Nope, this isn't your father's chalkboard

Peter Darragh has to closely monitor who comes up to the front of his sixth-grade class at Sidney Glen Elementary.

Unlike many teachers, who have to fight to pull their students up to the white-board, Darragh’s task is making sure every student gets a chance – and they all want a chance to use the interactive, electronic white-board that sits at the front of the class.

The students Darragh’s class use a SmartBoard — a projector screen that syncs with a computer and allows students to operate the computer by touching the screen.

Darragh’s is one of about 30 that are already in classrooms across South Kitsap, and just one of several tools putting the district on the cutting edge of educational technology.

The board, bedecked with audio speakers on either side, operates much the same way as any computer. Touching the board turns the user’s finger into a mouse. Students and teachers can click on files, move a curser — essentially anything a computer can do, just on a large interactive screen.

“For someone that knows out to use a computer, it just becomes natural,” Darragh said.

The board holds four non-ink “pens” in individual trays on the bottom. Each pen, either red, blue, green or black, makes digital marks on the screen.

The board is just another step in the advance of technology, Darragh said, using technology in much the same way as when teachers moved from chalk-boards to dry-erase boards.

“It just changes the possibilities for what can be done,” he said.

During a math lesson on Wednesday, Darragh worked with students on measuring perimeters. The board displayed a computer image showing a cluster of five square tiles.

Darragh asked students to add more tiles until the cluster had a total perimeter of 18 units.

Instead of picking up a piece of chalk and drawing, students touch their fingers to the screen, pulling down squares digitally and attaching them to the cluster until they have the right shape.

When they’re done, Darragh takes one of the non—ink pens and presses it against the board, leaving digital marks to count the number of units.

Darragh then takes a digital image of the shape, sets it aside and clears the board for the next student.

Darragh acquired the board entirely through a grant from the University Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology (DO-IT) Foundation.

The board Darragh selected runs around $3,000.

Most boards in the district are smaller, costing around $1,500. When Darragh applied for the grant, he decided to shoot for the moon.

“I went all out on this grant,” Darragh said, assuming that the worst the foundation could do was say no.

Derry Lyons, director of technology for the South Kitsap School District, said the boards are worth the investment if they improve teaching. Tools like these assist teaching, Lyons said.

He said the district looks for “technology that helps improve instruction (and) technology that improves collaboration.”

Lyons said several years ago, people could have said the Internet was unnecessary for schools. But today it is commonplace.

Darragh said the board bridges the gap between a teacher sitting at the front of a classroom and the students sitting in their chairs. The students become actively engaged by the lessons, merely out of the desire to use the high-tech gadget.

“Kids now are naturally interested in technology,” Darragh said. “It’s more natural for kids in this generation. They’re digital natives.”

Darragh said the students understand the board technology almost intuitively, and don’t require as much training as some adults.

For Darragh, it pulls him out from behind a computer and puts him amongst the class. When students are up at the board, he carries a remotely controlled pad and pen that allow him to operate the computer away from the board. Darragh said he can sit amongst the students and still keep control over the front of the classroom.

At South Kitsap High School, Chance Gower uses a board in his class as well. Gower uses the board to keep close records of classroom assignments. When a student misses a class, Gower can e-mail the student the entire lesson, including the notes written onto the screen with the digital pens.

Gower also found that the board brought him out from behind the computer.

“When you’re behind a work station, you’re not able to work or interact with the students,” Gower said.

With the smart board, he’s able to interact with students and make eye-contact during lessons.

Gower added that students using these boards gain skills that could cross over in their future careers. Many businesses are looking for employees with experience using this type of technology.

Gower works mainly in technology-based courses, but has seen uses for the board in all other classes.

The board crosses over to every subject in Darragh’s class.

In January, when wind storms swept across the Northwest, Darragh’s students watched on-line Doppler radar images of the storm and talked about where the school sat in relation to the most adverse conditions.

Recently, Darragh took the students on a trip across the globe using Google Earth, a program pieced together satellite images of the entire world. Darragh started students with a digital image of Sidney Glenn Elementary, and then flew them over the planet in an instant to Panama.

“That’s not what they get in their books,” Darragh said.

It shows students much more than they will find inside of their geography books, Darragh said. Students move from text and pictures as old as the book they’re holding to an online source with the most up-to-date information.

Darragh said the board cannot replace poor teaching. The board is just a tool.

“It’s kind of in my bag of tricks,” Darragh said.

But he admitted, as he’s learned the versatility of the tool he’s grown more attached to it, and implements it far more often. He’s always thinking of new ways to use the board in his classroom.

Curriculums more than often include electronic copies of the books, so Darragh has integrated the classwork onto the screen. After students take a quiz, they grade it together up on the screen.

“I’m getting to the point where I’m depending on it,” Darragh said.

The tool becomes more natural as he uses it, Darragh said, and although he could teach without the aid of such technology, he said “I wouldn’t want to.”

“Why would I want to use that stuff when this stuff is available?” he said.

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