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Teachers learn technology tricks

Fifth-grade teachers are getting a taste of life on the other side, they’re being sent to class, assigned seating included. In an effort to help teachers keep pace with their students’ technological know-how, Park City School District (PCSD) fifth-grade teachers will take part in five, four-hour training sessions that will help them incorporate a new technology program into their curriculum.

The program is called eMints, an acronym that stands for "enhancing Missouri’s Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies". EMints is a program that brings new technology hardware into the classroom along with a teacher-training component. Sam Thompson, technology instructional coach for the PCSD, said the district chose eMints because it’s a system that emphasizes teacher training along with actually bringing the hardware into the classrooms.

All PCSD fifth-grade teachers met at Trailside Elementary on Thursday afternoon for one of their required training sessions.

Thompson, who served the role of teacher, arranged the classroom in such a way that each table had one teacher from each elementary school, separating teachers from their peers, but giving them a chance to exchange ideas with some new faces. Teachers were given tasks to complete within their groups, and Thompson controlled the classroom using the new technology that teachers now have access to. All the fifth-grade classrooms have state-of-the-art projection systems, served by a central control system. The controller can easily switch between displaying a laptop computer screen to a document reader. Thompson described the document reader as a new-age overhead projector. It can be placed on top of a piece of paper, passage from a book, or whatever else the teacher wishes, and that image will be projected up onto the screen.

The district is in the beginning phase of the project right now, explained Anne Jackman Parley’s Park Elementary fifth-grade teacher. She and her colleagues are learning how to use the technology so that when it’s installed, they’re prepared. The fifth-grade classrooms will be outfitted with one computer for every two students by Jan. 1. Every fifth-grade teacher was given an Apple MacBook, and one facet of the training sessions is to help teachers get their laptops set up and problem-free. Thompson said that the laptops are being used to display websites as well as to facilitate learning among teachers.

Jackman said the biggest challenge is keeping things working. She wants to avoid having to stop in the middle of a lesson to trouble-shoot because some piece of technology isn’t working correctly.

Teachers in Park City have access to Web space where they can easily create a personal Web site. At the training session, teachers had time to compare web sites and help each other make improvements or create them.

Johnson demonstrated how she uses her Web site to post student work and videos she shoots in her classroom. Johnson has videos posted of a robot project that her students completed last year. Johnson also has a place on her Web site where her students can engage in discussions about topics they cover in class. She explained that students have a log-in name and password, and the discussion board isn’t accessible to the general public.

Johnson said that she’s disappointed that more parents don’t use the website to follow what their students are doing in school.

Mike Kisow, Parley’s Park technology specialist explained that he was the kid who always forgot to bring handouts home. Now, parents of forgetful students can look online to find out what’s going on in their students’ class, even if handouts get forgotten from time to time.

The teachers have a wide variety of experience levels with technology and, for the most part, Marjean Johnson, a fifth-grade teacher at Jeremy Ranch Elementary, thinks that the differences are generational. She has a Masters degree in Technology and Curriculum development, so she’s comfortable using the latest technology in her lessons.

Johnson explained that a number of her colleagues are really stretching themselves in learning to use their laptops and other new technology. "A lot of teachers and parents are afraid of technology, but the students aren’t because they were born with a computer in their hand," Johnson said. In her classes, Johnson noticed that students often figure out how to solve technology-related problems before she does, and she said she usually presents her technology-related glitches to her classes and asks her students if they know how to solve them.

Jackman said that she understands that it’s a big commitment for the teachers to attend the training sessions and improve their technological understanding but, "it’s something you have to do if you’re going to work for this district," because this district is one of the leaders in the state for adding new technology. Jackman said that she’s looking forward to how much time and paper the new system will save.

Each classroom had an auditory system installed this summer. The teachers and students have microphones they’re able to talk into and easily be heard. Jackman said studies have shown that students pay attention better in classrooms with an auditory system because they can concentrate on what they’re doing and still hear whoever is talking.

Park City is unique because every fifth-grade classroom in the district has joined the program. Thompson explained that most districts are only able to bring the technology into a few classrooms, wherever grant money is available. The Granite School District in Salt Lake City is the leading district in Utah, and Park City has been using it as an example.

Ray Timothy, PCSD superintendent explained that the district has a plan to outfit all fourth and sixth grade classrooms with eMints technology next year. The year after that, 2010-11, the district plans to implement a one-to-one initiative that will give a laptop to every seventh-grader in the district, and help them use it all the way through high school.


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