Classroom of the future on its way | VailDaily.com
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Classroom of the future on its way

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Shane Macomber/Vail DailySchool technology director John Kuglin show one of the 40-inch computer screen that will be installed in many county classrooms.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” Let’s tour the classroom of the future.

Take a whiff. Nice, huh? No chalk dust. Teachers don’t use those green boards much anymore.

Sure, there are still desks, chairs, notebooks and pens, but see the 40-inch flat screen lighting up the room in brilliant high definition? That, my friend, is where the kids will meet Gandhi, Fred Estaire and John F. Kennedy. That’s where they’ll see volcanoes erupt and rovers roam Mars. That’s where they’ll learn how to make movies, compose symphonies and piece together business presentations that would impress a curmudgeon like Donald Trump.

That’s where technology will come screaming into the school. That’s how the United States will keep up in this booming global economy.

This classroom of the future isn’t so far in the future for Eagle County School District. When voters approved the $128 million bond last November, they approved $4 million to be spent on extensive technology upgrades, most of which will be completed this summer.

The big project is boosting the district’s Internet power by 10 and upgrading the outdated networks to handle large amounts of information. When it comes to the Internet, speed really does matter, and an upgrade like this opens up vast worlds of sounds, videos and programs that teachers just can’t access now.

To bring this mass of information to life, the district is considering placing 40-inch, high definition monitors or projection systems in almost every classroom.

These upgrades couldn’t come too soon, says John Kuglin, the technology director for the district.

He takes very seriously news reports that countries like China and India are graduating more students from college than ever and are stepping up their technology know-how while many U.S. schools lag.

The result is an undertrained American workforce competing with tech-savvy, highly educated people who will work for a lot less money, he said.

How do we stay innovative? Envelop our kids in technology.

“Ideas have been born in this country because of the education system and our creativity, and technology is a great way to bring together creativity and academics” Kuglin said.

“But if America is going to be competitive, we need to provide the tools,” Kuglin said.

The new, high-powered Internet will help out a school district that’s pushing computer knowledge in classrooms, teaching young kids how to type, use multimedia production programs like Kid Pix and surf the net like college-level researchers.

“Parents don’t realize the gift they gave their children by approving 3B,” Kuglin said. “Technology provides an environment that unleashes a child’s imagination.”

Marcie Gass, a fourth grade teacher at Red Hill Elementary, would like to do a lot more with technology in her classroom when the Internet speeds up.

She’s interested in a program called “Google Earth,” which is an interactive satellite map of the world that can take children from the pyramids in Egypt to the Hoover Dam to a satellite image hanging over their school building.

All of these satellite shots are filled with information and provide dramatic, space shuttle-ride visuals as you zoom around the globe. Things like videos definitely boost a student’s motivation, Gass said.

“Technology provides another tool for students who learn in various ways, plus, students need to be able to keep up with the world’s fast-paced technological capabilities,” Gass said.

Another service exciting many teachers is called United Streaming, which would give teachers access to thousands of videos, animation, sound files, photos and encyclopedia articles that could easily be worked into lesson plans.

Instead of looking at lions in a textbook, children could watch them hunt. Instead of just talking about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, students could actually see it themselves.

“You can’t teach the passion he had ” you have to show it, and they can hear it in his voice and they’ll say, ‘Wow, that’s what a real leader was like,'” Red Hill Principal Anthony Barela said.

Sure, these images do exist outside the Internet, but stowed away on old VHS tapes and DVDs, which are already becoming clunky for classroom use. Clips from United Streaming could be broken down into easily watched nuggets, mixed and matched with other videos and sounds and made into a truly interactive, informational, hi-tech learning experience, Kuglin said.

Teachers are convinced that technology isn’t just a series of tools that makes things easier and quicker ” it actually inspires creativity and critical thinking. Some students learn visually, and some are by the book, but exposing them to it all gets their brains firing on all fronts, Barela said.

“This is a more proactive approach ” if they know how to surf the net, figure out what is credible and not credible, and the more they hear and see this in the classroom, the better off they are,” Barela said.

Kids in school today are what Kuglin calls “digital natives” ” people who have never known life without the Internet, MP3 players and camera phones. The rest of you are what he calls “digital immigrants,” a fun way of saying older people who’ve had to adapt to a new, digitized way of life.

Some of the struggle in bringing technology to classrooms came with getting older generations realize that today’s classrooms are outdated and can’t handle the growing needs of the digitally raised younger generations.

Kuglin said he especially saw that struggle in 1995 and 1996, when the World Wide Web was changing into what it is today, and many older teachers had a tough time learning the ropes.

Now, most teachers are what he calls digital natives themselves.

“When we were children, high tech was getting your first television,” Superintendent John Brendza said. “We’re becoming technology rich now, and that will allow today’s generation to go to the next level.”

Teachers are becoming tech-savvy in how they reach out to parents.

Quite a few teachers have started their own Web sites to answer questions, display their class syllabus and even keep up-to date reminders of daily assignments so parents know exactly what their child should be doing. Some teachers have just started, others have had them a while, said John Kuglin, technology director.

Does your child’s teacher have a Web site? Check at http://www.eboarddev.com/temp/ecs.html or http://eagleschools.net/parents and click on “teacher Web sites.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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