Technology prepares students for future

Chalkboards are hard to find in the schools of Mexico #59. Instead, many of the classrooms in the district now have interactive white boards, called SMART Boards, and document cameras which give teachers and students more learning opportunities.
There are 112 SMART Boards in the district. There were 16 boards and 25 document cameras installed for this school year. The SMART Boards, which are 77 inches diagonally, allow teachers and students to interact with the material on the screen.
The material is transmitted to the screen from a computer, which is connected via USB cable to the board. Teachers and students can write on the board, using a special pen, or manipulate items on the screen with their fingers, which combines touch screen technology and whiteboard markers.
Eugene Field third grade teachers Carey Knipfel and Jessie Mommens use the SMART Boards for many lessons each day. As a third-year teacher, Knipfel has never known a classroom without the technology.
"I use the SMART Board to display our routines and procedures," Knipfel said. "The children use the board as an electronic graphic organizer, and in activities such as comparing and contrasting items. Also, the children can go to the board and show the others how they reached a solution to a math problem by showing their work."
Both Knipfel and Mommens think the use of technology encourages learning. "Children relate to technology because that's how most of them spend their time," Knipfel said.
Mommens agreed that promoting interaction is a key advantage of the boards. "Using the board allows the children to get up out of their seats. And, there are so many sources from the Internet that we can use. By projecting the images and information, it is much better than all the children trying to crowd around a computer. Using technology ups engagement in the classroom."
Allison Tveitnes, first grade teacher at Eugene Field Elementary School, says her students like to gather around the SMART Board. One of the activities the children enjoy is "Monster Squeeze," which helps the students learn basic arithmetic skills.
"I like to learn with the board," student Olivia Cauble said. "It's fun and we get to take turns.
Fellow classmates Malachi Whitley said the board helps him learn, and Charlee Allen says the games help her learn.
On Friday's the children in Ms. Tveitnes' class see their Weekly Readers on the board. They also will read books together with the words on the screen.
Eugene Field principal Christine Harper said all of the classrooms in the building have the interactive boards except for two. "Our teachers use the technology in so many ways. A teacher is able to pull up videos for students that demonstrate science experiments, engaging all students, not just a few."
The technology is not just used for a limited number of subjects. "The interactive technology that students can use to master skills is in all areas, including math, science, writing, social studies, music and art," she said.
At Mexico Middle School, seventh grade math teacher Stephanie Robinett uses a SMART Board for lesson plans and learning opportunities. "The board allows me to make more interactive lessons that engage students more," she said. "I've demonstrated adding and subtracting integers on a number line, for example. It's a great visual that allows the students to simply move the points on the number line, and see how the math problem works."
District Technology Director Jenn Kraft says the financial investment of the technology is worth the cost. "We are in the age of interactive technology. A SMART Board allows teachers to supplement their everyday curriculum," she said. "There are so many interactive sites and out there for the teachers to use."
The cost of a SMART Board is approximately $1,400. The projector and mount, cables and other necessary items are additional expenses.
Superintendent of Schools Kevin Freeman agrees that the cost of technology is worth the expense. "We live in an interactive, media-enriched world. Good or bad, like it or not, media and technology are everywhere," he said. "It's important that we meet students where they are. If we got out the old handheld slate boards, we would lose them quickly."
The technology not only allows the teachers to use color and graphics that interest the students, but also can provide the same information a second time. "The boards allow teachers to 'capture' their notes to a file that can then be shared with students who were absent or maybe who just need to absorb the material at their own pace," Freeman said.