Four years ago, Dawn Kale, Director of Information Technology at Poway Unified School District outside San Diego, decided to try something new – LampFree projectors from Casio.
“The maintenance of our projectors had become overwhelming for our technicians,” she recalls. “The cleaning of filters, the replacement of lamps, and the cost of the lamps, as well as the poor quality of the images we were getting, made it a priority to find something new.”
PUSD is a large district, with 36,000 students in 26 elementary schools, six middle schools and six high schools, and about 1,600 projectors installed in classrooms. Becky Thurmon, Account Manager at Poway-based Pathway Communications, who has supplied the majority of the LampFree projectors the district has purchased, says they were paying anywhere from $100 to $200 per lamps, depending on the brand and model of the projector.
Still, she and Kale describe the costs of the lamps as a secondary issue. With lamp replacements, cleaning, repairs and the need to install loaner projectors when one goes down, the district was spending several man hours per lamp-based projector per year. Worse, these thousands of hours had to be spent after school, because the teachers use their projectors all day, every day. “Maintenance became an ordeal,” Kale says.
An even bigger problem was the quality of the image these projectors would create as they aged. Because a projection lamp generates a great deal of heat, the LCD or DLP imaging component deteriorates with time, darkening the picture and softening focus. “We worried that children in the back of the classrooms struggled to really see,” Kale says. “In some cases, teachers stopped using the projectors.”
Now, with nearly half of the lamp-based projectors replaced with LampFree, PUSD has been able to move funds and technician time to a much better use: their highly innovative initiative to bring more and more personalized instruction to their students.
Options for students
Active learning is a buzzword in American schools, but at PUSD, it’s just one tool in a tool box designed to produce a superior education.
“What we focus on here is individualized instruction,” Kale explains. “We know that every child learns in a different way and at a different pace.”
In a traditional classroom, the teacher addresses the class as a whole, and thus must aim his or her materials at the middle of the group. “Some children will be repeating content they may have mastered, while others need more time or extra help.”
But ten years ago, PUSD adopted a testing system called Measures of Academic Progress (or MAP), which gives teachers a detailed report showing exactly what concepts each understands and in which areas help is needed.
Now the teacher could teach to the needs of individual students or arrange them into small groups with similar needs. And as classroom technology and software improved, it became easier to do both. For example, when PUSD schools introduced the use of individual computing devices for their students, children could access instructional materials, do research, write reports, and make presentations, even if they were working on a project alone.
In August, 2014, PUSD opened the Design39 Campus, a non-traditional K-8 elementary school designed to maximize the district’s individualized approach.
“The idea is to give the kids options in how they learn,” Kale explains. “Some gravitate to technology, but others do not. Some learn best in groups, but others on their own. The teachers tailor instruction based on input from parents, students and MAP. They try to get them to advance in the ways they are most comfortable.”
So, for example, the 1,150 students at Design39 are broken up into pods of 150 kids, with five to six instructors serving each. Within each pod, students work individually or in groups and they have a great deal of choice on the specific topics they study. For example, every Tuesday students take a “Deep Dive” into one of several enrichment activities. Collaboration is encouraged, but not everyone has to work in a team on every project. Because there are so many teachers for each pod, they have an unusual amount of flexibility in catering to the needs and interests of each student.
“I see this as a pilot, which the district is looking into expanding, but I don’t believe they will mandate it for everyone,” Kale says. Still the innovations at Design39 are influencing the approach at the district’s other schools.
Given the emphasis on individualized instruction, it’s interesting to note that the principal and instructors who created Design39 decided to stay with projection rather than move to the individual sets of flat-panel displays now gaining popularity in collaborative settings.
As in any school, large-screen displays are crucial at Design39. They offer instructors a way to share materials to small or large groups and allow students to make presentations as well. Yet at Design39, Kale says, teachers do not want to be tied to a specific room configuration, as active learning classrooms using flat-panels must be. Projection can be far more flexible.
At Design39, all but one or two instructional spaces are equipped with rolling podiums that contain a Casio LampFree projector as well as plug-ins for teacher and student devices, an Apple TV used as a wireless receiver, and a document camera. Rather than installing projection screens at specific locations, the builder painted all walls white. Teachers simply roll the podium to whatever section of the classroom is most appropriate for a group or class-wide activity, plug it in and turn on the projector.
Making student computing practical
A big part of the lesson planning at Design39 is based on the idea that every student there has his or her own computing device constantly available. That’s true of the more traditional schools as well. Still, “though Poway is a relatively affluent district, it’s a real stretch to afford a device for every child,” Kale explains. Instead, the district asks parents to provide a tablet, Chromebook or laptop, and most do.
Another reason the teachers like the LampFree Casio projectors is that they can be used with almost any laptop, Chromebook, tablet or smart phone, via a wired or wireless connection. The new Casio Advanced XJ-F210WN, for example, includes two HDMI inputs for connection with all current video and computer technology. A high-power USB port connects to USB sticks, phones and tablets. Network and RS-232 connections provide control and remote status monitoring capabilities, and an optional wireless adapter allows for wireless streaming from Windows and Apple computers and (with a free app) from IOS and Android devices.
“When you look at the total cost of ownership, the manpower needed for maintenance, and the image quality over time, it’s just a no-brainer to go LampFree,” Kale says.