Cumberland County schools can now broadcast lessons across the entire district
Nov 12, 2012 (The Fayetteville Observer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Math teacher Rachel Hendrickson has the capability to teach every algebra class in Cumberland County high schools at the same time.
All it takes is a SMART Board, laptop, webcam and a computer program that allows teachers to interact with students anywhere in the district.
SMART Bridgit, a conferencing software, connects students with the class using a real-time video stream.
The computer software is one way the school system is meeting the federal requirement to have a certified teacher in the classroom.
Superintendent Frank Till Jr. said the challenge to meet the federal requirements led to discussions about expanding the use of Bridgit in schools.
"We are in an era where just the use of the standard textbook is not meeting the students' needs," he said. "We do not want to limit our students. Technology allows us to do more."
The school system paid $6,000 for the software. The initiative began as a pilot program last year at South View Middle School.
"It is dynamic instruction," said Ruben Reyes, executive director of exceptional children services. "It allows you to interact.
"Most of the programs on the market, you see the teacher, you hear the teacher, but you are missing the content. This enables you to have the best of both worlds," he said. "Some of the programs, you have to have a physical lab set up. Anyone who is in our network can access this. This is something that can touch more kids."
Reyes said the purpose of the program is not to replace teachers.
"This is really a tool to enable teachers to share their expertise," he said. "Without the teacher, this tool doesn't do anything."
The initiative started as a way to ensure that all students have access to a highly qualified teacher. Because of federal requirements, special education teachers must be certified to teach the content like any other teacher.
"What we wanted to do was use Bridgit as a means to ensure that the students had access and that they still had the level of special education support that they needed," Reyes said.
The certified teachers and exceptional children's teachers meet weekly to discuss lessons that will be streamed. The exceptional children's teacher is in the classroom during the live stream to aid students.
On a recent Monday, Rachel Hendrickson and her students worked through an algebra equation on the SMART Board in her classroom at Gray's Creek High School.
An image of Summer Dupont's students appeared in the corner of the board. Dupont's students were working on the same equation in an exceptional children's class in a different part of the school.
Teachers have noticed an increase in participation by students in exceptional children's classes, said Gray's Creek High School Principal Vernon Aldridge.
"What we have found with our students with disabilities is that they are not apt to speak out in larger groups or ask for assistance or have the opportunity for more one-on-one instruction in a larger setting," he said. "The use of Bridgit has made the kids excited and interested in math. We have seen more success by students in the math classes."
Teachers can also live stream their classes to other schools across the county, Reyes said. The school system can run 600 bridge sessions at one time throughout the district.
"There may be a situation where a teacher is out on long-term medical leave or a school has a vacancy they have difficulty filling," Reyes said. "Instead of having a substitute teaching the class, what some schools have done is bridge two classrooms together with the sub acting more as the facilitator."
The next frontier is using Bridgit for homebound students.
"A homebound teacher goes out to provide the work and tries to help the student, but the student is missing the day-to-day instruction that he would normally get," said Reyes. "This will enable them to access what is going on in the classroom. The technology is there. The next step is to work with individual students."
Aldridge , the Gray's Creek principal, said he is excited about the educational possibilities with the use of Bridgit.
"We are in a generation of kids who are technology savvy," he said. "What we have found is when you add that technology piece to it, they tend to perform better. I think having this technology piece is huge.
"We are about creating 21st century learners, and this is definitely utilizing 21st century technology."
Staff writer Venita Jenkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3511.
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