New technology aids in morgan county students' learning
story by Kathryn Purcell
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
In Mrs. Moss' first grade classroom, students are manipulating soccer players while learning to add and subtract; Mrs. Rice is channeling da Vinci, whose pictures flash across the board, as she teaches fourth grade students about drawing the face; and, in Mrs. Collier's seventh grade Gifted classroom, students are playing "Jeopardy" in an effort to learn their demonstrative, relative and indefinite pronouns.
Soccer, da Vinci and "Jeopardy" - what are Morgan County students learning?
While the subjects students are currently learning remain the same, SMART Boards have helped in keeping students more engaged in what they're learning.
"They're having so much fun, they forget they're learning," Morgan County Schools Technology Support Specialist Tiffany Markley said.
Markley and Lissa Phelps, instructional technology coordinator, have been working all year to install the SMART Boards, described as "interactive whiteboard systems" on the SMART Technologies Web site, and to train teachers.
The Morgan County School System purchased 220 of the SMART Boards, one for each classroom in the system. With the first deployment, 44 boards were placed throughout the schools.
Contracting with TSAV, a company out of Athens, to have the boards installed, Markley currently works with three to four contractors a day to install the SMART Boards. Together, they are able to install around eight boards a day.
So far, every classroom at Morgan County Elementary School is equipped with a SMART Board, and the group has moved on to Morgan County Middle School, planning to finish there by the end of the week. Following this the team will move on to Morgan County Primary School, to be completed by late February, and, then, Morgan County High School. Markley expects to be done with the installation by mid-March.
"It's been a great experience installing this stuff," Markley said, speaking of the reaction she gets from teachers and students alike when they are able to use the SMART Boards in their classroom.
By installing the educational technology in each classroom in the system, Morgan County is setting the bar high for other schools in the state, and the nation.
"Lots of systems have SMART Boards, but very few have them installed systemwide," Director of Technology Jay Cawley said.
There was quite a bit of thought that went into choosing the SMART Boards and the 3M projectors, according to Cawley. The process took 12 months.
"I wasn't a fan when we were looking at SMART Boards, but we looked at everything," Cawley said. "What sold us on the SMART Boards was that there are so many educational resources out there for teachers with SMART."
SMART Technologies has developed a worldwide sharing program, called SMART Educators, that allows teachers to upload and download lessons made with the SMART Boards. For example, teacher down the hall can make a lesson and share it with the entire grade level or a teacher can download a lesson made by another teacher elsewhere in the state, nation or world, and adjust it to fit their needs.
The Morgan County School System choose to go with 3M for the projectors to accompany the SMART Boards. These are short throw projectors, meaning the distance between the projector and the projection surface is abbreviated. This type of projector keeps teachers from being blinded when they turn around and benefits students otherwise prone to seizures by cutting down on the oscillation of light from projector to screen. Apparently, this oscillation is visible to some students, and may trigger seizures.
Further, 3M offered the school system a discount.
"3M wanted to be sure we had a successful implementation," Cawley said. "We wanted to use 3M, but the equipment was so expensive. So, 3M said 'Buy what you can and we'll make up the difference.'"
The company donated 75 of the 220 projectors needed to complete the implementation in Morgan County.
The total cost for one unit, including SMART Board, projector and installation, was about $4200, according to Cawley, bringing the total to close to $924,000. The project was made possible by ELOST (Education Local Option Sales Tax) funds.
Judging by the reactions of students and teachers alike, however, it seems the investment was well worth it.
"We like it," Mrs. Moss' class answered in unison, when asked how they felt about their SMART Board.
"It's not all boring," seventh grade student Morgan Cottrell said. "It helps you see stuff better."
"With the SMART Board, people pay attention more," seventh grade student Sanila Momin said. "Students have more fun. It's easier to participate and study for tests. Instead of watching movies on a little TV screen, it makes it easier to see, and easier to take notes because you can see it better on the board."
"The students that didn't interact so much interact more and participate," seventh grade student Audrey Bennett said.
"You're able to pull so many things up," Mrs. Wilson, fifth grade teacher, said. "For the election we pulled up maps and delegates. With climates, we pulled that up...There's so much more activities to do. And it's so much more interactive."
"Truly, everyday they ask 'Are we going to use a SMART Board? Are we going to use a SMART Board?'" Mrs. Collier said. "And when we don't, they usually get mad."
So far, Cawley said there hasn't been any problems with the SMART Boards that couldn't be worked out.
For the time being, Markley and Phelps will continue to provide training to Morgan County teachers. Currently, the system requires a minimum of 10 hours of training on the technology.
When it comes to the SMART Boards, Cawley said the next step is to tie in the Classroom Response Systems, a product produced by SMART Technologies to work in conjunction with the boards which allows teachers to pose questions to the class at a moment's notice.
"While teaching a lesson, teachers can gage if the kids are getting it; she finds out right then," Cawley said, of the benefits of the response system. "The teacher can then go back historically and look at the individual child and see that 'Johnny's just not getting it.' It also allows teachers to present the concept of what they teach in a wider variety of ways if they see that students aren't getting it."
For now, though, the SMART Boards have been well received by both students and teachers, according to all those involved, and both groups must continue to get accustomed to the technology and all that it's capable of.
"In terms of technology, this is having the most impact on teachers teaching and kids learning," Cawley said. "The excitement hasn't waned. You would think it would, but it hasn't...They're staying very motivated."