Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

More schools get the advantage of technology

Reform Initiative creates a new world for middle schools

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David S. Spence⁄The Gazette
One of last year’s fourth-graders at Great Seneca Creek Elementary school gets the feel of a computer-response device put into to classroom use in the 2006-07 school year.
A series of new technological advances has been initiated in many county schools over the past two years and employees are excited about how they will help students learn.

‘‘We are taking core concepts and teaching students to use technology to support their learning,” said Michelle Lipson, a specialist in the county’s Division of Career and Technological Education.

Perhaps nowhere in the county is more educational technology evident than at Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, which opened in August 2006 as a technology demonstration school.

The school is the first one in the county to go completely wireless and it features 36 computers on wheels and 25 laptops available for use. Every teacher also receives a laptop computer with wireless Internet access.

‘‘The overarching premise with the county was we wanted to use a modality that students could relate to,” Great Seneca Creek Principal Greg Edmundson said.

Students are already using their iPods and cell phones every day, Edmundson said, so, ‘‘we wanted to get that type of technology and that type of engagement into the classroom.”

In addition to the innovations at Great Seneca Creek, 14 middle schools will become 21st-century schools in the fall under the county’s new Middle School Reform Initiative. The initiative was passed by the Montgomery County Board of Education last winter with the goal of using ‘‘21st-century tools in the classrooms,” according to the Reform Initiative report.

The report also points out that many students are already using state-of-the-art technology outside the classroom to make music videos, create virtual lives and design Web sites, and that education has to keep up with ‘‘students who have become the supreme multitaskers in a digital age.”

Toward that end, five middle schools in the county will have a new elective for sixth-graders called Information and Communication Technologies. The course will teach students about robotics and how to research ecological problems.

Both middle and elementary schools are coming on line with a program for instant evaluation in which students answer questions using a handheld keypad for submitting responses.

At Great Seneca Creek, every grade has one room set up with a Turning Point response system, which lets the students respond to lectures by submitting their answers to interactive questions using a handheld keypad. The device allows teachers to instantly evaluate students without having to grade papers.

The Turning Point system is a great tool to encourage students to participate in class, Edmundson said.

‘‘It really allows the teacher to evaluate and to assess where the kids are. The teacher can use [it] in order to adjust his or her teaching based on the results of that quick assessment,” he said.

The middle schools that will start the transition into the 21st century this fall also will be moving towards more ecologically sound practices, as well as moving forward with the use of modern technology.

They will have white erase boards instead of blackboards, LCD (liquid crystal display) overhead projectors and a student response system similar to the Turning Point system used at Great Seneca Creek.

The success of these efforts is being closely monitored and the results will help determine what stays, what needs to be changed and how quickly all schools will have the advantages of modern technology in the classroom.

‘‘It would be our expectation that this would continue to expand pending results and funding,” said Doreen Heath, assistant chief information officer of the Department of Technology Modernization and Support.

The results are positive so far at Great Seneca Creek, Edmundson said, adding that when he walks through the school he sees students that are fully engaged and proficient with the technology.

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