Johnson City Press Sunday, April 20, 2014

Education

Towne Acres students love classroom technology

September 17th, 2011 11:57 pm by Gary B. Gray

Do you think technology makes class more fun?
“YEAH!!!!,” a group of fifth-grade students rang out from their math class at Towne Acres Elementary as they all raised their arms and shook their hands in anticipation of a unique method of testing they obviously prefer over the old pencil and paper routine.
During Ruth Loving’s class, the students used what’s called a classroom performance system to do a review of math problems in which each student points a device at a screen and pushes the letter that corresponds to an answer they believe is the correct one.
Numbers assigned to each student appear at the bottom of the screen indicating whether they’ve made their choice. When the answer is revealed, numbers pop up on the screen showing the correct answer, the total number that got it right and the number of students who chose other answers.
What it does not do is single out which students got the wrong answer — at least not to other students. Meanwhile, Loving can immediately look at her laptop and see the percentage of students answering the question correctly, and incorrectly, giving her instant information about the need for further review.
The system also tallies the responses and stores them in a database which she uses to make judgment calls on progress and eventually, grades — without the need for a grade book.
“It’s a great system,” she said while pointing out its features, including a black box from which a blue light shone. “It’s kind of like ‘Jeopardy!’ A lot of what we do is mental math, meaning a way of increasing cognitive skills without putting pen to paper. The beauty of this is I’ve used this system for years, and some (of the devices) still have their original batteries that can be recharged.”
All third- fourth- and fifth-grade teachers at Towne Acres share the system. Many classes also use NComputing. This “desktop virtualization” company manufactures hardware and software to create virtual desktops (sometimes called zero clients or thin clients) which enable multiple users to simultaneously share a single operating system. It makes for a mini-computer lab in the classrooms.
Loving said electronic readers and wireless connections are highest on her wish list, and she’s not the only one.
“If money was no object, all students would have laptops and eBooks,” said Doug Keller, a media technical assistant whose services are paid for on a contract basis. “Almost everything we do now is web based. The way technology works now — pretty much as soon as you buy something it becomes obsolete.”
Towne Acres Principal Steve Barnett said that for the last three to four years, “we’ve been on a maintenance mode,” meaning updates and upkeep, and not the exploration, training and use of new technology has been the norm.
But that doesn’t mean school administrators and staff aren’t considering changes. In fact, just down the hall from the classroom, Donna Patterson, the school’s media specialist, was going over the features of the new “nook” with Vicki Combs, a Barnes and Noble community relations manager.
The two sat in the library discussing applications and costs. Though there are no immediate plans to purchase the devices for student use, Patterson wanted to learn all she could.
“We’re looking at readers and considering writing grants so we can update the information students can access,” she said.

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