Teachers work during the summer to bring technology into their classrooms
By Kim Underwood Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
AUGUST 17 – Teachers are returning to work next week, but many were busy during the summer months sharpening their tech skills – such as the 160 teachers that gathered for a two-day workshop to learn how to use Promethean boards.
Karyn Williams liked the ways in which her interactive whiteboard engages her students and helps them learn.
“It has made it more exciting for me and the students,” said Williams, who teaches kindergarten at Clemmons Elementary School. “I think it enhances their learning. If you are doing something fun, you’re going to retain it.”
So she thought it would be a good idea to take a workshop to learn more about the capabilities of the Promethean interactive whiteboard - the brand used at her school – and to exchange ideas and tips with other teachers in the school system.
“I came to see what else I could learn to enhance my lessons using technology,” Williams said.
Sitting next to her was Chris Gilbert, who also teaches kindergarten at Clemmons and was there for similar reasons. “I just didn’t know everything it could do,” Gilbert said. “I want to be able to use it to its full potential.”
Gilbert and Williams joined more than 160 teachers at Morgan Elementary School for the workshop led by Steven Anderson, the director of instructional technology, and other members of the school system’s Technology Department and by representatives of the Promethean company.
“Everybody is so excited to be here,” said Michael Hayes, the principal at Morgan. “You have people at different stages of learning.”
An interactive whiteboard is connected to a computer and projector. Teachers can use programs that others have created, customize programs created by others or create their own, and, using a stylus or other device, students and teachers can manipulate images and other elements on the board.
Because some schools have had Promethean boards for several years and others have gotten them in recent months, levels of experience at the workshop varied. So some teachers were learning the basics while others were focusing on some of the more sophisticated tools available.
During Day One, the people leading the workshop had done a good job of helping people at whatever level they were, Hayes said. “They offered something for everybody no matter where you are.”
With days during the school year being so full, teachers welcomed the opportunity to have time to explore and to become more comfortable with the technology.
“I am more at ease,” said Nancy Schleimer, an EC (exceptional children) teacher at Clemmons Elementary.
Using such technology with students in the classroom has the fringe benefit of making students who don’t have computers at home more familiar with and comfortable with technology, said Allison Phelps, who teaches first grade at Brunson Elementary School. “It’s very user friendly even for students….It’s getting them in touch with 21st-century skills.”
During Day Two, Dorene Bates, an instructional technologist with the school system, introduced participants to another tool – Edmodo, a free website that enables teachers at different schools to share tips, lesson plans and such and for them to create learning groups for their students. Signing up requires a school code. Those can be obtained by emailing Bates at email@example.com and letting her know your school.
The Promethean team arrived in a bus, which was heading on to South Carolina and Virginia after leaving North Carolina, that is decorated on the outside with large photographs of students using the technology and that, on the inside, has smaller photographs of students and teachers. The assortment includes pictures of Julie Howe, who teaches fifth-grade at Clemmons Elementary, and some of her students.
For Kathryn Gehrs, who teaches kindergarten at Kimberley Park Elementary School, using a Promethean board led to an exciting bonus. By submitting a lesson plan – the company calls them flipcharts - that she designed, she entered a contest sponsored by Promethean. She won a two-week trip for two that she can take next summer. She can choose her destination from a list that includes China, Southeast Asia and India. For the moment, China is at the top of her list.
“They randomly selected someone,” Gehrs said. “I am really excited. I have never been out of the country before.”