The Productive Classroom

It’s a wonderful environment for children to enter a 21st century classroom outfitted with every possible cutting edge learning tool available to ensure that education is fun, convenient and exciting. But not every student has the benefit of stepping into a brand new classroom each September when so many school buildings in the U.S. are aging. Districts simply don’t have the funding to construct new schools, and educators must find other resources to tap to ensure that students have an experience that is conducive to learning. However, interactive technology makes it simple for schools to turn their classrooms into well-rounded education environments.

Technology to Engage Students
Many products and tools are available and are already being adopted into classrooms across the country. An example, Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) in Florida, a district consisting of 45 school sites with approximately 33,000 PreK-12 students, has currently implemented 740 Epson BrightLink interactive projectors into its classrooms with a goal of 1,400 total integrations by the end of 2013.

The BrightLink interactive projectors allow for annotation from multiple sources like iPads, Blu-ray or DVD players, laptop computers and document cameras. When used in conjunction with a whiteboard, the projectors allow for an exciting learning environment in which students are engaged. “Teachers are using the projectors in science, math and social studies classes,” says Robert Horter, an ACPS teacher on special assignment.

Another option some schools are choosing comes from Luidia, who offers eBeam interactive technology products that can retrofit a standard whiteboard. The eBeam product line came to fruition back in early 2000 when a team at Luidia determined how to capture whiteboard marker strokes with a pen sleeve that encircles a standard whiteboard marker. It is intended to not only improve the learning environment, but also to help teachers make their lessons more compelling.

Says Brad Richter, senior director of design at Luidia, “Teachers today face a great deal of challenges so we’ve included resources and templates to make it easier to enhance existing files and create lessons that excite their students. In K-5 classrooms, students interact with digital manipulatives and interactive websites that allow them to explore and reinforce concepts. In middle school and high school, teachers use eBeam software for more dynamic tasks like hyperlinking data from online articles, collaborating with other classes in remote locations and screen recorded lessons for flipped classroom instruction.”

Children are accustomed to playing computer games and using smart phones to text — it only seems logical to combine some of those tasks to make lessons more exciting and involved. Promethean’s ActivExpression, a learner response system that resembles a smart phone, does just that.

Alison Murphy is a language arts teacher at the Maurice and Everett Haines Sixth Grade Center in Medford, N.J. She utilizes ActivExpression, which comes as a set of classroom handheld devices that enable her students to answer questions via a QWERTY keyboard. The students use the devices for quizzes and to play educational games. ActivExpression enables Murphy to assess how well each student is doing in class, and she can readily determine who needs extra help in a particular area simply by their answers.

The kids like to use the technology, and it helps make Murphy’s job a little easier. She explains, “As a middle school teacher, I have about 90 kids on my team. The ease of the technology to get a quick check of each of my students is an asset in my room where I am able to then differentiate learning at a quicker pace.”

Murphy addresses another key point. While the devices are certainly convenient for both child and teacher alike, they also serve the purpose of getting students acclimated with technology, as some might not otherwise have access to it outside of school. She says, “We are living in a ‘tablet’ world, and the students need to be able to use these technologies in order to be competitive with other learners.”

Teachers and Students Approve
When technology is included within a curriculum, students and teachers alike see advantages. Michelle Barton is a sixth grade science and math teacher at Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures (FACTS) Charter School in Philadelphia. She uses a Promethean Smart Board in her classroom, which saves her lessons, enabling her to return to them days or even weeks afterwards. Barton states, “We can refer to prior lessons whereas it was impossible with a conventional chalkboard. Nothing is ever really ‘erased’ now. Students also gain better understanding by referring back to something we did earlier. It makes classroom discussions richer when students can call on information from prior days.”

Additionally, Barton has the flexibility to move throughout her classroom to check on her students, yet not miss a second of precious time teaching. She adds, “I have a wireless, electronic pad in which I can write and it appears on the board. So I can walk around the room and write on the board at the same time. It’s wonderful. The board is nice to show video clips and slideshows. Everyone gets a great view, which is crucial in science.”

Amie Coleman, a first grade teacher at The Hope Institute Learning Academy in Chicago, has been using Luidia’s eBeam technology in her classroom. She has found that her students are having fun as they learn. “The technologies I am using are beyond beneficial because it is like having a classroom without walls,” she says. “I can tell the children about China but to have the ability to show them in detail what it looks like makes a total difference. It stays with the students and builds their background knowledge.”

The teachers are obviously finding great results with interactive technology, but one wonders: do the students appreciate it? Jessica Magee, a senior at Bel Air High School in Bel Air, Md., has become used to technology, most notably, interactive whiteboards in the classroom. As a student, she has personally found the whiteboards to be advantageous. She explains, “The interactive whiteboards are more helpful than the old overhead projector we used to have because fonts or colors can be changed if a student has trouble seeing the words. With the projector, there was no ability to make any changes to the text.”

Engaging Teachers + Interactive Technology = Productive Classroom

Technology can surely be helpful and bring a more interactive environment to the classroom, but it must be used as a tool and can never be a substitute for a well-prepared, engaging educator. Barton concludes, “I think technology can be beneficial in the classroom but the content still needs to be there in a lesson. The technology cannot replace good teaching. A great teacher doesn’t rely on the technology but instead uses it to facilitate.”

Overall, educators can utilize interactive technology as a guide to not only enhance the way their students learn but also as a tool that enables them to be better involved in the lessons. Coleman expressed a desire to see more teachers using such offerings. She says, “I wish every educator could see how the technology holds the students’ attention and how it provides the visuals we otherwise wouldn’t have. Interactive technology not only improves the way students learn, but also the way in which teachers teach.” 

Karen Spring has been a technical writer for more than 10 years. She also worked as a senior editor for an IT publishing and consulting firm and has written technical reports on Microsoft products and contributes to a weekly newsletter that highlights network and Internet security topics.