Highlights from T&L top classrooms

from Tech&Learning

A look back at some of the year's best practices from America's classrooms. For the full stories, go to www.techlearning.com

Make Your Own Videos

DISTRICT: Horry County, Myrtle Beach, SC

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Horry County produces their own video programs, such as news shows and a science series called "Forever Wild," and uploads them to their server for the teachers to use. David Bell, media services coordinator, says this helped to solve the cumbersome process of ensuring that DVDs and videos were circulated to the district's 50 schools. Streaming allows the district to distribute materials to teachers for professional development, homebound students, parents, and teleconferences. They paid a one-time cost of $5,000 for one encoder. Their network was already in place, as well as their production studios and other materials.

Create A Game Design Course

DISTRICT: Phoebus High School, Hampton City Schools, Hampton, VA

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: When Debby Martin, a business education teacher, saw that community colleges were offering game design courses, she thought it would help her students in the work world if they learned this skill. She introduced a Video Gaming class that kicked off with a curriculum that includes the history of computer programming; an introduction to the Java programming language; training on Game Maker software; and instruction in Alice—a 3-D programming environment developed by Carnegie Mellon researchers. Martin reports that students responded positively to the class and is expecting even greater outcomes after training last summer—thanks to a National Science Foundation grant—with two computer science professors who support educators' use of Alice software.

Keep 1:1 Going

DISTRICT: Kershaw County School District, SC

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: When the district looked to upgrade its antiquated computer hardware, then-Superintendent Herbert Berg presented one-to-one as a solution. Agnes Slayman, assistant superintendent, says they had to jump through many hoops to secure the needed $8 million to fund the program for the three high schools. They standardized their resources to save considerable money already allocated, then turned to their community for additional financial support. Once local funding was secured, Kershaw contracted with Hewlett-Packard, signing four concurrent leases, each for about $2 million. In January 2005, more than 800 ninth-grade students were issued notebook computers. Though it's faced challenges, Kershaw also has seen results. Parents have become more involved since each teacher created an eChalk page where homework is posted. In fact, Web site hits increased from 30,787 the first year to 118,715 last year.

Teach the Teachers

DISTRICT: Palm Beach County School District, FL

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: John Long of Florida's Palm Beach County School District provides training and support for the district's 104 elementary schools. Of all of his professional achievements, he is perhaps best known for his digital storytelling academy. In 2002, he formed the MOD (Multimedia on Demand) Squad, an enthusiastic group of tech-forward educators. The MOD Squad got to work training 50 teachers in the district to compose multimedia stories and to teach their students to do the same. In fall 2004, Long and his colleagues created a "tech ambassadors" program, in which two teachers from each of the district's elementary schools are trained to be on-the-ground tech mentors. The first year of training zeroed in on basic technology integration. Years two and three introduced more advanced projects, including digital content and digital curriculum creation. And in year four, the 200 ambassadors moved into the realm of Web 2.0, learning how to produce and distribute podcasts.

Go Open Source

DISTRICT: Saugus School District, CA

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: In 2004, Saugus Union School District took on one of its most high-profile projects: adopting open source. Though you might assume cost savings was the primary motivation, it was the desire for a flexible system that actually motivated Jim Klein, director of information services and technology, to switch all 52 systems from Novell NetWare to an open-source platform. In four weeks, Klein and his team adopted a system that included virtual network computing. Today, Klein says, Saugus boasts a computer network with faster computers. Even the oldest computers are more reliable. And the IT staff is better able to support teacher, staff, and students. In the first year alone, Saugus officials estimate that the district was able to save $65,000 in licensing fees by using open-source desktop software. The district's next focus is on open-source Web applications.

Get Creative with Software

DISTRICT: Ohama Public Schools, NE

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Sarah Shotkoski had a unique idea to get her kids excited about reading: making flipbooks. Each sixth grade student takes a basic picture book and turns it into a digital picture book using GarageBand, iTunes, scanners, and iMovie. They start by bringing in their favorite childhood picture books. Shotkoski does a lesson on expression and how a reader's tone, volume, and voice inflection can change a story. Once students have practiced adding expression to their reading, Shotkoski shows them how to tape themselves using GarageBand and students record their stories. They then listen to the recording to edit out mistakes, then add introductory music and page turn cues. They upload these GarageBand podcasts and the school iTunes, which are used in a listening center in a second grade classroom. This helps younger students listen to fluency, while the older students learn how to use the software and practice reading expression.

Give Back With Tech

DISTRICT: Highlander Way Middle School, MI

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: As a technology literacy teacher, Carole Colburn wants her students to learn—and to be empowered to help others—by working on projects that immerse them in their community. One project, developed by Colburn and district colleague Chris Eldred, marshaled students from various classes to raise awareness about Habitat for Humanity. Colburn's Technology Literacy students analyzed the Livingston County Habitat for Humanity Web site and created PowerPoint slide shows designed to compel viewers to volunteer or to donate money. Communications Arts students wrote and produced skits about what it might be like to need a Habitat home. Applied Technology and Art students from nearby Three Fires Middle School designed dollhouses and miniature furniture to reflect the look and feel of a typical Habitat home. At the end of the project, students raffled off the dollhouses and donated $800 in proceeds to the Livingston County Habitat for Humanity.

Assess with iTunes

DISTRICT: Escondido School District, CA

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Instead of stashing their iPods or Nanos with a groan at the start of each class, students in the Escondido Union School District K-8 use them as part of the IRead program. Kathy Shirley, director of technology and media services for Escondido, created a unique program using the iPod classic and nano, along with a third-party Belkin voice recorder, to record student reading fluency and comprehension practice. The student simply reads the passage into the recorder. The captured voice memo files are transferred to iTunes to create a digital record, or eportfolio, of their progress. Escondido data studies indicate the IRead program is a success, showing 2-4 times higher student fluency and accuracy gains in classrooms using the iPod. Second language learners also benefit as students can practice correct pronunciation of troublesome words.

Find Money

DISTRICT: Tintic School District, UT

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Five years ago, the IT budget of the Tintic School District, of which Thomas Nedreberg is the technology director, was wiped out. The state of Utah had shifted technology into a block grant and then reduced the grant by 60 percent, which left TSD, a small rural district, in a tough spot. This sudden change of fortune might have deterred most mortals. Not so for Tom Nedreberg, who immediately set out to find alternative funding. Nedreberg's first success on the funding front was applying for and receiving a $50,000 state special education grant for building improvement. The money was used to upgrade network and telephone communications in four schools that previously had wires strung along the ceilings and walls. He also nabbed $25,000 in E-rate internal-connection funds to establish wireless networks and to upgrade the district's Web server. Next, Nedreberg signed up for eMints, a professional development program funded through an Enhancing Education Through Technology federal grant. As part of the grant, four district classrooms were set up with a 2:1 student-to-computer ratio, projectors, digital cameras, and teacher laptops. He also found additional money—namely, state funds earmarked for online testing—enabling the district to continue with eMints and to add five more classrooms to the project. This past year brought a welcome surprise to TSD: the state of Utah restored the district's technology funding. Superintendent Ron Barlow points out that because of Nedreberg's creative financing in the "unfunded" years, the district's technology program never missed a beat.

Go to the Video for Science

DISTRICT: Riverside High School, OH

HOW TECH MAKES A DIFFERENCE: Carol Fleck doesn't just teach science basics. Using videoconferencing, she is able to teach more complicated subjects like emerging diseases, bioterrorism, and forensic science. Her Contemporary Bio- Science and Genetics is a groundbreaking class and the only one of its kind in Ohio. Taught simultaneously through videoconferencing by Fleck and her counterpart at Kirtland High School, Kim Perry, the course has logged more than 1,400 videoconferences and nas been taken by 200 students since its inception in 2001. Fleck feels the collaboration between schools is a key part of the course experience. Riverside students pair up with Kirtland students, communicating by videoconference, telephone, fax, online chats, and email to create a product—a PowerPoint presentation on biological agents, for example—that can be shared with the wider community. Such intense tech exposure has given students a natural "hook" into science and technology, says Fleck, who was named eTech Ohio's 2004 Ohio Technology Teacher of the year. Not surprisingly, many of her students have gone on to be science majors in college, including one who crafted an individualized major in science communications.