R-IV district adds technology to enhance student learning

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Several Cassville educators are getting the opportunity to expand their teaching techniques with the addition of new technology in the Cassville R-IV School District.

Over the past year and a half, district officials have been equipping classrooms with SMART boards, teacher computer stations and personal laptops for students thanks to grant money made available through Governor Matt Blunt's Math, Engineering, Technology and Science (METS) program.

The first grant received by the district last school year allowed Richard Asbill, the district's curriculum director, to purchase three SMART boards, three teacher laptops and desktop stations and 75 student laptops for three different classrooms. According to Asbill, a SMART board is an interactive whiteboard that connects to the computer and allows the computer image to be projected onto the board.

"The SMART board becomes an extension of the computer," said Asbill. "It makes the computer an interactive resource for every child in the classroom."

Wendy Miekley's fourth grade classroom, Maria San Paolo's fifth grade classroom and Stephanie Mebruer's high school physical science classes were the recipients of the initial grant. The grant funding, which totalled $31,000 per classroom, also paid for the purchase of digital cameras, printers, digital projectors and classroom furniture for all three classrooms.

These new wireless systems were implemented in March of last year, so the 2008-09 school year will mark the first full year these three teachers and their students will be utilizing the state-of-the-art technology. This is a program of improvement that Asbill said has received tremendous support from Superintendent Jim Orrell and members of the Cassville R-IV School Board.

The infusion of new technology into district classrooms alone is not enough to impact student achievement, according to Asbill, who authored the district's technology grants. It is the training component of the grant program that makes the new technology initiative so appealing.

"Just having the technology doesn't do anything," said Asbill. "It's the training component that is essential."

Miekley, San Paolo and Mebruer each committed to attend over 225 hours of training over a two-year period. Once these teachers are trained, they will be expected to train their peers.

"We now have good hands-on people who know how to put the technology to work in the classroom," said Asbill.

Miekley said the training she received during the first year of the grant was exceptional.

"It's the best professional development I've ever had," said Miekley.

All three teachers are anxious to have a full year to utilize their technology in the classroom and all three say the SMART board and accompanying resources allow them to expand their teaching curriculum.

"I'm excited to start implementing the computers on a day-to-day basis," said San Paolo. "We want our kids to experience an expanded community."

Mebruer is also thrilled with the effect the use of the new technology is having on her students.

"All of my students get to use computer tablets," said Mebruer. "We now have immediate access to the most up-to-date information. Kids are looking at things that are happening now."

Not only does the use of laptop computers expand students' access and comfort with technology, it also allows the students to be more creative.

"Kids become familiar with computer programs that will translate into success in the workplace," said Mebruer. "It also levels the playing field. All kids now have access to computers and the internet that they might not at home."

Asbill is quick to point out that all internet access is filtered and controlled by the teachers.

The new teaching styles and access to information made available through the SMART board technology has been well accepted by students as well.

Miekley, San Paolo and Mebruer all said their students have been exceptionally careful with the laptop computers they use in class and seem more engaged in the lessons.

"The students love it," said Mebruer. "They sometimes ask me if class is already over, which teachers love to hear. They're not ready to leave when the bell rings. It's really fun to see."

"The kids are enthusiastic and excited about it," adds Miekley. "And they will be much more prepared for the world of technology."

After successfully implementing the METS grant into three classrooms, Asbill wrote additional grants and was able to purchase five more SMART boards and teacher computer stations, which were installed in classrooms before the start of the new school year.

This fall, Sue Cavness' first grade class, Mindi Gates' third grade class and Jennifer Pendergraft's seventh grade math classes will be taking advantage of the new technology. SMART boards and computers were also placed in the Cassville Intermediate School media center and Alene Campbell's middle school technology and reading classroom.

Just two days before classes were scheduled to start at Cassville last Wednesday, Cavness, Gates and Pendergraft seemed thrilled with the new additions to their classrooms.

"It's just unbelievable," said Cavness while demonstrating the use of her new SMART board. "It's really going to enhance the way I'm already teaching. It will give me the ability to demonstrate concepts and skills on a much larger scale, plus it's just fun."

"It's going to change the way I do everything," said Pendergraft. "The students will be able to experience math differently, in a more interactive way."

All five of these teachers have also committed to training, which will be conducted on campus by Campbell, who is a certified e-MINTS (Enhancing Missouri's Instructional Network and Technology System) trainer.

"We're not just buying stuff, we're making learning improvements through training and professional development," said Asbill. "The teachers that are doing this are putting in extra time to make sure instruction and student performance improves.

"It's a great leap for Cassville to get kids in the earlier grades exposed to technology before they get to high school," Asbill added.

Much of the new technology at the R-IV School District is being implemented following the successful e-MINTS model, which has a three-fold purpose:

* To inspire educators to use instructional strategies powered by technology.

* To engage students in the excitement of learning.

* To enrich teaching to dramatically improve student performance.

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