Digital whiteboards

MARYSVILLE – Carlos Garcia, 8, wanted to reach the word “tiny” on top of the board.

Even if he extended his arm all the way up, he could barely reach it.

“Higher, higher,” his classmates urged, raising their arms and pointing at the board.

Carlos stood on his tiptoes and tried again, before successfully “dragging” the word to fill in the blank. A big smile spread across his face.

There is no chalk dust or felt-pen smell in Carlos’ third-grade classroom at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville.

In this age of technology, when everything seemingly can be processed and programmed through a computer, the field of education is “going digital,” with innovations popping up in classrooms across Snohomish County.

Digital whiteboard

Many schools, such as Liberty Elementary, have begun using a digital interactive whiteboard in the classroom.

It is a screen that not only connects to a computer and a projector, but also allows students to modify and to “drag” what’s on the board by using a special digital pen.

John Nguyen, 8, said dragging words on the shining screen helps him remember them faster.

“I know how to type and download games on my home computer,” he said. “It’s (doing things on a computer) faster than writing (by hand).”

Advances in technology to some extent change students’ learning styles, said Ken Ainsworth, director of technology at the Marysville School District.

“Traditionally, students are like sponges, absorbing the information that’s presented to them in a very simple way,” he said. “Now, the technology provides the in-the-moment adjustment so teachers can provide more examples in class more efficiently.”

The new tool has turned teachers into students.

Cathy Elkington, who has taught at Liberty for 21 years, started on a chalkboard but now uses the digital whiteboard.

“After teaching all these years, I’m still learning something new,” she said. “That sets a good example for the students.”

Instant Access

Instead of describing what a proscenium is like through textbooks, Veronica Ashline, an English teacher at Brier-Terrace Middle School in Brier, shows her students the actual pictures online.

A document camera allows students to present their works in class immediately, without spending days to prepare a transparency. When a question comes up, students can search the Internet for the answer.

Technology accelerates the learning pace and makes it more efficient, said Bill Fritz, school principal. It forces teachers to change with the time.

“It’s funny to hear teachers who didn’t know how to put files on the Internet now making their own Web site,” Ashline said. “People who have been using the handwritten grade book for decades are now posting the grades online.”

Many educators find that kids are more technology savvy than they are.

“They know better because they’re not afraid to experiment and make mistakes,” said Nikki Cannon, principal at Harbour Point Middle School in Mukilteo. “An adult thinks if they experiment, they might break the computer.”

Going wireless

Corey Kirchner, a junior at Weston Alternative High School in Arlington, still remembers the new teacher who walked into the classroom and asked everyone to take out their notebooks and pencils.

“Can we take out our laptops instead?” a student asked.

At Weston High, the school’s roughly 100 students are loaned Apple iBooks to use at school and at home.

“I’m more organized now than I was with a pen and a piece of paper,” Corey said. “Some of us get lazy and just shuffle papers into the backpack. It’s easier to click and drag a file into a folder on a computer.”

Like Corey, most of the students prefer taking notes and submitting assignments electronically. Homework is posted online and wireless access puts information at their fingertips.

“Their hands are always occupied when they have the laptop,” said Maurene Stanton, Weston principal. “It helps them concentrate.”

Alison Douglas, a Weston career and technology education teacher, reminds students to not abandon handwriting skills.

“There is a place for both,” she said. “I hate to see everything in their lives go electronic.”

Chat rooms and Web sites that have not been reviewed by educators are filtered out, Stanton said.

“Students love their laptops so much that they don’t want to give it back when school ends,” Stanton added.

Pushing the Button (EvCC)

A remote control-like new tool is improving the atmosphere in biology and psychology classes at Everett Community College.

With A, B, C and D buttons, instructors get students’ instant feedback to gauge how well they understand the lecture. All students have to do is to click.

“What happened in the past is that people didn’t want to expose themselves by raising their hands to the wrong answers,” said Al Friedman, dean of the mathematics and science department. “This way people feel a bit safer and teachers can see better how well students understand a concept.”

The $30 “clicker” works as a polling device and comes with the textbooks.

Once a button is pushed, a digital receiver automatically calculates the total number of students who choose a particular answer.

“If everyone gets the answer wrong, I know immediately the material I just presented wasn’t taught well,” said Elliot Stern, a biology instructor. “I don’t have to go home and say ‘Geez, my students didn’t do well on the exam. I need to teach it differently next quarter.’”

Stern developed an in-class “Who wants to be a millionaire?” game show to motivate his anatomy class.

“Which of the following bones makes up the upper arms?” he asked on a power point slide.

Students push the buttons. The screen shows everybody’s result, represented by serial numbers. The person who correctly answers to the end wins the millionaire title and gets extra points.

“If you don’t have something to keep them engaged, you lose them,” Stern said. “The clicker motivates everyone.”

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