Net books, smart boards are new classroom norm

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History classes at Cache La Poudre Middle School are not what they used to be.
In Rob Denise’s eighth-grade classroom last year, hardly a textbook was in sight. Instead, students were gathered around computers and iPhones reading assigned chapters and watching videos.

An investment in advanced technology means similar learning environments will be found in each Poudre School District classroom starting this fall.

Over a three-year period, about 6,000 desktop computers will be replaced in 50 schools. Curtis Lee, information and technology director for the district, explained that old and failing computers will be exchanged during the summer.

Money for the new equipment comes from a $120 million bond issue approved by voters in 2010.
Desktop computers are only the tip of the iceberg. Lee said by the end of 2014, all third through eighth-grade classrooms will have net book carts and smart boards. All high school students will receive laptops.

Net books are small personal computers that allow every child Internet access in class. Smart boards are interactive white boards that take an image projected from the computer and make it touch sensitive. Students can use their hands to drag and click on things.
“I would like to be a school that becomes textbook-free,” said Cache La Poudre Middle School principal Skip Caddoo.

He explained that e-books and online curriculum can provide things a standard textbook cannot offer, such as videos, links to supporting websites, practice tests and interactive games.

“It is phenomenal to see how engaged students are when interacting with online media,” said Stan McReynolds, media specialist at the school.

McReynolds’ most recent project is “webfolios” for every student. This will enable each student to have his own password-protected website where grades and schoolwork can be posted.

Parents and teachers can access the online portfolios and track what – and how – their students are doing. It will also teach kids how to be safe and responsible online, McReynolds said. When students know they are being monitored they will hold themselves and their peers accountable.

“With this technology, we are learning not just to consume, but to interact,” McReynolds said.

Denise has set up a voice thread where students can text or leave a voice mail about a certain topic. “It allows students to build on each other’s comments and it makes it cool to talk about history,” he said.

Denise also uses interactive online games with his students to encourage critical thinking and problem solving. For example a role-playing game puts contemporary students in the roles of decision makers at the start of the Revolutionary War. After the game, Denise holds class discussions about the decisions the students made.

In order to keep up with the changes in technology, all district staff members will be required to attend five days of training during the year.

The teachers are embracing the new technology advances, McReynolds said. “They want to learn how to use the equipment. They see a kid make a project using video and they want to learn how to use the same program.”