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WDC awarded technology grant to enhance learning

Kindergarten student Jordan O'Kane answers a reading question on the interactive white board recently installed in Junelle Jackson's classroom at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary.1 / 2
Photos by Dana Pavek/WDC Schools Garrett Baron uses a special pen on the touch screen of the interactive white board while his kindergarten class looks on during a reading lesson in Junelle Jackson's class.2 / 2

Junelle Jackson's kindergarten students are taking long-distance field trips to places like California without ever leaving their classroom.

After reading a story about a panda bear, Jackson took her lesson a step further. On her computer, she logged onto the San Diego Zoo Web site, where a live Web cam is located inside the panda cage. Jackson's computer is connected to a 7-foot-by-4-foot interactive whiteboard, which is hung like a chalkboard on her classroom wall. The live web cam of the panda mother, Bai Yun, and her 5-month-old cub, is projected onto interactive whiteboard to the amazement of Jackson's wide-eyed kindergartners, who immediately "ooh" and "aah" at the live images before them.

"For a brief moment, we all went to San Diego and watched the mother panda interact with her cub. The kids thought it was awesome!" said Jackson, who's in her 27th year of teaching at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary. "When I first started teaching, there weren't any computers in our school. I am so in awe over how technology has been integrated into our teaching."

Thanks to a $200,000 technology grant awarded to Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools recently, students, teachers and staff in both elementary and high school classrooms will experience a new level of learning via educational technology. Interactive white boards are just one example of how WDC Schools is achieving that goal.

Awarded by the U.S. Department of Education., the Enhancing Education Through Technology grant or what's referred to as the E2T2 grant, will support WDC's on-going goals of focusing on academic achievement and implementing technology in the elementary and high school classrooms. WDC applied and received the maximum amount of $200,000.

The technology grant will provide the following for the WDC School District:

1. Professional development - building technology skills internally at WDC and externally with school communities.

2. Installation of interactive white boards and projectors in each classroom.

3. Installation of two computer labs (60 computers) in the elementary (one mobile and one permanent lab).

4. Installation of Accelerated Math Program and Scholastic Read 180 - increasing student achievement through technology that can calculate student math and reading levels and track progress.

5. Hiring of technology integration specialist.

According to WDC science teacher Kelly Shrode, who was hired to fill the role of technology integration specialist, the integration of technology in the classroom will provide students with the ability to look at learning in a whole new light.

"We believe that by making a systemic change in how we deliver our curriculum, we will make profound impact on student engagement and achievement, both in and out of the classroom," Shrode said.

The technology integration specialist position will be funded for the next 1 ½ years exclusively by the technology grant. Shrode's job will be to lead, research, implement and provide model lessons for efficient integration of technology into the classrooms.

"I am here to make (teachers') lives easier," said Shrode with a smile. "I will be working with teachers, training them and then making sure we are meeting our technology goals for student achievement."

Another reason the technology grant will be a great asset to WDC School District, is it will help the district with their AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) in the area of mathematics - an area they've been deficient in for the past two years. WDC Superintendent Virginia Dahlstrom is determined to see that change with the help of technology.

"After further analyzing our data, we discovered curriculum development and technology integration would be a necessity if we wanted our students to become engaged, interactive learners," said Dahlstrom.

Other exciting aspects of this grant are "Tech Tuesdays" and "Atomic Learning." Tech Tuesdays will allow teachers the professional development time to learn technology and develop lessons.

Founded in 2000 by a group of technology educators in Little Falls, Minn., Atomic Learning provides online technology training and support for teachers. For example, Atomic Learning provides teachers with access to over 120 classroom-ready projects. Each project comes complete with downloadables for completing the project, discussion questions and both teacher and student assessments. This provides the ability to gauge either gaps in knowledge or progress made by the test-taker.

"Atomic Learning provides teachers and students the ability to learn in and outside the classroom," said Shrode. "Students with computers at home or at the school's computer lab can get step-by-step instructions on any computer program they are using."

For example, students will no longer have to wait for instructions on how to create a PowerPoint. Now they have the ability to ask a question on Atomic Learning and be directed to short video clips that will walk them through the answer.

With the grant, WDC Schools will be able to implement technology for the READ 180 and Accelerated Mathematics programs as well. READ 180 would be provided to 50 students whose reading skills are below the proficient level and would give them the opportunity to receive individualized instruction while improving their reading skills. Accelerated Mathematics would be made available to 410 students in grades 4 to 8. It would create math assignments tailored to each student's current level, provide ongoing feedback on students' daily practice, and help differentiate math instruction.

In Jackson's kindergarten class, the interactive white board has opened up many different avenues for teaching her students, she said. After their visit to the San Diego Zoo, they moved on to using the interactive white board for math. Jackson and the students use the interactive white board like a touch screen to answer questions or write numbers and letters. Jackson also uses the board for reading and handwriting exercises, and is planning to incorporate more of her day using the interactive white board.

"There are times where I sit back and watch the kids learn and grow. They are amazing me every day since we installed the white board into our classroom. They are not afraid of the white board at all. They are eager to learn and can't wait for me to turn it on," said Jackson. "Plus, it is fun for me to be able to find new ways to teach, which makes each day an exciting new adventure."

What is an Interactive White Board?

An Interactive White Boards or IWB, is a large interactive display that connects to a computer and projector. A projector projects the computer's desktop onto the board's surface, where users control the computer using a pen-like device. The board is typically mounted to a wall or on a floor stand.

IWBs are used in many schools as replacements for traditional whiteboards or flipcharts. They provide ways to show students anything which can be presented on a computer's desktop (educational software, web sites, and others). In addition, IWBs allow teachers to record their instruction and post the material for review by students at a later time. This can be a very effective instructional strategy for students who benefit from repetition, who need to see the material presented again, for students who are absent from school, for struggling learners, and for review for examinations.

Brief instructional blocks can be recorded for review by students -- they will see the exact presentation that occurred in the classroom with the teacher's audio input. This can help transform learning and instruction.