Touring Italy from a Gypsum classroom |

Touring Italy from a Gypsum classroom

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado

GYPSUM ” The lesson begins with a five-second flight from the United States to Italy.

Seventeen pairs of eyes are glued to the 40-inch flat screen glowing in the corner of Allyson Metz’s class at Red Hill Elementary. The students are watching a colorful demonstration on “Google Earth,” an interactive satellite map of the world that can take students on visual rides from the pyramids in Egypt to the Eiffel Tower to a satellite image hanging over their back yard.

This time though, they’re headed to Rome.

Metz switches from Google Earth to iPhoto, showing students pictures she took on her vacation to Italy. She shows them the Pantheon and the Coliseum ” you know, that big arena in the movie “Gladiator,” she tells them.

Earlier, she was playing traditional Italian music on iTunes.

She ends the lesson with a Power Point slide which asks the students to write about where they would like to go on vacation, why they want to visit there and how the Internet could help them accomplish it.

A lesson like this wouldn’t have been possible last year.

When voters approved the $128 million bond last November, they approved $4 million to be spent on extensive technology upgrades, most of which was completed this summer. Some schools haven’t received their full upgrades yet.

The big project was boosting the district’s Internet power by at least 10 and upgrading the outdated networks to handle large amounts of information.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 can use in the classroom.

When you have those big screens, it all comes to life for the students.

All this technology isn’t just a luxury ” it’s necessary for kids to stay ahead in a flattening, globally competitive world, says technology director John Kuglin.

Kids today are what Kuglin calls “digital natives” ” people who’ve 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 digitized way of life.

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bringing technology to classrooms has come with getting these older generations to realize that today’s classrooms are outdated and can’t handle the growing needs of the digitally raised younger generations.

Kids today spend more time on the Internet than watching television, and they keep blogs and create podcasts outside the classroom, Kuglin said. Reaching these students and preparing them for the future means embracing this technology, and that’s why Kuglin sees the bond issue as a major success and a gift to the kids.

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

Kuglin 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 butting heads with tech-savvy people who recognized before we did that staying ahead of the technology curve matters. America will be fighting to maintain its status in the world, he said.

“We’re preparing our kids for jobs that don’t exist yet,” Kuglin said. “All in order for them to solve problems we don’t have yet.”

With the high speed Internet and big screens in every classroom, teachers are no longer competing for technology. Teachers had to wait their turn for the cumbersome multimedia carts with televisions, DVD players and VCRs.

Metz said things have come a long way since “The Oregon Trail,” a popular educational computer game in the 1980s.

“It allows me to present technology to them on a larger scale,” Metz said. “The kids are no longer huddled around me at a computer. I have it all at my fingertips.”

She said it wouldn’t be hard to find a way to use this technology every day.

The first graders at Red Hill on Friday were watching a video version of the Kevin Henkes book, “Chrysanthemum,” which they had been studying in class. Teacher Jill

Smith said watching the video helps brings the story to life for the kids. It also helps that they could show the video to four different classrooms at the same time, which wouldn’t have been possible before.

In Allison Hansen’s fourth grade class, students took a photo safari of Australian animals before starting a lesson on Cornell Notes. When asked how they liked the new technology, their faces lit up, and kids cried out, “We love it!” and “It’s awesome!”

An important part to making the technology work will be making sure teachers not only know how to use it, but also start thinking of creative ways to integrate technology into lessons.

Kuglin says the weekly team planning and brainstorming meetings that are an integral part of the Teacher Advancement Program will give teachers a chance to learn how things like videos and music and power points can be seamlessly used in the class.

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 lessons 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 or and click on “teacher Web sites.”

Staff writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 748-2955 or

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