time. Schools are employing some incredible tools to help teachers engage their classrooms. See our story on adaptive technology (p. 24) for other ideas on how to engage all students in learning.

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Reader Spotlight

Going Thin to Win

For a select number of students in Detroit, this year may prove to be a watershed in their academic careers for when they enter the new University Preparatory Academy (UPA), they are entering a technological oasis.

Thin client computers await students and high-speed wireless and land-based networks course through the campus. The school’s data and voice services benefit from voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for its telecommunication needs.

But UPA didn’t install cutting edge technology just for technology’s sake. Funded by the state of Michigan and working with a public school-sized budget, the charter school has to get the most for its money and administrators believe the new equipment will lower the total cost of ownership (TCO).“We need to make high-quality computing available to all students at a relatively low cost,” says UPA Principal Doug Ross. “All of the innovations are driven by the fact that we have to give our students enormous access with a regular public school budget.”

The academy has 70 thin client computers in classrooms and labs throughout the 128-student campus. The PCs connect to servers in a remote data center maintained by Education Technology Management, a Madison, Wis.-based company that works with charter schools. Choosing thin clients allowed the high school to purchase twice the number of desktops, giving it a stunning 2-to-1 computer-to-student ratio. The TCO comes to about $500 to $600 per thin client per year, Ross says.

Underground fi ber optic cables at UPA buildings connect via point-to-point wireless bridges to the high-speed network of nearby Wayne State University. The partnership between the charter school and university allows UPA to access its network and the Internet at up to 10Mb per second over the 802.11B standard. The arrangement also eliminates the school’s monthly Internet access payments to the local telephone company.

Michigan education officials launched University Prep in response to an urban education epidemic. According to school district statistics, while 15,000 Detroit adolescents enroll in ninth grade every year, only 4,500 students are still in school by 12th grade. The majority of high school seniors do not go to college. “You can’t build a modern city with those education results,” Ross says.

Oct 12 2006

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