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Newport News high-tech classrooms feature smart boards, clickers and collaboration
[March 24, 2009]

Newport News high-tech classrooms feature smart boards, clickers and collaboration

Mar 24, 2009 (Daily Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Christine Steigleman's 21st century classroom in Hidenwood Elementary School looks a lot like a 20th century classroom. There are posters and whiteboards on the walls, a trio of computers in a corner, 22 tablelike desks and chairs, books on shelves and a furry class pet in a cage on the counter.

Three tools with a combined price tag of $4,300 push the classroom into high-tech territory: a large wall-mounted interactive computer screen, a digital projector and a box of what look like remote control devices, called clickers.

Add students and teachers who believe in interaction and the room crackles with energy and buzzes with conversation.

"It's not a quiet classroom," Principal Brian Nichols observed as he watched students working together on math problems. "They need to talk. They need to share." Hidenwood has 12 classrooms equipped with the new technology tools. It also has three carts packed with laptop computers that move from room to room for reading and writing lessons. There are also two "portable" Smart Board screens with projectors and clickers for use in traditional classrooms.

But the focus of the 21st century classroom is not on the tools. It's on the skills.

"It's really a philosophical approach," Nichols said.

Students work on problem solving and analysis. They must be able to explain and show how they came up with answers. They work as often in teams as they do alone.

Steigleman and co-teacher Shanna Jones teach a mix of special education and nondisabled students. Nichols said the tools, interactive teaching style and teamwork has helped the class perform as well or better than other fifth-graders across the district.

Students are encouraged to help each other before asking an adult for assistance, and most of the time they find the solutions themselves, Steigleman said. During a recent math class, they worked together on practice problems projected on the screen while she roamed the room. They logged onto the screen with their clickers.

Steigleman said students love the clickers. "They feel like they're playing a video game." She also likes the clickers, which record everything a student does. "I can see who needs the extra support immediately. I don't have to wait," she said.

Students worked through the problems with a more low-tech tool: dry-erase boards about the size of a legal pad, called slates, and markers. The slates, which cost about $1.60 each, replace notebook paper, reducing the amount of paper waste. Nichols said students in all grades like the slates, which are easy to hold and use.

Nichols said the school does not have sets of slates for every classroom, but one fourth-grade class found that dry-erase markers work fine on the desktops, which can be erased. Nichols encourages such innovation.

"If you had the same assignment with paper, you wouldn't have this level of engagement," Nichols said.

Nichols sees some innovations he can envision using in his school. Students soon might be able to take work to and from home on tiny flash or hard drives. And he can see using cell phones or portable devices in the classroom for lessons, ranging from looking up information to sharing ideas with classmates.

As math class ended, Nichols noted no textbooks had been opened or work sheets used, but every student had answered every problem.

"With a traditional lesson, you might ask students to raise their hands if they know the answer, but you wouldn't know who doesn't have the answer," Nichols said. "This way, you know where everyone is. Nobody can hide." 21st-century tools Smart Board projection screen $1,323 Digital projector $1,545 Classroom set of clickers $1,066 Slates (individual dry-erase boards) $1.60 each Laptop computers $24,000 Digital camera (an overhead projector) $708 Microphone $22 Wireless network $5,000 21st-century skills Problem solving Collaboration Analysis Self reliance Responsibility Communications Source: Newport News Public Schools To see more of the Daily Press, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2009, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

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