2008-11-06 / News

New technology keeps kids interested at Lawn school

By Eileen M. Daly

Science teacher Jim Kaczynski gets a lesson in Smartboard technology during the teacher professional development day on Tuesday. Photo by Adrienne Downing Science teacher Jim Kaczynski gets a lesson in Smartboard technology during the teacher professional development day on Tuesday. Photo by Adrienne Downing It's always a challenge for a teacher to keep middle school students interested in class work, but Nick Alfred has a leg up on the competition. Alfred, a math teacher at the Lawn Avenue School, has been using a Smartboard in class for the last year. The Smartboard is an interactive white board produced by Smart Technologies. The board itself is the size of a small blackboard, but this is no traditional chalkboard. Linked directly and wirelessly to Alfred's desktop computer it allows Alfred access to everything a computer can do. "Everything I can do on my computer, I can do right on the Smartboard." Alfred said.

According to Alfred, he is able to access anything available on the World Wide Web and incorporate it into his daily lessons. "I can access videos, streaming web videos and virtually any website available on the Web and use it as a real world example in class." Alfred is careful to point out that the Smartboard also has a hide feature and a spotlight feature that allows the teacher to control exactly what the class is able to view at any time. "The hide feature allows me to block out anything I don't want to focus on and, like placing a sheet of paper over a text, I can slide the feature down in order to reveal information in a controlled manner. The spotlight feature allows me to focus on just one particular aspect of any site or material I am working with," Alfred said.

One of the most versatile aspects of the Smartboard involves the writing capacity. Alfred demonstrated how he writes directly on the board using any color pen. That hand written material can then be transferred directly onto the document with just a touch of the screen. "The Smartboard even translates the handwritten material into type and will recognize the color chosen as well," Alfred said. "Students can come up and write or practice directly on the board. I can also print out anything that we have worked on in class which allows me to go forward with important material without waiting for the class to write it all down." Alfred pointed out that though he believes that note-taking is a skill that needs to be developed, "there are times when the best way for the students to learn is by watching the entire process without interruption."

"Students can use the Smartboard in a variety of ways," Alfred said. "They can come up in front of the room and use the board just like I do or they can use the individual hand held remotes to respond to questions." The hand held remotes somewhat resemble a television remote and can be used to answer specific questions according to Alfred. "When the students respond to the question with the handheld remote, I can immediately download the responses to a spreadsheet which allows me to assess the level of understanding in the class. Each remote is linked to a particular student so I also know who is responding and how," Alfred said.

The students really seem to like working with the Smartboard and with the remotes."

Alfred's math students couldn't agree more.

"I like the Smartboard because I can interact with the math more ,and using the remote helps keep me from zoning out," said Drew MacIntyre.

Cassidy Maguire said, "The Smartboard is cool because you can take pictures of places and use it for math."

"I like the Smartboard. If you don't understand something you can go up and do it on the board yourself. It helps you to learn and understand," said Gage DeVellis.

Jack Tregenza added, "The Smartboard is fun because in a lot of our classes we have to take a lot of notes, but with the Smartboard we can do our notes right on the board and Mr. Alfred can print them out."

Currently, there is one Smartboard available at the Lawn Avenue School and one at the Melrose Avenue School. But according to Alfred, "The Smartboard has been so successful over the past year that there are currently four more on order, one for each grade level."

The boards cost close to $4,000 each for equipment and installation. The school department applied for a Champlin grant to cover the cost of the boards, but was not chosen as a recipient. "The teachers have decided rather than use the money that we have budgeted for laptops for the mobile lab, that the Smartboard was a better use of those funds," Technology Coordinator Samira Hakki said.

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