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Somerset schools plug into digital classrooms

The availability of technology is taking off in the educational field.

Kids are entering schools each year with a higher level of computer literacy. The educational field is being challenged to stay ahead of the learning needs of its students.

This year, the Somerset School District is running trials with several different computer systems to see which, if any, they want to implement into the District's educational structure in the future.

Two of the main pieces of equipment being tested this year are SMART Boards and PC tablets. They have been issued to teachers in each of the three District buildings to see how they could be adapted into the school's technology.

The spread of technology in every-day life has carried over into education. People over 25 are known as "digital immigrants" because they were not raised in this wave of technology, while those 25 and younger are considered "digital natives."

Somerset School District Administrator Randy Rosburg said the District first did its own research to see if the rave reviews that the new technology was receiving was warranted. Staff members were sent to councils and workshops on the subjects.

"We sent teachers to see if they thought it had credibility," Rosburg said, saying that it would be the teachers who would have to buy into new technology for it to have a chance to be successful in the classroom.

With more than half of the school year completed, there has been time to draw conclusions. The conclusion from the teachers -- technology works.

Curriculum effects

The new technology has brought about advancements in the School District curriculum, according to School District Curriculum Director Ron Berg.

Berg said the accessibility to the Internet through SMART Boards has opened up a vast array of educational offerings that aren't available through traditional methods of teaching.

Students in this generation are visual learners who are extremely interactive, Berg said. The new technology has shown that the engagement of students' attention is consistently improved "by all ranges of students, from those who struggle to the gifted and talented," Berg said.

The School District's advancement toward technology is also being tracked in textbooks purchased. Textbooks that are being purchased for next year will contain a CD, so the students will have more interactive options of learning. Berg said the School District is exploring the possibility that electronic textbooks will be purchased in the future.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the technology, according to Berg, is how the students have adapted to it.

"The engagement of the students consistently improved," Berg said. "This is a visual generation. They are very interactive."

Rosburg said this is a step in the genesis of the next generation of student education.

"There will be a day when kids bring their own computer technology to school instead of folders and paper and pencils," Rosburg said.

SMART Boards

The SMART Board is an interactive, electronic whiteboard that can enhance instruction and learning.

It interacts with all computer software systems and allows teachers to integrate virtually any medium into their lessons.

The teachers who were issued the SMART Board rave about its effectiveness.

High school math teacher Darlene Kongshaug has been teaching for 33 years. She adapted to the system quickly.

"I think it's the greatest thing since the chalkboard," Kongshaug said. "I use it in all my classes. The only time I use the chalk board is when the SMART Board isn't working."

Kongshaug puts all her notes into her computer so they can be projected through the SMART Board. She is able to save notes and sample problems that the students can access on her school Web site. This way the students can concentrate on what is being taught instead of spending their time taking notes.

Middle School math teacher Deb Cardell said the SMART Board has features like graph paper already projected into it. When she went to teach subjects like graphing, fractions and percentages, there were features available to help the students visualize the subject.

Teachers can infuse video clips and utilize interactive Web sites in their lessons. Anything that is available on the Internet can be used as part of a lesson.

"We're finding there's so much we can do, the possibilities are endless," said fourth grade teacher Toni Rivard.

For a hands-on school subject like art, the SMART Board has become an ideal fit.

"There isn't one lesson I can't teach (using the SMART Board)," said Middle School art teacher Stephanie Magnuson. She compared the system to a large version of the software program PhotoShop, because of the many tools that can be used in the art system. Students can write on the screen and are able to see three-dimensional views of subjects to get a better grasp on the subject.

"It's very teacher-friendly. I can't imagine not having it," Magnuson said. Magnuson did not volunteer for the SMART Board, but said she is gratified that she was chosen because it has been easy for her to adapt to.

PC Tablets

PC Tablets are used to improve personal productivity of teachers. They make the teachers portable. Teachers can work on the tablets away from school, giving them more flexibility in their schedules.

The idea of mobile learning also allows educators more flexibility within the classroom. Tablet PCs are fully-functional laptop PCs with many extra features. You can use the pen directly on the screen just as you would a mouse to do things like select, drag, and open files; or in place of a keyboard to handwrite notes and communication.

Elementary media specialist Nancy Dressel uses a PC Tablet extensively in teaching students how to use all of the services available in the Media Center. Students are introduced to computer use while in kindergarten. In first grade they develop a knowledge of the keyboard and basic computer systems. By second grade the students have a working knowledge of computer systems like Power Point.

Dressel said the systems students are learning now may be outdated by the time they graduate. What is important is keeping the elementary students' knowledge up to date.

"I don't think we can imagine what the world will be like when they graduate. We have to keep preparing their problem-solving strategies in our world, so they're ready for what's out there in their world," Dressel said.

Sound Amplification

Two sound amplification systems were purchased through a grant from the Somerset Partners In Education organization (P.I.E.).

The idea for the purchase was started by Middle School special education teacher Laurie Lasure.

The system was found to work well on two levels. For teachers who strain their voices over the span of a school year, this offers relief. They can talk in their normal tone of voice and the amplification system spreads their voice evenly throughout the classroom.

The system has also been proven to help student comprehension. Because the teacher's voice is projected evenly throughout the classroom, it has shown to help keep the attention of students who are further away from the teacher in the classroom.

Dave Newman

Dave Newman has been the sports editor at the New Richmond News since 1988. He has covered the action in the Middle Border Conference, Dunn-St. Croix Conference and Big Rivers Conference for more than 30 years.

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