Aspen Times Staff Writer
Outside of the art department, Aspen High School may no longer have a need for chalk.
Lesson plans are being prepared on laptop computers and projected onto screens at the front of classrooms. The days of the monotonal lecture spoken from behind a podium could be over. Same goes for the awkward squeak of chalk on a blackboard and the dust that flies when a vocabulary word is erased.
On a recent morning at Aspen High School, Kathy Klug stands in front of her class and rolls a wireless mouse across a table. She looks not at a small computer screen in front of her, but at a white board hanging at the front of the room. Clicking on the mouse and tapping on a wireless keyboard, she brings up a computerized worksheet as the class watches.
“I have some lovely material I’m just dying for you to get into,” Klug tells her students, introducing the lesson she has planned for the upcoming CSAP tests – the Colorado Student Assessment Program. Klug invites a student to the front of the class and Nancy, around 16 years old, pushes back from her desk. She walks to the front of the room and taps a finger twice on the screen.
The electronic worksheet reacts as if Nancy had clicked a computer mouse, and opens up a new part of the lesson plan. One at a time, students fill in the worksheet, taking turns double-tapping the board to answer questions as they appear.
These sorts of technological leaps in everyday schoolwork were made possible at Aspen School District after voters approved a $40 million bond in 2000 and the new campus was built. The electronic capabilities have made teaching and learning a more hands-on experience, say school staff members.
“I think teachers use the technology more than they ever used to, because it’s accessible, it’s quick, and it’s a great tool,” said Patty Goodson, technology coordinator for the district.
Wired from top to bottom
The technologies used by teachers like Klug are the most visible examples of the wonders computers are performing with taxpayer dollars.
The white “SmartBoards” can be marked up with dry erase markers (rather than chalk), or can turn into touch-screens with the use of a laptop computer and a color-video projector. Each classroom includes a projector hanging from the ceiling.
The system is connected to a media cabinet in the corner of the room, and teachers have laptops they can take home to work on lesson plans. When they arrive at school, it doesn’t matter what classroom they go into – they can dock their laptops in the media cabinet and access the projector, screen, wireless keyboards and mouses to teach from anywhere in the room.
Each department in the school also has a “mobile lab,” 30 laptops on a cart that can be reserved for student use during classes.
But wait, there’s more:
The technology at Aspen High School extends everywhere, literally. Connected to a wireless network, students and teachers can log on to a laptop with a user name and password, and access their files from anywhere in the building, no wires attached. The same goes for Internet access, attainable from the front office, the gymnasium, any hallway or any classroom.
Although it hasn’t been tested, Goodson said when the weather warms up students might connect to the network or the Internet while sitting under a tree just outside the high school doors.
The school will have some laptops that students can check out, saving their work to the network.
Improving the home-to-school connection is an online program called Black Board, where teachers post assignments, announcements and even lessons they’ve given in previous classes. With a guest sign-in – or with their child’s permission and password – parents can stay updated on their student’s progress.
Goodson said different departments are adapting the newfound technology to suit their needs, after some training at the beginning of the school year.
In the science department, biology teacher Karen Jaworski connects a video camera to a microscope, and an image appears on the Smart Board. Her students can peer into their own microscopes at lab tables, as well as learn about the tiny organisms that Jaworski has placed on the screen for the whole class to see.
“Teaching here is a science teacher’s dream come true,” Jaworski said. “We have state-of-the-art lab equipment and the ability to deliver instruction with the help of of technology.”
Jaworski makes the most of the network and Black Board to administer online exams that are graded automatically, and uses an online grade book so students (and parents) can check grades from home. After 10 years of teaching at the former Aspen High School, she said the difference is staggering.
“As much as I like the fact that technology makes teaching more effective, there’s a learning curve involved for me as a teacher,” she said with a slight laugh. “There are still some glitches in the software that are frustrating for teachers and students.”
Jaworski and the rest of the science department envision paperless classrooms, and she says they’re getting pretty close.
The Kinkos of Aspen High School
Of course, no matter how much work students can get done on in-school laptops, and no matter how many tests and essays they hand in electronically, there will always be paper-intensive projects.
That’s where the new high-school print shop comes in. In one corner of the commons – a.k.a. the cafeteria – alongside an empty snack bar with a fountain machine for sodas and juices is a long counter that’s turning into the printing center for Aspen High students.
A Xerox printer sits behind the counter, waiting to receive printing orders from a schoolwide server. When a student has something that needs to be printed, they get on the wireless network, direct their document down to the print shop and, voilà, it appears.
The print shop is, in essence, David Sellmeyer’s classroom. Sellmeyer teaches seven classes per day about the school’s technology. His students learn the business aspects of the print shop, such as determining the cost of paper.
As of this week printing isn’t free for students anymore – they will have a monthly allowance of 60 black-and-white printouts for free, and 10 cents per printout thereafter. Color copies will cost $1 each.
The charges are part of an effort to curtail needless printing and become more environmentally conscious, Sellmeyer said. The charges will also pay for additional paper. Any extra money will help maintain the equipment which, like anything else, malfunctions or breaks now and then.
Students are also learning how computers work, and how to use and repair the technology throughout the school district. Teachers needing help with computers have sent Sellmeyer requests for service, and soon his students will start responding to the requests.
“That’s the interaction component for my students – visiting staff members and helping them with their needs,” he said.
When one of Sellmeyer’s morning classes lets out for the day, the cafeteria fills with hungry students and the familiar smell of ketchup and french fries wafts through the room. Sellmeyer’s office will be there at the print shop, where students already print out assignments.
As a lunch period begins, a student stops at the print shop to pick up some homework she printed, but is frustrated to discover her work printed on both sides of a sheet of paper. Sellmeyer loans her a laptop to access her document on the network, and shows her how to turn off the paper-saving option so she gets exactly what she wants.
Sellmeyer worked at at the Aspen School District implementing technology three years ago, and has returned to work just at the high school. He is charged with helping students and staff get the most out of the new equipment.
“In the past, technology was used in a very basic manner,” he said. “Administration used it to send e-mail, students used it to type things, teachers did some Power Point presentations, and that was about it.”
But in order for administration, students and teachers to make use of all the new technology, Sellmeyer said there must be adequate staffing to keep it working and to train people how to use it. He hopes that will remain a priority for both the high school and the district.
“Now we’re seeing students doing research on the Internet, and compiling really engaging and interesting presentations,” he said. “Our teachers are using these tools to deliver information in the classrooms with the SmartBoards, and they’re able to put it out there in a new way that is more engaging for students, and a bit more lively.”
A foreign-language lab is still in the process of getting wired, but when that is complete and the print shop is up and running, Sellmeyer hopes the school will be proactive in showing teachers how to make the most of the new tools.
“You can spend all the money you want and buy the latest and greatest equipment, but unless you have the staffing, it’s going to sit idle,” he said.
Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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