Gazette opinion: 21st Century Classroom: Students learn together with tech tools

2013-02-20T00:10:00Z Gazette opinion: 21st Century Classroom: Students learn together with tech tools The Billings Gazette
February 20, 2013 12:10 am

Fourth-graders in Alissa Gray's class get excited about geometry. Math lessons in her Orchard Elementary classroom resemble a game show more than a routine class.

It's all serious fun. Students take turns going to the interactive white board, matching geometric shapes and describing them. The whole class helps get the answers correct. Everyone in the room is paying attention.

Students pass around a Mimio Mic, a wireless microphone, to answer questions. With the sound system, everybody hears every answer — even when the school band is practicing on the other side of the classroom wall.

Asked what technology has done for her students, Gray says it has fostered collaboration and fluency in technology, which is essential for the world her students will live and work in.

Among 447 students at Orchard, 405 qualify for free or reduced-price lunches because of low family income. Only a couple of Gray's 24 fourth-graders have reliable Internet access at home. School is where they are learning to use technology. They use it in lessons to increase their vocabulary, to work on group projects and lean every academic subject.

Gray's classroom is the second most technologically advanced elementary classroom in all of School District 2. The interactive board, projector, mic, camera, printer and other tools that her students use were all provided through a grant from the Foundation for Billings Public Schools.

She hopes that eventually her students will have individual devices — Google Chromebooks so that in addition to working collaboratively, they will be able to work independently at their own pace.

The only SD2 elementary classroom equipped with a device for each student is at Eagle Cliff Elementary, where a private donor, working through the Education Foundation, provided classroom technology and an iPad for each of Courtney Niemeyer's kindergartners.

Both Niemeyer and Gray are leaders in adopting 21st Century Classroom technology. In addition to using technology in the classroom, they have spent years training to ensure that they can help their students get the full benefit of technology applied to math, reading, science, spelling and other lessons. These teachers and others share their technology training with their colleagues.

The biggest obstacle to technology in Billings public school classrooms is a lack of funding. The district has no funding dedicated to technology, and it doesn't have any to spare from the general fund, which is insufficient to hire enough teachers for the district's growing student enrollment.

So the Education Foundation has taken on the challenge of raising private funds to equip Billings students with the technology they need. The interactive equipment provided to Gray's classroom costs about $8,600. Providing a Google Chromebook for each of her 24 students would cost about $9,000 more.

The nonprofit foundation and its generous donors are making progress, one classroom at a time. Community members who understand the vital connection between education and our economic future are encouraged to learn more about the 21st Century Classroom campaign. Please check the attached box for contact information.

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