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New tools of engagement

Computer technology has given new life to that centuries-old classroom staple … the blackboard.

Several schools in Mecklenburg County are adding interactive electronic boards, which resemble blackboards but are powered by computers, to their classrooms and media centers.

The boards – which go by the trade names of Smart Board and Mimio Board – allow teachers to prepare lesson plans in advance and conduct classes in which students can add digital photos and computer-based information.

Teachers say the boards grab the attention of their students, who are products of the TV and computer age. And, they say, the technology allows classes to become interactive.

Technology teachers at a number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are conducting workshops this summer, hoping to train more of their teachers in use of the boards.

The interactive nature of the boards was on display one morning near the end of the recent school year at David Cox Road Elementary, where fourth-grade teacher Anna Rodriguez led her class in a mathematics and economics lesson. Rodriguez set up a lesson in which students tried to determine the effect of weather and other market forces on the success or failure of an imaginary lemonade stand.

Rodriguez directed the class by using a laptop computer, which contained the lesson plan. A projector transfers the information to a white board. She and the students can touch spots on the board – much like touching icons on a computer – to open other windows or change the screen. She asked students to guess what would happen to the lemonade stand's profits if the weather turned bad, or the price of raw materials, such as lemons, increased. After every question, nearly every student's hand shot up to answer.

“You see how engaged they are,” Rodriguez said. “With this technology, we are able to visit Web sites and check out the latest and greatest information.”

Joan Nieves, technology teacher at David Cox Road, said an entire system – interactive board, projector and mounting devices – costs about $3,000. The equipment comes with an electronic “eraser” and four “markers” that write in different colors on the screen. Her school bought four units, two through a grant and two purchased by the PTA. Two units are permanently assigned to fourth-grade classes; one other is in the technology lab, and the fourth can be moved to any classroom.

“Our goal now is to train more teachers on how to use this,” Nieves said. “But it's really great. The kids can get up and get involved. And the kids stay engaged, because their peers are involved.”

A corporate grant enabled Pawtuckett Elementary School in west Charlotte to buy two units.

“Some of our teachers were a little nervous about the new technology at first,” said Jenny Widner, technology teacher at Pawtuckett. “But when they saw our kindergarten students using it, they realized it was something they could pick up easily.”

Young conducted a lesson late in the school year in which students took digital photos of objects, then loaded them into the lesson plan. They used the photos to show how changes can be either positive or negative. They loaded their photos into a computer program and built an “art gallery” that they viewed on the electronic board. By touching the board, students were able to move around the room, showing their photos.

Teachers noted that the technology also is similar to the various role-playing games that are popular with children on electronic game consoles and computers.

Fourth-grade teacher Emily Young said she “is really looking forward to using it more next year.”

“There is much, much more that we can do with this,” Young said. “The kids actually figured it out quicker than I did, and I consider myself somewhat tech-savvy. This really holds their interest.”

Computer technology has given new life to that centuries-old classroom staple … the blackboard.

Several schools in Mecklenburg County are adding interactive electronic boards, which resemble blackboards but are powered by computers, to their classrooms and media centers.

The boards – which go by the trade names of Smart Board and Mimio Board – allow teachers to prepare lesson plans in advance and conduct classes in which students can add digital photos and computer-based information.

Teachers say the boards grab the attention of their students, who are products of the TV and computer age. And, they say, the technology allows classes to become interactive.

Technology teachers at a number of Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools are conducting workshops this summer, hoping to train more of their teachers in use of the boards.

The interactive nature of the boards was on display one morning near the end of the recent school year at David Cox Road Elementary, where fourth-grade teacher Anna Rodriguez led her class in a mathematics and economics lesson. Rodriguez set up a lesson in which students tried to determine the effect of weather and other market forces on the success or failure of an imaginary lemonade stand.

Rodriguez directed the class by using a laptop computer, which contained the lesson plan. A projector transfers the information to a white board. She and the students can touch spots on the board – much like touching icons on a computer – to open other windows or change the screen. She asked students to guess what would happen to the lemonade stand's profits if the weather turned bad, or the price of raw materials, such as lemons, increased. After every question, nearly every student's hand shot up to answer.

“You see how engaged they are,” Rodriguez said. “With this technology, we are able to visit Web sites and check out the latest and greatest information.”

Joan Nieves, technology teacher at David Cox Road, said an entire system – interactive board, projector and mounting devices – costs about $3,000. The equipment comes with an electronic “eraser” and four “markers” that write in different colors on the screen. Her school bought four units, two through a grant and two purchased by the PTA. Two units are permanently assigned to fourth-grade classes; one other is in the technology lab, and the fourth can be moved to any classroom.

“Our goal now is to train more teachers on how to use this,” Nieves said. “But it's really great. The kids can get up and get involved. And the kids stay engaged, because their peers are involved.”

A corporate grant enabled Pawtuckett Elementary School in west Charlotte to buy two units.

“Some of our teachers were a little nervous about the new technology at first,” said Jenny Widner, technology teacher at Pawtuckett. “But when they saw our kindergarten students using it, they realized it was something they could pick up easily.”

Young conducted a lesson late in the school year in which students took digital photos of objects, then loaded them into the lesson plan. They used the photos to show how changes can be either positive or negative. They loaded their photos into a computer program and built an “art gallery” that they viewed on the electronic board. By touching the board, students were able to move around the room, showing their photos.

Teachers noted that the technology also is similar to the various role-playing games that are popular with children on electronic game consoles and computers.

Fourth-grade teacher Emily Young said she “is really looking forward to using it more next year.”

“There is much, much more that we can do with this,” Young said. “The kids actually figured it out quicker than I did, and I consider myself somewhat tech-savvy. This really holds their interest.”

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