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First grade teacher brings world into classroom

When first grade teacher Valerie Gresser of Superstition Springs Elementary School saw an opportunity to realize her vision for a 21st century learning environment, she wasted no time. In pursuit of a $20,000 “ideal classroom“ technology grant, and with the support of school principal Patty Rogers, Gresser submitted a proposal that bested all others - and ushered in new teaching techniques and technology at the school.

Superstition Springs Elementary is a K-6 school of 840 students and part of Gilbert Public Schools. Open since 1995, the school has earned the highest rank of “Excelling” from the Arizona Department of Education for its student-centered learning environment and academic excellence.

Gresser wanted to tap into the learning potential of digital textbooks and multimedia online resources. But that was hardly possible, with her students huddled around the classroom’s single computer screen. And suppose she wanted to access the Internet during class, in search of material to illustrate or bolster the lesson? The 15-year-old classroom wasn’t designed to leverage Internet content effectively.

“I began to experiment with NEC NP400 projectors available from the school’s media center because I wanted to address these challenges and create a more dynamic, motivating, instructional environment,” Gresser said. “I love the NEC projectors. They are state-of-the art and very easy to use.”

As Gresser gained experience with the projector, she envisioned a variety of supporting technologies that would dovetail with the projector's capabilities. When she learned of the CCS technology grant, she decided to develop an integrated design with her best ideas. Her proposal included the use of projectors, electronic white boards, document cameras, interactive electronic tables for data input, and even entry-level digital cameras for the students to use on class projects.

After awarding the grant to Gresser, CCS outfitted her first grade classroom with a ceiling-mounted NEC NP400 projector, an interactive white board where the projector image is displayed, an interactive electronic table for the students to input data, an eInstruction student-response system, a Mobi wireless slate, an Avermedia document camera, an Audio Enhancement audio system, two Epson heavy-duty color printers with paper and ink for life, and related hardware and network wiring. Additionally, students were provided RM Tuff Cam cameras for taking still and motion pictures. The system interfaced with Macintosh computers that were networked with Internet access.

“We are now able to go on interactive Web sites like Johnny’s math page for math lessons, and we also access StarFall.com, a reading site for improving skills, neither of which we could do before receiving the grant,” said Gresser. “Some of our students are from economically disadvantaged homes, and one of my students didn’t know what a path was – he comes from an urban environment. So I typed ‘path’ into Google and brought up images on the projector. As a result, when we came to that word in the reading assignment, his comprehension and recognition were evident, and he was able to bridge the gap.”

The document camera proved especially useful for students who were learning English as a second language. Placing the textbook under the document camera and reading aloud while text is projected onto the screen helped students to follow the lesson with greater comprehension.

Gresser recounted a social studies lesson during which she took the students on a virtual field trip to the Pyramids. The projector brought the sights of the desert into the classroom, in a way not possible with a textbook. A YouTube video posted by the Arizona Department of Fish & Game furthered explored desert life by demonstrating the effect of drought on plants.

As the success of the new technology became clear, Superstition Springs Elementary purchased 25 NEC NP400 units, with plans to buy another 21 units so all of the classrooms have NEC projectors. Rogers has decided to focus her budget on the projectors because she believes they are the most important part of the technology upgrade. Most of the classrooms rely on computers instead of electronic white boards to complement the projectors.

“We find that our teachers are clamoring for the projectors, and as more rooms are equipped, you can hear teachers in the lounge exchanging ideas on how to add new content to the lessons and how to improve the flow of a lesson based on these new technologies,” Rogers said.

Rogers noted that reinventing instruction with these new tools takes some time. Teachers try the new approach, one subject at a time, and build from their successes and experiences.

“We’re seeing improved technology literacy among the students, enhanced student attention during class, and better reading and math comprehension,” said Rogers. “Class is more fun and engaging for our students, and that translates into academic excellence.”

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