This year, teachers in Billings School District 2 have a lab of their own.
The “Gear Up Lab,” as it’s known, is a room inside Orchard Elementary that is packed with the latest classroom technology tools for teachers to tinker with.
The idea is that getting technology into teachers’ hands is the first step in successfully integrating it into the classroom, where it can enable new options for student instruction.
It’s a $55,000 piece of a $750,000 gift announced last June by Phillips 66.
Among the items available inside the lab are two carts of iPads and laptops, a Redcat amplified speaker system, two kinds of interactive whiteboards and a classroom set of student clickers.
The vast majority of classrooms aren’t so well stocked, said Shelly Stanton, a technology integration specialist for SD2. But the lab can help teachers find new software or iPad apps to use in their classes or find inspiration for new tech tools to incorporate.
“A lot of times you don’t even know what to request if you’re not exposed to it,” Stanton said.
Stanton, a Google Certified Teacher, was leading a professional development session with Family and Consumer Sciences teachers in the Gear Up Lab Tuesday, where they were looking at ways to incorporate financial literacy lessons into their class curricula.
More than two dozen teacher training sessions have been held in the lab so far, with many more planned both during and after school.
The teachers on Tuesday described the lab as an ideal meeting space. Other spaces used for that purpose have been much smaller, less inviting and lack the electrical outlets needed for technology training.
With the computer carts in the Gear Up Labs, teachers who don’t have laptops are able to fully participate in training activities.
“It’s nice to have a room for us that’s already set up to work,” said Kelly Smith, a family and consumer sciences teacher at Castle Rock Middle School.
Stanton said another of the district’s three technology integration specialists, Ann Brucker, designed the room. The walls are painted with pipes and colorful gears, and above the whiteboards is an enormous, decorative clock — probably the only item in the room that doesn’t tick.
Officials hope the lab eventually will be available for use by students and community groups, said Krista Hertz, executive director of the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools.
The lab complements the Project Lead the Way STEM curriculum that’s being implemented for the first time in several elementary schools this year, funded mostly through private donors, including Phillips 66.
Many of the learning modules included in the PLTW curriculum incorporate computers, robotics or other technologies.
Phillips 66 officials visited the Gear Up Lab on Tuesday for the first time.
“We were anxious to come down and see it,” said Shea Dawson, manager of finance and public affairs. “I found it impressive.”
Dawson said he hopes the lab will drive teachers to become proficient with classroom technology and, in turn, use their expertise for students’ benefit.
“It’s important that the faculty is equally if not more familiar with that technology,” he said.