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Dry Creek modernizes classrooms

New technology helps teachers teach better
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is the second in a three-part weekly series focused on changing technology in the classroom. The first article, “Granite Bay students: Future Apple CEOs?” can be found at www.rosevillept.com.

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Back in the day, teachers stood at a chalkboard, writing lessons.

More recently, they were stuck at the front of the classroom using overhead projectors to enlarge exercises for all their students to see. Even with Smart Boards — popular in modern classes — teachers stand at the front of the room, using digital pens to write words on a large screen.

But teachers at Silverado Middle School in Roseville do things a little different. They roam around the room as they demonstrate lessons on a big-screen television, looking over students’ shoulders, pointing out mistakes and working through problems.

Their mobility is due to a piece of equipment called an Interwrite Mobi pad, a hand-held digital device. They write numbers or words on the pad, which transfer to the screen.

Interactive pens provide mouse capability, so the teacher can drag and click, controlling their computers and adding notations over, for instance, a PowerPoint presentation, from anywhere in the room.

The shift to the Interwrite pad represents a commitment by the Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District to upgrade technology in most of its 10 schools. The goal: prepare students for a future in a tech-oriented world and help teachers teach better.

They call it the “Digital Classroom Project.”

Technology upgrades

In 2008, district voters passed Measure E, which provided $67.3 million in General Obligation Bonds. In addition to building new schools, improving campus security and constructing new science labs, the bond money is intended for modernizing classroom technology. This launched the digital classroom project.

“We couldn’t do any of this without community support,” says Superintendent Mark Geyer.

District staff felt that students who are more knowledgeable of and familiar with technology would be more successful in college and the workforce. Plus, new technology aids educators.

“It serves students and helps prepare them for the future,” says school board President Tracy Pittman. “They’re seeing it used on a daily basis and, in many ways, it’s interactive so they can participate.”

Director of technology Gary Habeeb and Assistant Superintendent of administrative services Gordon Medd are leading the project with the help of facilities Director Ron Warfield and technology department staff.

To begin, the district conducted in-depth studies, talked to teachers and observed technology at other schools to determine what items best augment instruction. Then they started revamping schools.

“Technology changes rapidly and we were building schools with appropriate or state-of-the-art technology for the time,” Pittman says. “But it changes a lot so some schools are out of date.”

This past summer, the district upgraded Silverado Middle School and Olive Grove Elementary School. Next year, Antelope Crossing Middle School, Coyote Ridge Elementary School and Quail Glen Elementary School will undergo upgrades. Creekview Ranch Middle School and Barrett Ranch Elementary School are relatively new, so a lot of the current technology is already in place.

“Schools always had access to computer labs on campus, but this was raising the bar,” Geyer says. “Technology is moving ahead so fast, we wanted to use a level of tech hardware that would be expandable for the next generation, so we brought in flat-panel television screens and Interwrite pads.”

In each classroom, the pad connects to a 65-inch flat-screen television mounted at the front of the room. Teachers of all subjects find value in the televisions. For instance, a social studies teacher can show videos, with an added bonus — Internet access. They can broadcast websites to students (safeguards prevent inappropriate sites from being accessed on campus). Additionally, the district improved computer labs and rewired each school to ensure high-speed Internet connection.

Outfitting a classroom costs “not more than $5,000,” Habeeb says. Silverado has 45 classrooms, meaning the whole campus cost more than $200,000 to upgrade. But other schools won’t cost as much. Most other schools have about 30 classrooms.

When the project is done, the district will have outfitted more than 200 classrooms, Habeeb says, costing about $1 million.

Teachers adapt to new technology

On a recent morning at Silverado Middle School, math teacher Gregg Motarjeme turns on his television and Interwrite pad — after taking attendance on his cell phone. He has prepared a PowerPoint presentation on polynomials, which he opens on the large screen.

He uses his handheld device to jot down notes as he teaches. The students work through the equations, as Motarjeme walks among them. In a nearby class, Algebra teacher Kristina Branson moves around the class, looking at students’ work on their mini white boards.

“It’s easy for teachers to teach how they learned,” Habeeb says. “That’s why we’re so impressed with Kristina and Gregg.”

Those two teachers have adapted to the changing technology, implementing the equipment into their daily lessons. The district encourages teachers to use technology how it best fits their subject matter.

“We didn’t say you have to do this, you have to do that,” Habeeb says.

Superintendent Geyer says today’s students are digital natives, as opposed to teachers and administrators who are digital immigrants.

“We can use technology but we don’t think technology the same way students do,” Geyer says.

Because kids now learn differently, schools must find ways to accommodate this change. His school district, he says, is doing just that.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.