For many educators, the latest in-class technologies, such as laptops and whiteboards, would make any classroom dreamy. For others, connecting outside the classroom is the high-tech way to go. We asked a few K12 adminstrators across the nation—in small and large districts, rural and urban—to reveal their greatest classroom desires in celebration of DA’s annual Top 100 New Products issue. Here’s what they told us.
Director of Technology and Media Services Escondido (Calif.) Union School District (K8)
America’s iPod generation would feel at home in Kathy Shirley’s dream classroom. A few schools in her district are using iPods to improve students’ reading comprehension skills. Students listen to audio and read text on the devices, and by connecting a microphone, English Language Learners can read aloud and record their voices, allowing them to listen to their pronunciations. “It’s very tedious, very hard work if a child is a struggling reader to improve their reading ability,” Shirley says. “So the device itself makes that hard work palatable for kids.”
Director of Technology Lincoln (Neb.) Public Schools
Kirk Langer’s dream classroom would have an interactive whiteboard and projector, allowing the teacher to display the contents of her computer screen. He also envisions “student response systems” as part of his dream classroom. Produced by manufacturers such as eInstruction, a student response system consists of handheld devices containing buttons that students press to give answers to teachers’ questions. The responses then appear on the teacher’s computer, allowing the teacher to monitor how well students are learning the material and to identify students having trouble. “It provides immediate feedback to the teacher,” Langer says.
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Brownsville (Texas) Independent School District
A dream classroom would have laptops available for students to use in class and take home with them, according to Salvador Cavazos. He also envisions a dream classroom having several “multimedia” computer stations in which groups of students could work on projects with the help of Internet research tools and multimedia elements like movies and music. That kind of multimedia, project-based instruction engages students more than simple paper-and-pencil assignments. “It certainly allows for greater creativity,” Cavazos says. “It’s just a higher-end kind of product that kids put out rather than, ‘Here’s a few paragraphs.’” The computer station arrangement also would allow the teacher to provide more differentiated instruction, he says. The teacher could break up the students into groups by skill level, allowing her to tailor instruction to each group’s academic needs as she monitors students.
Superintendent Bridgeport (Wash.) School District
For rural districts like Bridgeport in central Washington state, Gene Schmidt says that fiber-optic, high-capacity broadband would be essential for a dream classroom. “The biggest question is broadband speed,” he says. Every classroom should have an Internetconnected interactive videoconferencing center allowing students to visit other sites or classrooms with video and audio capability, “so literally your class should be able to talk to a class in Australia,” he says. Schmidt’s dream classroom would also have document cameras, which he says are important because they allow teachers to face the students during a lesson rather than turn their backs to write on a chalkboard.
Manager of Instruction Technology and Student Information Systems Sunnyvale (Calif.) School District
The Sunnyvale district has seen even techphobic teachers use document cameras, which Bruce Selzler calls one of the most important education technology tools to come along in years and would be part of his dream classroom. The district primarily uses document cameras manufactured by ELMO USA. The document cameras connect to an LCD projector and laptop computer, allowing teachers to toggle between the computer image and whatever is being viewed by the camera. Objects and papers can be magnified under the camera, which can even be directed to look through a classroom microscope. Selzler says that the technology allows for colorful and multimedia-filled presentations that engage students. “The kids are transfixed by the whole thing,” he adds.
W. RANDOLPH NICHOLS
Superintendent Chesapeake (Va.) Public Schools
One-to-one laptop computers for middle and high school students, SMART Boards and a sound amplification system to boost teachers’ voices would be part of a dream classroom for W. Randolph Nichols. He adds that a less high-tech item would be useful in the dream classroom: light, mobile desks, tables, chairs and other furniture that can easily be moved around so teachers could form student groups, which allow for more differentiated instruction. Nichols, who cites furniture manufactured by VS International as examples, adds that larger classrooms are needed now than in the past to accommodate small groups and computer workstations inside the classroom, versus the computer-lab model that many schools use.
Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools
For Fern Eisgrub, a dream classroom would have iPods so that students could listen to and record text and examine visuals, and it would have laptops and SMART Boards too. Students would also use digital cameras and video cameras to create slideshows or movies, including sound. Such multimedia projects, which can be created with software such as Windows Movie Maker, engage students and lead to a deeper understanding of the content. Having and using digital cameras in a dream classroom would allow students to document “natural changes in the environment, as well as architecture from period to period through photography,” she says.
Project Manager, National Inventors Hall of Fame Center for Science, Teaching and Mathematics Akron (Ohio) Public Schools
Maryann Wolowiec, who is developing a new science and technology high school in Akron, says her dream classroom would have video cameras, digital cameras, laptops for every student, and student response systems to provide teachers immediate feedback. Classrooms would also be able to access a portable videoconferencing center, which could consist of a rolling cart hosting a computer screen, microphone and camera, so that students could go on virtual field trips or take part in distance learning.
Superintendent Plano (Texas) Independent School District
Doug Otto says that a dream classroom would harness the power of cell phones, which are becoming ubiquitous among youths. A teacher could send assignments or other information to students’ Internet-connected cell phones. “Their use of cell phones is a great communication tool between teacher and student,” he says. The cell phones also can be used by students to search the Web and to connect to any Web-based application. Ideally, like the district, students would have wireless mice or keyboards at their desks, Otto explains. When the teacher has projected a computer presentation, students could alter what is on the projection screen by using the mice or keyboards on their desks.
Supervisor of Educational Technology/Library Media Salt Lake City (Utah) School District
Wireless access, document cameras, student response systems, and interactive whiteboards would be part of Julie Atwood’s dream classroom. Ideally, there would be a two-to-one ratio of laptops to each elementary student, while each secondary student would have one. She envisions digital cameras, video cameras and even a Nintendo Wii video game system. The video game system would be helpful to use in physical education classes, especially when weather interfered with outdoor activities. “It has often motivated students to get that P.E. in, to get that movement in,” she says.
Chief Information Officer Albuquerque (N.M.) Public Schools
For Tom Ryan, a dream classroom wouldn’t just end with what’s literally inside the classroom. He would harness the power of the expansive Internet to encourage and coordinate learning outside of class. In addition to having assignments, grades and research resources posted online, Ryan would have district administrators use content management systems and learning management systems—such as those produced by Blackboard—to allow students to work on group projects outside of class and to help each other with homework questions, a process teachers could observe.
Deputy Superintendent, Education Support Services Colorado Springs (Colo.) School District 11
Mike Poore would want computers to function as tools to empower collaboration in his dream classroom. Students engaging in project-based assignments could work on and edit the same document using Google Docs and could use services like the Web site PBWiki, which allows students to collaborate on projects using text, video and audio. The dream classroom also would have students using everyday technologies like iPods and cell phones in academic activities, especially in group projects. Text messaging could be a tool to coordinate work with groups of students at different schools, as well as a tool to disseminate information, such as exit poll data in real-time during the presidential election, Poore says. Cell phones could also be used as Internet research devices, allowing students to look up calorie levels of food at their favorite restaurant in health class, for example. Their camera and photo-swapping functions would allow journalism students to take pictures for news stories for the student newspaper, he says.
Superintendent Williamson County Schools, Franklin, Tenn.
Rebecca Sharber’s dream classroom would have wireless capability and laptops when age-appropriate. The teacher’s computer workstation would allow his laptop to be connected wirelessly to a ceiling-mounted projector in a classroom so that all students could see what’s on the computer screen. “I think the [computer] graphics that you can use are much better,” she says. “They are more engaging to students. I think students can actually read better what’s written by viewing a computer [projection] sometimes than what’s written on a blackboard.” Sharber also likes document cameras, which allow objects, books or student work to be instantly projected onto a screen without the need for time-consuming transparencies or copying.
Kevin Butler is a contributing writer for DISTRICT ADMINISTRATION.