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Technology enhances teachable moments

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Posted: Thursday, March 1, 2012 3:26 pm | Updated: 3:28 pm, Thu Mar 1, 2012.

In the seven years Eric Denault has taught fifth-graders Sharon Creech’s “Walk Two Moons” he’s relied on pages of biographical information printed from the Internet about the author’s background — until this year.

Monday morning, the Farallone View Elementary School teacher touched a screen half the size of a standard white board to show his students photos of Creech with her dogs at a lake. He used a special pen to underline a section of her biography that seemed to inspire a plotline in “Walk Two Moons.”

The class had been talking about the style of the book and how that style might be conveyed when read aloud. Denault played a couple of minutes of audio recording as part of the lesson. Students read along in their own books as the voice of a woman with a sweet drawl came on: “Gramps says that I am a country girl at heart and that is true,” the story began.

The technology Denault uses is similar to the way a TV weather anchor shows the day’s cloud cover or how a sportscaster might explain a basketball play. While touch-screen, interactive Smartboards have been widely used in schools for about 10 years, Cabrillo Unified School District is now finding the finances to roll out Smartboards to its elementary schools.

By many counts, today’s students must be as fluent in Excel spreadsheets and Chromebook computing as they are in traditional mathematics and social studies. Local schools are outfitting classrooms with technology to enhance learning and familiarize students with 21st-century tools.

This is an exciting time to be teaching kids about technology, explained Sea Crest School Director of Curriculum and Instruction Michelle Giacotto.

“So much is emerging — it’s kind of like a renaissance,” she said. This year Sea Crest piloted Google Chromebooks for each student in middle school. The school also has 25 iPads. The mix helps students become what Giacotto described as “platform neutral.”

Meanwhile, the CUSD board voted this school year to allocate $280,000 of money leftover from a school facilities bond from the 1990s to improve school technology infrastructure and modernize classroom technological equipment. El Granada Elementary School, with five Smartboards, was the first to get the devices. Hatch Elementary School currently has two. Farallone View’s PTO donated money for an additional Smartboard, bringing the Montara school’s count up to six. Site Director Gwendolyn Rehling said the school’s goal is to have a Smartboard in each classroom.

Smartboard technology has actually been around since 1991. CUSD Technology Director Anne Bailey is the first to say she thinks the district should have gotten the technology sooner. While Half Moon Bay High School got a Smartboard for some of its math classes several years back, the devices are a new addition to elementary school classrooms.

“We learn so visually — it’s a real addition to the classroom,” Bailey said. She said she’s been surprised at how intuitively district teachers have caught on to the technology. She said she showed them a little bit, and they were “off running.”

Those teachers with Smartboards have so far had three training sessions. The last one, on Tuesday, taught them to access SMART Exchange, a shared lesson plan bank for Smartboard technology.

“Literally, a tap of your finger and you have all these resources,” Bailey said. “You don’t have to send them off to a lab.”

While Sea Crest School continues sending its students to the computer lab, more and more, Giacotto explained, the school is trying to integrate technology in the classroom.

While the ability to bring most anything into the classroom may raise red flags for some, Bailey points out that the district follows government compliance and uses filters to ensure the content is appropriate. Likewise, she said, teacher vigilance is key.

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