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Getting Techie with it: TCHS teachers bring technology into the classroom
Lewisville ISD recently went under the knife and brought The Colony High School into the 21st century by bringing new technology into the classroom.
The district began a four-phase plan in 2011 with six summits focused on gaining community input on what education should look like in LISD. A strategic design team took that information and developed a new core belief, vision, mission and goals. Subcommittees were then formed to create an action plan and carry out those goals.
Last June, the school board approved the Strategic Design Plan, but students and teachers have long-since enjoyed the benefits of having a more tech-friendly classroom.
Gregory Kulle, who teaches AP Physics at TCHS, was a member of a team three years ago that received a Hewlett Packard Innovations in Education grant equivalent to $265,000. From the grant, Kulle was able to meet a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio with 30 17-inch Hewlett Packard laptops. He also received an LCD projector, which allows him to have two projectors - one for the front of the class for presentations and one in the back linked to a SMART board for student use. He also has an HP Elitebook laptop/tablet with a swivel screen that rotates 180 degrees and folds down to tablet form.
Over the past four years, the science department has purchased more than $40,000 worth of new physics equipment, Kulle said. The equipment includes digital photogates, motion sensors, force sensors and voltage/current sensors that connect to the laptops and allow students to collect and manipulate data in numerous ways.
"I use the Skward (gradebook) app on my phone to walk around and collect homework grades rather than taking their work up," Kulle said. "It means their composition book where they do their homework never leaves their possession. After we've graded the homework and I've gone around with my cell phone and recorded everyone's grades I go into Schoolweb and 'unhide' the key so if they want to take a closer look at how to do a problem they missed they can do that on their own time."
Kulle said he also uses an application from remind101.com, which allows him to send mass text messages to his classes through a web service that doesn't allow them access to his own cell phone number or him theirs. Students simply register for it and get on the text message list.
"Aside from my class set of laptops, I feel like I'm just maximizing the same technology that any other teacher in the district has available to them - which is, I'll admit, much more effective when you have a one-to-one student to computer ratio," he said.
Like any situation, there are always pros and cons, Kulle added.
"I can do math in my head, and most of my students have difficulty figuring out what grade out of 100 to write at the top of their paper without looking at a calculator," he said. "At the same time however, having internet access at the tips of their fingers throughout class has really added depth to the lessons. In the past you had only the teacher's knowledge and what you could find in the book as far as information. Now, the students can instantly look up almost anything they want to know."
Kulle has also gone completely paperless - a project that didn't happen overnight and one that required him to be a little more savvy. He spent the past four years getting the websites as complete as possible. Now, he faces the issue of "digital citizenship."
"Copying someone's paper used to be an arduous and time-consuming process," he said. "Now, I have incidences where one person will just email an assignment to everyone in their group and the others simply change the name at the top and turn it in as their own."
However, Kulle said, this creates a teachable moment where he can open a dialogue with them about their responsibilities when doing anything digital and how that may have consequences later in life when they are in college or the professional world.
As far as the students are concerned, Kulle said there is a bit of a learning curve in getting assignments completed and submitted on time, but once students have acclimated to the course, most of them really like it.
Lori Stephenson, who teachers German at TCHS, said she could not survive in today's classroom without technology and noted the contrast between her early days as a teacher.
"My first year as a teacher, I was given a black and red pen, a student edition of the text book and a reel-to-reel tape recorder," she said. "Once in awhile I showed movies on the movie projector. I also had an old record player, but I used them all to make the class come alive. The classroom has really evolved in 34 years. My students love to use the technology and are eager to learn in a fast paced, exciting way."
Stephenson uses an interactive board to display her lessons and a program - ActivExpressions - that comes in the form of a smartphone look-a-like that allows students and teachers to immediately view and discuss responses to the lesson.
"The Promethean Board empowers my effectiveness as a teacher," she said. "My lessons are very interactive with all students participating, and since I use the ActivExpressions as immediate feedback, it makes learning fun and personal."
For example, last week the class listened to The Wise Guys, a popular German rock group. To prepare her students, Stephenson used her board to display pictures of new vocabulary used in the song.
"I use a technique where I personalize questions in order for them to comprehend the new vocabulary," she said. "After watching the band's video, I displayed questions that pertain to the students' every day lives. Then while using our new interactive digital drop down lab, students were randomly put in pairs and they interviewed each other, while I listen and add comments or help them."
The students then took the information and with their ActivExpressions texted their answers to the board and the class not only found out about the habits of the students who were interviewed, it also gave Stephenson a chance to review specific grammar points while students' answers remained anonymous, she said.
"All students were participating 100 percent in the target language using different technological tools," she said. "This is a great example of a student-centered classroom, which is how my class is set up."
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