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Local Schools Are Learning to Think Outside the Book

Teachers are more tech-savvy than ever before, with the help of resources such as multimedia instructional carts and online collaboration sites.

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Karen Broumand, a fifth-grade teacher at Hollister School, uses a document camera, an improved version of the overhead projector, to show students what she is writing. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)

Computers in the classroom are old news. Today’s local schools are beginning to utilize LCD projectors, document cameras and online collaboration as early as kindergarten.

“I think teachers are open to new technology as long as it won’t take too long for them to learn it. They’re always weighing time and benefits,” said Ned Schoenwetter, coordinator of instructional media and technology for the Goleta Union School District.

Schoenwetter’s job largely involves researching new educational tools and training teachers to use them. In the past two years, he has collaborated with several other educators, including Isla Vista School Principal Lisa Maglione, to institute a new fleet of multimedia instructional carts to the GUSD.

The carts have become a must-have on most teachers’ lists, and were first introduced to Isla Vista and El Camino schools in September 2007.

The initial feedback was overwhelmingly positive from teachers, evident when Isla Vista School ordered 20 more.

“What I really like about the smart cart is that it’s a really good visual aid,” said Jennifer Khalil, a second-grade teacher at Isla Vista School. “All the children can see whether they are in the front or the back.”

The carts are costly at about $2,500, but they include state-of-the-art equipment. Each metal cart comes with a document camera, an LCD projector, a speaker system, a wireless microphone and a DVD/VHS player.

“An LCD projector can be very powerful, because a teacher can hook it up to a laptop and be able to project things from the Internet very quickly,” Schoenwetter said.

Document cameras are basically improved versions of the older overhead projectors. They will project anything placed beneath them onto a screen through the LCD projector.

Schoenwetter predicts that the carts eventually will render overhead projectors useless; however, he says that won’t happen anytime too soon because not all classrooms are yet equipped with the pricey gadgets.

Hollister School Principal Ryan Sparre said the document cameras have made “all the difference,” allowing teachers to face their students and conduct overhead demonstrations at the same time. Hollister has 12 carts in use and has set a goal of buying 12 more this school year.

So far, 75 carts have been distributed to schools in the GUSD out of about 150 classrooms. Schools are allocated a certain amount of money from the district to spend on technology, and it’s generally left up to each school to decide whether to purchase one.

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Steve Keithley, director of instructional media services for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, visits the SBCEO’s portal Web site, which aids in online collaboration among teachers, students and parents. (Mollie Helmuth / Noozhawk photo)
Kathy Carr did her part from New Jersey to raise money for the carts at Hollister School, where her grandchildren attend. She was able to donate $2,000 through a matching gifts program.

“Ryan (Sparre) was able to buy a smart cart, which we designated for Phoebe Ball and kindergarten,” said Beth Brown, Carr’s daughter and a Hollister mom. “They would not have been high on the list to get one otherwise.”

Almost all of the financial support Hollister has used to buy the carts has been from private donations and not from general funds.

“Whenever you are talking about school budgets, you are talking about limited budgets,” Schoenwetter said. “When you are spending money on technology, that means you are probably spending less on something else. You have to be prudent.”

The other development happening in classrooms in the past few years has been an increasingly active online collaboration among teachers, students and parents.

In fact, the Santa Barbara County Education Office maintains a comprehensive portal Web site, contracting with individual districts for access. So far, the entire South County is contracted with SBCEO Portal.

“It’s an online depository of resources for teachers and students,” said Steve Keithley, director of instructional media services for SBCEO.

The site features tool such as online encyclopedias, video streaming, pod casts, math demonstrations and individual teacher Web sites such as Moodle

“Moodle is where a teacher can build an entire online component to their course world so they can have students upload assignments, take quizzes, conduct surveys,” Keithley said. “And they have really productive discussion sessions.”

After a survey a couple of years ago showed that youths wanted more games on the site, SBCEO added an entire “fun stuff” section including typing programs and ESL-friendly games.

Parents can visit the site to see what teachers are posting or to use the parent resources, provided in Spanish or English.

“In the old days, teachers would have to find print resources for every kid in the class,” Keithley said. “If it was an encyclopedia and you’ve only got one copy of the ‘A’ volume and three kids studying aardvarks, alligators and ants, you have to share.”

The site also features current events and updated articles, as well as individual resources available to teachers.

“It’s a free online resource and it’s growing. We’ve been doubling our logins every year,” Keithley said. The program has been operating in Santa Barbara County for five years.

General public cannot access the site, so it is protected and kid safe, said Keithley, who has two sons at Peabody Elementary School.

“I feel 100 percent comfortable sending my 9-year-old son or my 5-year-old son onto the portal because everything is appropriate and safe,” he said. “No one can come in and hack it.”

If any parent or student doesn’t know their login information, Keithley encourages the person to contact the portal at [email protected] Also, any teachers interested in a training seminar should inquire through the same contact.

Noozhawk intern Mollie Helmuth can be reached at [email protected]

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