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How do you make classroom work more fun?
It's an age-old question that teachers have been asking since one-room schoolhouses.
But maybe the revolution has finally occurred.
When asked if a class exercise was more fun than a birthday celebration about to happen, a group of kindergartners at Simpsonville Elementary answered with an emphatic, "Yeah!"
Although kindergartners can often get caught in a pattern of answers, this time it didn't seem like they were stretching the truth.
Cupcakes and punch may actually be more fun, but those students were really enjoying their work.
The class bounced from dancing to a song about the days of the week to reading poems. Then to learning how to count to 20 by twos and how to count to 100, to rolling dice to work on addition and checking the weather forecast online and reading it aloud.
It might seem like that would take the entire afternoon.
Getting out different materials and putting them away and then getting the students to settle down between lessons usually takes time.
But what if a teacher could do all those lessons plus several more in the span of about 30 or 40 minutes and keep the students captivated at the same time?
"That's a calendar routine we do every day, and we move pretty quickly from topic to topic," said April Manning, a kindergarten teacher at Simpsonville. "It keeps things fresh, and we can add pieces every so often to keep it interesting. They really love when we add something new."
That's the power of SMART Boards, and the reason behind Shelby County’s Intelligent Classroom Initiative (ICI), a program that calls for 25 classrooms per year to be equipped with a mounted projector, an audio system with teacher microphone, a Turning Point student response system, a document camera and either a SMART Board or an Airliner.
A SMARTer classroom
A SMART Board hangs in the front of the class like a regular whiteboard, but it works like tablet PC.
It's a touch screen that allows the teacher to switch from lesson to lesson with ease, saving time and making the class more efficient.
The students can use this board, too. They draw shapes, move items on the screen or trace other items.
The boards are being added to kindergarten and first-grade classes as well as the rooms of special-area teachers who work with younger and older students.
The second-through-12th-grade classes use Airliner slates, which are essentially tablet PCs powered by the same SMART Notebook software that is behind the SMART Boards.
The difference is that older students can work with the tablet and watch the projected image on the screen. Younger students need to manipulate or touch what they are doing, and the SMART Board allows students to do that, said Angie White, the district technology resource teacher.
Also, SMART Boards cost about three times what an Airliner costs.
In Jeff Dunn's art class at Clear Creek Elementary, fifth-grade students collaborated to draw a pattern for a kente cloth, a West African style of weaving and design.
Dunn used a slideshow on his SMART Board to go over the cloth and a stamping style called adinkra.
He was able to circle important facts, zoom in on pictures and outline pieces with different color pens, which work like markers, to demonstrate what the students would be doing.
It's better than having a laptop with a projector or an old overhead projector.
"I can stand up there and see their faces and see if they're really understanding what we're doing," Dunn said.
Because the ICI program began in 2007, Shelby County has installed 13 SMART Boards in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms and with the renovations at East Middle School decided to make all classrooms Intelligent Classrooms.
Following that decision, the district decided to retrofit 21 classrooms at West Middle, making them Intelligent Classrooms as well.
Currently Shelby County has 123 Intelligent Classrooms, and next year when Collins High School opens, all its classrooms will be ICs.
Dunn has been using the SMART Board in his classroom since 2007 and was one of the first in the district to get one.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s been great for me and my students.”
Dunn’s not the only one in class that thinks so either.
“It makes working a lot easier, and it’s really fun to work with,” fifth-grader Connor Dean said.
“It helps us understand it [the material] better,” said Emily Fields in Dunn’s class.
And helping the students understand the material is exactly what the ICI program is all about.
“Research clearly shows that students today are digital learners due to the digital bombardment within our world,” White said. “These digital learners learn in ways that are very different from the ways the educational system has traditionally taught students.”
To continue to reach ever-evolving students, teachers who participated in the ICI's three-year professional development academy committed to a minimum of 25 extra hours of professional development in each of the three years.
“During the three-year academy, teachers examine their current teaching practice, learn strategies to meet the needs of digital learners and develop project-based digital projects in which students participate,” White said. “Additionally, teachers are equipped with some of the technology tools needed to support them as they strive to meet the needs of the digital learner.
"So you can see, the ICI is not really [completely] about the technology placed in the classroom, but about changing teaching practice to meet the learning styles of our students. The technology is just easier for everyone to see and tends to be what creates excitement.”