In The Classroom

Teachers using tech

Shining a Spotlight on Learning

Karner Blue BL 595Wi

As a teacher, you ask questions, either verbally or through a test. Getting answers is how you find out if your students understand what you’re teaching them.

But how would you teach an elementary school class if your students couldn’t talk?

That’s the challenge that Kayna Plaisted faces every day at the Karner Blue Education Center, a school for students with special needs in Circle Pines, Minnesota.

Some of her students are non-verbal, but she emphasizes that her students’ inability to speak does not mean they aren’t reading at their age level or communicating in other ways. Her class sizes may be small—about six students—and the students are from kindergarten to fifth grade. All of these factors require that Plaisted creates lessons that allow them to interact with her and the other students.

Using the Epson BrightLink 595Wi interactive projector, students can demonstrate their learning by manipulating the content with their fingers. If Plaisted is conducting a lesson on story structure and wants students to put scenes into sequential order, they can drag and drop the screenshots of scenes with their finger to put them in order. Plaisted and her students can then use the interactive tools, such as the pen tool, to annotate on top of the images to keep the lesson engaging.

“I used to have to print everything, cut out the pictures, laminate them—it would take hours,” Plaisted recalled. “Now I take the screen shots and pull them into the interactive tools area, and I’m ready for class.”

The projector’s interactive tools also give her the ability to prompt students for answers in a way that makes them feel like they came up with the answer on their own. Both the spotlight and highlight tools can be used to bring the students’ attention to a particular word or image, which may serve as a clue to an answer. These tools help Plaisted grab the students’ attention in a way that interactive white boards couldn’t.

“I have three education assistants in every class whose jobs are strictly to help the students pay attention, stay on task, have calm bodies, and participate,” Plaisted commented. “With the level of intensity our students have, anything to grab their attention is huge, and the projector works so well for that.”

Plaisted can further guide students during lessons using the Multi-PC Projection with Moderator Function and the iProjection App. They allow Plaisted to project more advanced students’ work through the BrightLink 595Wi to provide visual prompts for the rest of the class. This allows her to spotlight students’ different strengths and abilities all while keeping the lesson moving. Because the content is being projected from a student’s device and not a main computer on her desk, Plaisted is no longer trapped behind a desk or tied to a white board during her lesson.

“I can walk around the classroom as students work to see who is participating,” said Plaisted. “When I project exemplary student work directly from their devices as an example for other students, I can walk around and help those students who need more support. I can keep up that encouragement from across the room, which is fantastic.”

“I’m so glad the technology is here now,” said Plaisted. “I couldn’t imagine being a teacher 10, 15 or 20 years ago when they didn’t have these tools. They’re just amazing.”

Breaking the Code

FultonStudentsCoding

“He can’t even read!” shouted a fellow student in Jessy Garris’ third grade class. The student was referring to a dyslexic student who struggled with reading – so much so he was only reading at a kindergarten level. But it was with confidence that Ms. Garris asked the student to complete a coding task in front of the class on the classroom’s Epson BrightLink 595Wi interactive projector and was proud to hear him respond to the class that he could do it.

He didn’t just do it. He outscored the rest of the students.

“It’s amazing how far they will go with coding, despite other academic struggles,” commented Garris, a technology teacher at Woodland Elementary in Atlanta, Georgia. “Technology like the BrightLink is a real equalizer.”

How did the student succeed using the projector? Thanks to the BrightLink’s finger-touch interactivity and Code.org’s drag-and-drop block-based structure, this student didn’t need to know how to read to complete the coding task – he only needed to know the difference between left and right, up and down.

Garris uses coding software like Code.org, Scratch and Blockly—the latter being the same program that top technology schools use to introduce coding to computer science students. Not surprisingly, Garris’ students are thrilled to be using the same programs as university students and finger-touch software on the BrightLink projector, but the projector helps teach students more than how to code.

Using the BrightLink 595Wi in her technology classrooms allows students to get comfortable with and master how to use the projector. Before upgrading their projection technology, Woodland Elementary had other interactive projectors that had one main problem. “The students didn’t like it because their shadow blocked what they were trying to do,” Garris described. “The BrightLink is more user-friendly for students and teachers.”

So user-friendly, in fact, that the teachers were given a 15-minute intro to Code.org and many of them are now using the program during math instruction. Code.org can also be incorporated into social studies instruction as students can use the cardinal directions to create sequences of code and in English lessons as students can solve word problems by creating sequences of code. These code sequences are like stories – each has a beginning, middle, and end.

Garris is happy to be exposing her elementary school students to coding far earlier than the norm, which is usually in high school. And she’s looking to set her students up for success in the future. “Many students see coding as a ‘boy’s job’, so starting coding concepts with all students early gives them the opportunity to develop an interest and pursue a career in the field at an early age,” Garris remarked. “Technology is here to stay. Instead of outsourcing these coding jobs in the future, companies will be hiring our students to do them.”

 

Turning Shy Students Into Showoffs

Patricia Embry_Tampa Prep pic 1“In my 30 years of teaching, I’ve seen a lot of ideas come and go. I don’t adopt all of them,” explained Patricia Embry, the Associate Director of Middle School and Mathematics Department chair at Tampa Preparatory School in Tampa, Florida. “But this one—it really has made a huge difference in how I teach in the classroom.”

How does she know? Because even with her impressive position, Mrs. Embry still teaches algebra on a daily basis. And last summer, Tampa Preparatory was remodeled to become an Active Learning Environment, which included moveable furniture, multiple monitors, new software and Epson’s BrightLink 595Wi interactive projectors.

“The teacher isn’t the ‘sage on the stage’ anymore. The class doesn’t just revolve around the teacher,” Mrs. Embry continued. “We don’t have the students sit in rows and, due to the Epson’s Moderator software, I can roam around the classroom with my tablet, rather than being tethered to a laptop.”

Not only does that mean that every student now has a front row seat, it also means that no one can hide in the back. But the great thing is that none of them want to hide anymore. They want to show off their work, which is a phenomenon that most teachers are unfamiliar with.

Students never minded showing their work in front of the class when it was correct. But in math, said Mrs. Embry wisely, it truly is about learning from your mistakes. “They’ve realized that everyone else is making mistakes, and that makes it safe to admit their errors,” she stated. “After that, they learned that it’s fun to uncover the mistakes and find the answer as a team.”

The Moderator software allows Mrs. Embry to project four students’ work at a time. She keeps track of which students have had a chance to show their work, and rotates through the class roster to make sure that everyone’s work is displayed. “Students know their work will be on the monitor in front of the class, and I noticed that they’ve become much neater, and are doing a better job on their homework. They have pride in their work.”

Even when their work is not projected, up to 50 students can be connected to a session, allowing teachers to see who is participating, and who isn’t. Mrs. Embry can visit those students having problems and, using her tablet and a stylus, walk through the problem on the classroom screens.

You might wonder if it was challenging for teachers, especially those unfamiliar with technology, to learn to use the BrightLink interactive projector and Moderator device-management software. With the help of a great IT department and some training, the teachers had little difficulty adapting to their new classroom equipment. Plus, they all have a secret weapon in case they forget. “After the Christmas break, I was a bit rusty turning on the projector,” she explained. “When I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working, they politely said ‘Oh, Mrs. Embry, you just have to push that button!’ They have become the experts!”

Expanding the Classroom’s Potential with Document Cameras

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“The document camera allowed 30 kids to easily see each delicate, valuable artifact that each of the leaders brought with them, without crowding around the visitor,” explained Rachel Marcus, a teacher at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colorado, about her World Religion class.

When we ran a contest for teachers to win an Epson DC-20 document camera, we didn’t realize that we’d learn so much about why teachers would want one. In fact, 53 percent of over 1,100 teachers who entered the contest wanted one to display assignments and items so the entire class could see easily—just like Rachel Marcus.

Engaging the students is the second most popular reason that teachers are clamoring for visual display technology in their classroom. “The students learn more quickly with the document camera because it keeps them engaged and interested,” said Mrs. Marcus. “And that makes my job so much easier.”

Marcus is one of several teachers we’ve interviewed to share their experiences with technology in the classroom, in the hopes that the ingenuity will spread to other schools. Alison Murray, a teacher at Central Falls Senior High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, uses the document camera to record her physics lessons to post on her school’s website, a capability that many of the respondents are excited about—recording a lesson to display later. “I record the lessons for two reasons. One is so that the students who miss the class don’t actually have to miss the instruction,” Mrs. Murray explained to us. “And two is so that those who are having a hard time grasping the concepts can watch it again. It is physics, after all.”

Teachers are looking to save time and money, according to nine percent of the responses, and that’s a purpose that every busy person can understand. “I’m able to use more of the documents I’ve brought back from France now because it used to be a hassle to sort through them and run back and forth to the photocopier,” said Renee Kurtz, a French teacher at Alder Avenue Middle School in New Jersey. “I do everything that I need to do right here at my desk.”

Mrs. Alperstein, a grade school teacher in New York City, has been teaching for 26 years, and has brought technology into the classroom, just like many of our contest applicants want to do. Her students have a healthy competitive streak in finding new ways to use the document camera. “I don’t always have time to learn what the document camera does, so I assign it to my students,” she says. “I get more done, and they get to learn from reading informational text, things like sequencing, implementation and text-to-real-life. Those are just a few of the many skills they’ll need as an adult.”

We heard from many of our interviews that teachers, from grade school on up to high school, are looking to teach their students real-world skills, which includes collaboration, public speaking and presentation skills. Over 350 of our respondents were looking to use a document camera for this purpose, and Mrs. Alperstein’s class is a prime example. With little time to prepare, her class used the document camera to work together on their entry for a national competition, allowing them to work as a team as the clock ticked down.

“They won an Honorable Mention, and for a national award, that’s pretty exciting,” recounts Mrs. Alperstein. “It would not have been possible without that document camera.”

 

Projecting the Future of Programming Through Minecraft

Minecraft Hacker Dojo

“Dad, my JAR is broken,” said Arun Gupta’s12-year-old Minecraft-obsessed son, referring to his Java Archive as opposed to a glass-based container.

Gupta, Director of Developer Advocacy at Red Hat, said, “That changed our daily discussion at breakfast, dinner, going to classes, shopping, and laundry – whatever we were doing together. He’s teaching me Minecraft, and I’m teaching him Java.”

Gupta knew that programming can be an abstract concept, so he’s applied something that both he and his son love – video games. Soon Gupta had 12 neighborhood kids in his living room, all wanting to learn Minecraft modding. The session not only taught coding in a fun way, but it helped to break down barriers to computer use.

The success of the inaugural class developed into a U.S. chapter of Devoxx4Kids, a program dedicated to introducing children to programming, robotics and engineering. Gupta also runs the San Francisco Bay Area chapter which has taught upwards of 1500 students per in weekend meet ups.

Gupta explains that the children are hungry to learn, but they need to see results quickly. “Instant gratification is very important to kids,” Gupta said. He fuels their appetite for learning with their need to see quick results by asking the following question: “Why would you want to play plain, boring Minecraft? Let’s make your TNT explosions bigger!”

Gupta is pleased with the results. “It’s really surprising how quickly the kids grasp the technology,” Gupta said. “Our minds get corrupted as we grow old. Kids are much more open.”

Multisensory Learning

With the motivation side of learning taken care of, Gupta uses a multisensory learning method, explaining code modifications verbally as he’s live editing them. The changes are projected on a big wall or screen while the students follow along, executing the steps and commands on their own computers.

“You have to project what you are doing on the screen,” explained Gupta. The class guides students through mods that can change the game, enabling them to add content and alter gameplay. The ability to see a small tweak to code alter in-game attributes like scenery or their player’s ability on the big screen helps to encourage the students’ drive to learn more.

“I want them to have a fun, fun, fun experience,” Gupta said. “Once they have fun, they know it is not intimidating.”

Gupta’s ultimate goal is to influence how children are educated in schools today. “I want to incorporate these courses into the curriculum itself. Every kid – no child left behind – should have access to this.”

If you are in the Bay Area and looking for a Devoxx4Kids workshop, visit meetup.com/Devoxx4Kids-BayArea/ for more information.

 

Photo Credit: Arun Gupta

The French Connection

Ms. Kurtz helps Nicolas, one of her students, with his project using the DC-20.

Ms. Kurtz helps Nicolas, one of her students, with his project using the DC-20.

“They feel like they’re truly learning and using the language, not just reciting a textbook,” said Renee Kurtz, a French teacher at Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. “It’s a little more work for me to find the materials, but it’s better for the students because they’re using real things.”

Many Americans haven’t even been to France, let alone middle-school students from a small town in New Jersey, as Ms. Kurtz is well aware. So on her trips to France, she carefully collects magazines and materials with regional information to share with her class back in the U.S.

She uses an Epson DC-20 document camera to photograph and print the pages for the students, so they can review the information about restaurants, hotels, and things to do as she projects the original on the screen. It’s these kinds of innovative ideas that allowed her to win the document camera in an Epson contest back in March of 2013.

“It makes it easier for them to see and follow along,” she explained. “We’re supporting the new Common Core State Standards where they need to identify main ideas and analyze. We’re doing all the same work that they do in English class, we’re just doing it in French.”

The DC-20 has allowed Ms. Kurtz to leave the photocopier well alone, and she does not miss it. She can use more of these original French documents in the class, of which she has quite frequently, and she can take pictures of them right at her desk. She likes to focus in on a part of the document bit by bit, hinting at the answer, using the document camera’s zoom feature. That, on a photocopier, she finds difficult and time-consuming.

The DC-20 has helped Ms. Kurtz be what she calls a more “reflective” teacher by capturing her lessons and, more importantly, her students’ responses. She keeps binders full of all her lessons and the recordings on a hard drive to review them year on year. “Next year I can look and see which responses the students typically give,” she said. “Is that analysis in-depth enough or do I need to ask more probing questions? What is it I want them to learn from this lesson? I like to know what works, and what didn’t work.”

In addition to the recording, the document camera allows Ms. Kurtz to face the class instead of the whiteboard. “I can see their faces,” she said. “I can tell if they’re getting it, if they’re bored, confused or on task. That’s been good for me too.”

Dissecting Books in Biology Class

books_Crop

“I was so sick of dissecting I could scream,” said Kelly Murray, a math and science teacher at Preston High School in Kingwood, West Virginia. “And the kids hate textbooks, but I needed to get them to read something.”

The Epson DC 06 Document Camera that Ms. Murray received from DonorsChoose.org is being used for its original purpose—for projecting dissections up onto the classroom’s SmartBoard—but this clever teacher realized it could be used in other ways. Ms. Murray’s detour from dissection required her students to take a non-fiction book or a novel and produce something creative. And, sure enough, Ms. Murray was impressed by their creativity.

“I asked them to do anything creative with these biology-based books, like write a poem, make a movie poster or turn it into a children’s story,” remembers Ms. Murray. “The favorite project overall was making a movie poster.”

One of her students couldn’t get the scale right for his movie poster drawing, because he wanted it actual size. Ms. Murray showed him how to use the document camera to project his letter-sized drawing onto the wall, adjust for scale and trace his original onto his poster board.

“The student who chose The Lovely Bones made a movie poster because she was unhappy with the actors chosen to play the characters in the film,” Ms. Murray said. “So not only did she recast the film on her movie poster, she also wrote a letter to the author about it.”

invertebrate id day

Using the document camera with a microscope, Ms. Murray projects the “Invertebrate I.D. Day” subjects.

The Life of Pi inspired a student so much that she wrote a children’s story from the full-length book, using the document camera to show the class her sketched storyboards and illustrations, while another showed off the 3-D shadowbox he’d created from the book Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.

The document camera has been such a classroom success that the kids beg to come to biology class. “The kids got into using the document camera for both the book project and the dissection assignments so much, I thought I might have created monsters!” Ms. Murray laughed.

At the end of the day, even high school students are still kids. Hooking a microscope up to the document camera made them go completely nuts for it. “Their favorite thing to do is with three minutes left of class is to run out and find flowers, worms and bugs to put under camera. They have used every memory card I have taking pictures!”

Color Matters in the Classroom

 

carrots

“It looks like my Pantone®  color book!” exclaimed Lauren Roy, as she took the Color Brightness Challenge at the 2014 Florida Education Technology Conference (FETC). As an education technology specialist at The Madeira School in McLean, Virginia, Lauren shouldn’t even know what a Pantone book is. But she does, and she knows that a Pantone book is the color bible for design professionals when it comes to accurate color.

“It’s pretty,” she said, commenting on the Epson PowerLite 935W projector’s image. “I guess the term for it is authenticity. It’s very accurate in all contexts.”

Lauren developed her affinity for color accuracy during her past career as a web developer, as she was working her way through communications/public relations degree.

“Something that always irritated me with projectors is that I’m looking at my computer screen and I’m looking at the projected image, and the two just don’t match.”

When Lauren observed the two projectors at the FETC (An Epson 3LCD and a comparably priced competitor’s single chip DLP) , she said it made her think about projectors in a new way. “I thought—hey, maybe someone can actually make a projector that shows color accurately!” said Lauren. “The colors looked like they should be, true and solid, not like a translucent, watercolor version.”

During her career as interactive technology director, Lauren has been subjected to a wide range of projectors, some of dubious quality. “Schools have had a random mish-mash of projectors—an NEC projector in one room, an off-brand thing in another that’s been dropped and scratched to death, and an Epson in another room,” she explained.

She has to learn how to shuffle the projectors around the school as the teachers turn them in so that she can make sure the good ones are available for certain classes and events, like the middle school’s movie night. “It’s not that you become biased, but you learn that there are applications for the things that work, and there’s a place for those that aren’t as efficient.” But there’s one thing she is biased about, and that’s getting great color from the projector.

“Teachers sometimes try to request a projector that I know isn’t the right one for the job,” Lauren remembered. “I just say: Trust me, and use this one. You’ll thank me later.”

Zen and the Art of Projector Maintenance

FSU_Bobby Roberts

Much to the chagrin of students who’d love for class to be cancelled, Florida State University IT/AV tech Bobby Roberts keeps classrooms running.

It could happen five or thirty minutes into a lecture—suddenly, the screen goes black. The projector’s bulb has blown out at the most inconvenient time. Inconvenient, that is, if you’re a professor who, in this age of new technology, has forgotten how to use a blackboard to teach their class. For a student, it may be a rare gift, a day when the lecture is cancelled due to technical problems.

At Florida State University, such class cancellations happen less frequently, and they have Ray Falcon to blame for that. As the AV Systems Engineer for Information Technology Services at the university, he was responsible for installing Epson projectors in 265 classrooms on campus.

“The crew will come in within five minutes of a teacher’s call, and usually they can get a lamp changed in 10-15 minutes,” said Falcon. And what takes the most time is not changing the lamp—it’s getting to the projector, which is usually located in the center of the lecture hall.

“We like the reliability, because a lot of our projectors in the lecture halls are about 22 feet off the floor. When lamps and filters need to be changed, we need to bring scaffolding in,” Falcon explained. “With Epson, when they say you’re going to get so many hours, you get your hours, and the filters don’t clog up like the other manufacturers. It ends up being less work for our technicians.”

Thanks to the school’s new technology, Florida State University students have fewer opportunities for legitimately getting out of a lecture. Instead, they’ll either have to pray for a university-wide blackout, or just give up and study.

Folding Geometry Lessons into Origami Projects

DC20ContestWinner_Student_BarrenHigh_Rebecca Hurley pic 1

When I was a kid, I used to love playing pool. And for a while, I even thought I was pretty good at it. Then, in my early teens, our annual ski vacation found us in a rented cabin with a pool table. After a hard day of skiing, we decided to play a relaxing game of pool.

“Playing pool is easy,” said my dad, an engineer and “good at math”, a trait he neglected to pass on to me. “It’s just geometry.” And that was the moment when any aptitude I had for playing the game of pool up and died. Thanks, Dad.

But Rachel Perkins, a math teacher at Barren County High School in Glasgow, Kentucky, has been able to keep her students interested in geometry. They might even love it. She’s been teaching her students geometry using origami using the Epson DC-20 document camera she won through the Epson “Document Camera in the Classroom” contest.

“Using the document camera, the entire class gets to watch my hands move the compass and the straight edge,” explained Ms. Perkins. “As I fold origami, we talk about perpendicular bisectors because, as you’re folding, you bisect angles and line segments.”

According to Ms. Perkins, origami also makes teaching area formulas easier. “When we create something like a sliding star, it’s an octagon. So we found the area of the octagon, and the trapezoids within the octagon. All the shapes are in there—it’s a real life application of all those formulas I’m making them memorize.”

The document camera has had surprising benefits in the classroom. Ms. Perkins finds that doesn’t need to repeat herself as often, and she uses the camera to take still shots that she can leave up on the screen for her students to use as reference. But the best part was how it helped the shyer students ask for assistance.

“A few students wouldn’t leave the ‘comfort zone’ of their desk to come to the front of the class to see what I was doing,” said Mrs. Perkins. “The document camera makes them more comfortable asking me to repeat something, because they don’t have to leave their seat.”

For me, thinking about the “angle bisector” and “perpendicular bisectors” makes my eyes cross. But I love origami and geometry is now making more sense to me—although too late for a misguided career as a pool hustler, so perhaps that’s a good thing. I just wish that my teacher had used origami to teach me geometry.