Sunday, September 23, 2012

English Learners Put High-Tech Blackboards to New Use

Wouldn't it be great if someone did a follow-up on the results of the huge investments (see last paragraph in story below) made by local school districts in digitized whiteboards? Here's a story from 2008.

English Learners Put High-Tech Blackboards to New Use
Voice of San Diego
Friday, Feb. 1, 2008

...Magic is now standard at El Toyon Elementary School in National City, where Vazquez teaches bilingual classes for first and second grade students. Here, every classroom boasts an interactive whiteboard; across the National School District, half of classrooms got the tools this year.

National, a district with a history of achieving against the odds, has adopted the technology more widely than any other school district in San Diego County. It's an unlikely Mecca for high-tech, a school where educators say most children go home to play with Nintendos, not PCs. Ninety percent of its students are from low-income households; nearly 70 percent are still learning English.

But here, the technology has yielded results, according to an early study. Test scores ticked upward in the high-tech classrooms, where 5 percent more students passed state tests compared to their less-wired counterparts. Teachers report that students are more attentive and excited, and go absent less frequently.

National City's success points to an emerging focus for the technology: Bringing second-language students up to speed. English-language learners are the core challenge for National City schools, said Superintendent Dennis Doyle, and interactive whiteboards offer new ways to coax them toward success. Eighteen teachers tested the tools districtwide last year. This year, more took on the technology, with 20 boards in use at El Toyon alone.

"It's like … the Wii," Doyle said. "Everyone wanted it. You didn't have to advertise."

Interactive whiteboards aren't new. British schools embraced the boards four years ago, pouring nearly $50 million in government funds into the technology. Proponents tout the boards as a way to keep fickle students engaged, and to cater to different learners with multi-sensory lessons. Yet researchers have been skeptical, noting that achievement hasn't surged as the boards crop up in British classrooms.

But Britain is a world away from National City, where educators say the whiteboards are ideal for English-language learners. The tool is new to National City, but the methods aren't: lots of images and lots of interaction. To explain a word in English, Vazquez can pull a picture from the web; to keep students from tuning out, she sprinkles her lessons with quick quizzes, and invites students to the board to move objects and words onscreen.

[Maura Larkins comment: all of this can be done by any good teacher with a blackboard! When I was a teacher, I had banker boxes full of pictures and appropriate worksheets that I would pull out when my students wanted to pursue and unexpected topic.]

...Interactive boards aren't a magic bullet, educators caution. Like other technologies, they depend largely on how — and if — teachers use them. Past efforts to digitize U.S. classrooms have fizzled, lacking support from teachers, who need training and technical support, said B.J. Afeman, a project specialist in the San Diego County Office of Education. After computers did little to boost scores in the 1990s, many schools are wary of placing their hopes in technology, especially with a budget crisis looming, Afeman said.

"You can't just buy a laptop and expect kids to get smarter," said Afeman, who worked closely with National City on the project. "National did it differently."

National is known for doing things differently — and well. Statewide, its math scores top all other school districts with similar percentages of low-income and English-learning students; its English scores rank fourth. In 2004, two National elementary schools were tapped as exceptionally high-performing schools by Springboard Schools, an Oakland nonprofit that analyzes school success. Its test scores regularly rank it among schools that are far wealthier, whiter and more English-savvy.

Computers are plentiful here compared to most schools in San Diego County, with nearly one computer for every three students. But the key is how computers are used in National City schools, Doyle said — not how many there are.

Teachers decide when and how to use the boards, and are key to whether the lessons flourish or flop. Learning to use the technology takes time, as does crafting special lessons. It took Vazquez six hours to assemble her half-hour class about orange juice. Now, however, she and other El Toyon teachers can always use that lesson, pulling it up year after year.

Doyle has wisely tied technology to measurable goals, instead of heralding the technology itself, said Bruce Braciszewski, executive director of the Classroom of the Future Foundation. National also pushed professional development via the whiteboards. Teachers can trade ideas, archive their charts, and discuss individual students' progress through the system.

"Teaching is no longer that job you do all by yourself," Doyle said.

...South Bay Union School District, centered in Imperial Beach, is eyeing the technology, but nervous about the price, especially as California aims budget cuts at schools.

...Chris Oram, National's technology director, estimated the systems' total cost at $500,000. Each board costs roughly $7,000 including pre-made programs and egg-shaped controllers for students, Oram said. Individual schools pay for the boards, usually out of federal and state funds allocated to help low-income students and English-language learners. Each National City school receives between $250,000 and $500,000 annually in such funds.

National elementary schools also pay for three full-time employees to troubleshoot and train teachers to use the boards — a $250,000 cost,
Oram estimated...

[Maura Larkins comment: I wonder if the whiteboards turned out to be a white elephant. Dennis Doyle hasn't revealed why he suddenly resigned, but perhaps the board was unhappy about excessive spending similar to that in the story below.]

Lavish Spending at San Diego Anti-Terror Center
Colin Weatherby
Voice of San Diego
Oct. 5, 2012

An anti-terrorism center in San Diego was cited in a U.S. Senate report on Wednesday for its excessive spending, reports the U-T.

The state-operated center purchased 55 flat-screen televisions, claiming that the purchase was necessary for monitoring the news. The former director of the center was fired after spending nearly $75,000 on the purchase. The TVs were meant to be used for a training program that never happened, and were instead used to display calendars.

Throw in a few sixers, a bowl of peanuts, and a couple of Chargers posters and we might have San Diego's best new sports bar, right? OK, maybe not.

1 comment:

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