In The Classroom

Teachers using tech

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.

Document Cameras and the Flipped Classroom

iStock_000010544989Small

“Not all kids have computers at home,” says Alison Murray, a physics teacher at Central Falls Senior High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island. “But somehow, almost all of them have smartphones. And those smartphones never leave their hands!”

Mrs. Murray has learned how to use those smartphones to teach her students, and even managed to increase their test scores and performance in class. In fact, Mrs. Murray is “pretty floored” by the progress her kids have made in the second half of her class this past year. What’s her secret? The Epson DC-20 Document Camera she received from her DonorsChoose.org campaign last January.

“I explain to people that it’s a modern version of the overhead projector,” Mrs. Murray says. “I’d wanted one for some time, but when I saw that this one recorded, I was so excited.” Mrs. Murray uses the document camera to help her with a flipped classroom approach, where she records her lesson and uploads it to her classroom’s website for online access. “I haven’t seen any other teachers using document cameras in this way, but it’s so perfect. Students can access the videos right from that smartphone.”

Mrs. Murray’s school is in an urban area, and attendance is not at a level that the teachers and administration are happy with. However, by flipping her classroom, her students excel in class–even with absences. “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, and two is so that those who are having a hard time grasping the concepts can watch it again. It is physics, after all.”

In class, Mrs. Murray likes to think of her class as “multimedia,” using the document camera off and on, and in different ways. “Sometimes I write on the whiteboard, but putting something on the document camera makes it infinitely more interesting to them.” In addition, Mrs. Murray has noticed that working through a problem on the document camera produces better results with her students than using the whiteboard. “When I’m doing the same thing that they are supposed to be doing, it gives them more confidence to work on the problem.”

“Kids nowadays—technology, that’s their thing. Asking kids to go to a computer for what they need for class is often a lot easier than getting them to relate to a piece of paper.”

Image: ©iStock.com/Zig4photo

Four Gym Class Uses for a Projector

Ebbole_gym

All during my years of school, I was smart. And if you’re assuming that “smart” is another way of saying “not athletic,” you’d be right. That’s not to say that I wasn’t actually intelligent, but smarts didn’t get you picked first for group sports.

And so I dreaded the daily Physical Education class. As if the awkwardness of the changing rooms were not enough, it continued as I watched all the other kids get chosen for teams before someone grudgingly pointed at me. I viewed picking teams as an extension of the popularity caste system that seeped into every moment of school life. But I never saw a teacher try to bypass it.

Until now. Adam Ebbole, a physical education teacher at the Ravenswood-ridge Elementary Network in Chicago, Illinois, has discovered not just one, but several innovative ways to use a projector in his classroom. One way is great for the students, by eliminating the common “chosen last” phenomena many of us suffered through as children, but the three additional uses for the Epson VS210 Projector help to make him a more effective teacher.

1. No Student Left Behind

“I have an iPad app that I use with the projector,” explains Mr. Ebbole. “It picks the groups for the students, which is both a time saver and also prevents any student from being the last choice for sports groups.”

It’s not always random. Mr. Ebbole can use the app to choose teams that include students from all ability levels—and popularity levels. “By using the app, I can make sure that our high population of special needs students aren’t waiting around after all the athletic kids are picked, and I can break up groups of students that are more likely to talk than exercise.”

2. Keeping Kindergarteners Focused

Mr. Ebbole uses the projector, acquired through DonorsChoose.org, in every one of his 15 classes encompassing grades K-8. With more than 450 students in those classes, the projector comes in handy in more ways than just team selection.

“I use it for the kindergarteners a lot. I usually can’t hold their attention for 50 minutes, so if I use the projector to screen an exercise video, like yoga, they’re not just glued to the screen, they’re also active the entire time. I can also introduce the kids to new and international sports, like tchoukball, and using videos is the best way to show them how to play.”

3. Bigger-Than-Life Stopwatch

Using his iPad, Mr. Ebbole projected a timer for his students, helping them get through the exercise stations faster than when he used a stopwatch. With a projected countdown, the kids were able to keep time on their own, and finished the exercises on time. This allowed them more time to participate in their favorite part of the class—the sports activities.

The projector has also provided a teaching opportunity to Mr. Ebbole, helping him explain to his students how participation affects grades. “With half the time left on the clock, I’d see students that hadn’t been active at all. I was able to start a conversation with them about what their grade should be if they only did half the work, versus the other students who had completed the work. They’ve realized that I watch them more carefully than they assumed!”

4. Eliminating Student Excuses

There’s a video that Mr. Ebbole plays via the projector for each and every class, and for a good reason. “As a gym teacher, I get every excuse under the sun,” he explains. “I went to University of Wisconsin with Matt Scott, a Paralympic basketball athlete. He lost the use of his legs early in his life, and Nike® featured him in a TV ad called No Excuses. It’s only one minute long, but it makes quite an impression on the kids, because you don’t see he’s in a wheelchair until the end.”

Even though it’s too late to save me from the mental scarring of being chosen last, I’m impressed with the ways Mr. Ebbole is using the projector to help students get the most out of PhysEd—whether they like it or not. Through technology and ingenuity, he has made gym class more effective at engaging the students and actually getting them to be active. In this day and age of smartphones, video games and online media, that is a trend I hope to see spread to many more PhysEd classes throughout the nation.

Hands-on Learning with Priceless Artifacts

When Rachel Marcus received the Epson DC-06 Document Camera through DonorsChoose.org, she planned on using it to expand her students’ horizons. Even though her classes at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colorado contain a heavily diverse population of students from across the globe, including Thailand, Eastern Europe, Libya and Mexico, many of them haven’t lived in their home countries for any length of time.

“One of my main goals is to open the kids’ minds to all these other cultures, countries, traditions and ways of life out there, and to teach tolerance,” she explains. “One of the ways I do this is by teaching a World Religion unit.”

Mrs. Marcus uses the World Religion unit in combination with coursework exploring the geography, history and culture of other countries. By bringing a religious leader from five major world religions into the classroom, Mrs. Marcus gives her students a hands-on learning experience that they can’t get from a textbook. Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam are all represented throughout the unit, via an imam, a rabbi, a monk, a priest and a guru.

“From a Koran to a prayer rug to the rabbi’s mezuzah, some of these objects are familiar to the students, depending on their background,” says Mrs. Marcus. “But to most of them, these things are totally new—they’ve never seen them before nor pronounce the name.” With each artifact comes an assignment. The students are to draw the artifact, write a caption and explain what it is and how it relates to the religion.

“The document camera allowed 30 kids to easily see each artifact that each of the leaders brought with them, without crowding around them.” Religious objects can be fragile, antique or sacred, and the document camera provides a way for every child to see it close up—without passing a treasured object around the class.

“I find that having a religious leader talk about their belief systems enables the students to break down some misconceptions they may have about people in other countries and their religions,” explains Mrs. Marcus. “The students learn more quickly with the document camera because it keeps them engaged and interested. And that makes my job so much easier.”

Photo Credit: By Mr. Thinktank under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.

Ideas STEM From Interaction

PGiranChipPhoto

Packages awaiting the Ship-A-Chip Challenge

“It just makes it a lot quicker,” says Paula Giran, a Gifted Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) teacher of 5th and 6th graders at Hillcrest Intermediate School in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. “I don’t have to go running around the room to check every kid’s microscope to make sure that what they’re looking at is what I want them to be looking at.”

Giran’s search for a document camera all started when she got tired with the hassle of making transparencies for an overhead projector.  She purchased a document camera solely for her classroom, but that camera and the next were just glorified overhead machines. Only when she was selected to receive her Epson DC-20 document camera as one of the four winners of the “Epson Document Camera in the Classroom Contest,” did it become a vital teaching tool.

“It makes it a lot more interactive for the students,” Giran notes. “In the past, kids would be focused in on something and I had no idea that they were actually looking at their eyelash because it’s on the eye piece. So now, when I project a cheek cell from my microscope onto the board, they know exactly what they should be looking at with their own microscopes.”

Not only does the document camera keep the whole class on track, but the students know how to hook it up and use it themselves. She has six groups of students throughout the day, and they do a lot of their projects between classes. “One class will film an ongoing project with the document camera and then when the next group comes in, they’ll pick up where they left off,” Giran says.

The camera easily displays a variety of things to share with the whole class: microscopes, Skype, a student’s desk, even Madagascar hissing cockroaches. “Rather than have an entire class crowded around a desk while we’re showing how things work, we have a student come up and do it while it’s being projected live on the board.”

Her students’ favorite lesson so far using the new document camera was the “Ship-A-Chip” project. Groups of the kids were given one Pringles potato chip, along with a limited budget and materials, and were tasked with creating a package that would allow it to survive a journey through the mail. They shipped each packaged chip to local Norwin High School, where, using Skype via the document camera, 9th graders talked over the success of the younger students’ packaging, and gave reasons why some things worked better than others. “The kids cheered whenever a package was opened to reveal a whole chip, or if a chip was just chipped a little bit—no pun intended,” Giran explained. “That definitely wouldn’t have been possible without the document camera. The high school students may have taken pictures and the teacher could have emailed them to the kids, but with the camera, the project came to life.”

A Document Camera Allows a Stitch in Time To Save Nine

classroom_hands

“I had one of the kids say to me—and this is why I love kids—‘Mrs. Alperstein, you’re not using that right,’” says Neme Alperstein, laughing. “So I back off and say, ‘Well, can you do it?’ and of course they can. So they do.”

Mrs. Alperstein is talking about her grade-school class at PS174 William Sidney Mount in New York City, New York, and the Epson DC 20 Document Camera she received from DonorsChoose.org. It’s a classic case of the student becoming the teacher.

“I’m not just trying to make them feel good—I need them to do what they’re doing and show me what the product can do!” Mrs. Alperstein says. “I have to shamefully admit that I’m still learning what to do with it.”

As she points out, in urban schools such as hers, it’s not just the lack of resources that hurts education. The real enemy is time, especially when you have to share the resources. But thanks to DonorsChoose.org, she doesn’t have to share anymore.

“Kids never break the equipment. It’s always the adults,” she explains. “Other teachers ask to borrow it, but I don’t let it leave my classroom. They promise to be careful, but I tell them they can’t promise that! It’s like giving away your first born.”

This is not Mrs. Alperstein’s first time at the rodeo. She’s been teaching for 26 years, and can remember what it was like with such “technology” as a mimeograph machine. How does she like today’s technology? “Wow, I like being here. Anything that helps kids learn more efficiently, I’ll take it!”

The document camera fits this bill, and proved it when Mrs. Alperstein’s class pulled together to enter the Toshiba ExploraVision competition. They didn’t have a lot of time to work on it, and the deadline was looming. The document camera allowed them to work as a team as the clock literally ticked down. They put the project up on the screen, including diagrams and graphics that were hand-drawn as per the competition, and finished editing the project with an hour to spare.

“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. I felt very sad for my competition—they didn’t have our edge!”

Plus, Mrs. Alperstein notes that the document camera isn’t just a timesaver, it allows her to be more efficient with time. “When I’m trying to do four things at once, and I don’t have time to learn what the document camera does, 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.”

The document camera has transformed the landscape of her classroom—in a great way. “They like to be entertained. It hasn’t dawned on them that they are being functional because they just see this as a fun gadget. They think it’s a competition to find new ways to use it, but I know they’re really learning. And then they get to teach me!”

Photo: Paul Burns/Photodisc/Getty Images

Discovering Color Through a Camera Lens

DC_KinteTaylor“All the kids want to use digital cameras right away,” explains Kinte Taylor, a photography instructor at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design. “But I make them shoot on an old-school camera with film first.”

Mr. Taylor realized this trick worked on two levels. “Shooting with film pushes them to learn depth of field, motion photography, lighting and more,” he says. “But it also teaches them how to self-edit. A digital camera can shoot thousands of photos on one memory card. Give them a 24-shot roll of film, and you see them change how they shoot. Immediately.”

The lesson in film also taught the students a respect for the materials they work with—materials that don’t come cheap. “Getting a printer and the ink from DonorsChoose.org helps alleviate some of the cost for the students and their parents,” says Mr. Taylor. “But getting a good printer for the kids was the main goal. I switched to Epson printers for my photography years ago, and I never looked back.”

With the Epson Stylus Pro 3880 Large-Format Inkjet Printer and plenty of ink, students now have full creative control over the entire photography process in a true digital darkroom. “Before we received the printer and ink, the kids printed their photos at Walmart or Target,” Mr. Taylor explains. “But the colors never matched what they saw on the computer screen, and I’d have a class of frustrated photography students.”

Mr. Taylor used his students’ frustration to encourage them to manipulate their work in Photoshop before hitting the print button on the new Epson. “They would be surprised to see what big changes could come from just a little work, and how using a calibrated monitor allowed them to see their photo in colors that matched the final print.”

Mr. Taylor is convinced that it’s the phenomenal results of the Epson printer on Canson digital art paper that’s allowed his students to do so well in the jurored art shows the college participates in, including the National Art Awards. The school had three winners last year, and one was a student of Mr. Taylor’s.

And even though one of the jurors donated an Epson Stylus Pro 4800 Printer to his classroom, he’s still looking to get an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 or 9900 large-format printer for his students.

“My upper level students deserve it, and they respect the machine and materials. Their work is amazing, and it’s worth printing beautifully. And for that, it has to be an Epson printer.”

Building the Classroom of the Future

gustavus_beck_hallIt was a golden opportunity for the college: a new building was being constructed and the technology team had a generous budget. “We decided to ignore price and first decide what we actually wanted,” explained Dan Oachs, Associate Director of Core Services at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota.

And it was easy to find out what the professors wanted and what they didn’t want. They all wanted the same thing—new, bright projectors that were easy to use.

This fit in well with design plans for the new Warren and Donna Beck Academic Hall. The goals, according to Oachs, were to provide classrooms with flexibility of space and lighting, ease of use and to avoid problems with the new technology.

“The projectors are the big focus of all of the classrooms, as it’s the piece of equipment that the professors use the most,” Oachs said. “It’s a very important part of their teaching process, and helping them do the best job they can is something we take very seriously.”

When Oachs stumbled upon projectors with the capability for wireless connection, he saw the possibility for making life extremely easy for the professors. But in his research, he found only one brand that worked across both PC and Mac platforms: Epson.

“The cross-platform access and the EasyMP projection software is what really sold us,” Oachs explained. “All of the professors now just bring their own laptop to class, wake it up, fire up the EasyMP software and off they go.”

As easy as the system is, that didn’t mean they skipped training the professors how to use the new equipment. Before the new hall opened, Oachs and his team set up meetings with small groups of professors to teach them about the new projectors’ features, especially since the Epson Powerlite Pro 5650 wasn’t the only projector installed in Beck Hall.

“We created a few student interaction rooms in the new building,” recounted Oachs. “We installed comfortable seating and an Epson BrightLink projector that converts the wall into an interactive board. They’ve been quite popular—students use the projector when working in study sessions and use the BrightLink pens to collaborate, brainstorm and ultimately capture that information to share with other students.”

Now that Beck Hall’s technology has a few years under its belt—it opened in 2011—Oachs is asking the professors how well they did in achieving their goals. He’s gearing up for a renovation project on campus, and the feedback he receives from the staff will help steer their direction. So far, Oachs is feeling positive about his efforts at Beck Hall. “The new building was such a success we replaced the projectors in all of Gustavus’ other classrooms with new Epsons. Now all classrooms on campus have the same high-quality projectors, and both staff and students are happy to have them.”

Photo Courtesy of Gustavus Adolphus College

The Passive Learner is Gone

“I love seeing the students work together collaboratively,” remarked Marilyn Gavitt, the Instructional Technology Coordinator for Martin County Schools in Stuart, Florida. “It’s changing the whole dynamic of the classroom—it’s getting the kids involved.” She’s talking about using technology in the classroom, and she’s not the only one noticing.

Teachers across the United States are turning to technology in increasing numbers, as school administrators are realizing its power in the classroom, particularly with student engagement. “The kids are loving it,” explains Ms. Gavitt. “Instead of reading aloud from a book while sitting at their desk, they are up at the front of the classroom, interacting with the technology and becoming the instructor in the room.”

Student collaboration and interaction with technology are becoming more essential in classrooms, especially in states where, like Florida, they have adopted the Common Core State Standards. “Our curriculum department is very busy unwrapping the Core Standards and helping the teachers comprehend them,” says Ms. Gavitt. “They have to change their way of teaching, as the standards require more critical thinking from the students.”

Technology in the classroom has made it much easier for teachers to change gears and teach for the Core Standards, especially using tools such as interactive projectors and whiteboards. “When the Epson BrightLink came out, we tested it with both the ActivInspire and Smart Notebook software,” commented Ms. Gavitt. “It was an advantage for us, because the teachers already loved the software, and the kids love the interactive functions on the BrightLink.”

Epson, Promethean and SMART Technologies are working hard to make their products work together. “I wish we could have them in every classroom, but we’re not quite there yet,” Ms. Gavitt explained. “But we’re making strides, and because our district focuses on digital learning, our early adopters are becoming facilitators for other teachers. We’re building, and we’re growing—and the kids love it.”

“I’m glad Epson interactive projectors are compatible with  Promethean ActivInspire and SMART Notebook software,” Ms. Gavitt said. “It allows our teachers to truly adopt and integrate technology into the classroom, and by doing so we get our students to be creators and producers. The passive learner is gone; it’s active learning now. And you must have technology in the classroom to make that happen.”

Hear Ms. Gavitt describe her experiences with instructional technology.

Labels Spark New Ways of Learning

LW-400-blog-sized“At first they thought I was crazy, but once I explained what it was they got so excited,” said Angela Hitchens, a special education teacher at East Millsboro Elementary School in Millsboro, Delaware. “Once they got their hands on the Epson LabelWorks 400, you’d have thought a truckload of candy had been delivered to the class!”

Mrs. Hitchens’ class is a very unique collection of grade-schoolers. Her self-contained classroom hosts six special education students that are there all day, each day of the school week. Her students are children with learning disabilities, ADHD, autism and even one young boy with selective mutism.

“My kids rely on a structured and very organized environment,” explains Mrs. Hitchens. “I asked for the label maker from DonorsChoose.org because I thought it would help the students to have items in the classroom labeled. Little did I know they were going to take it over!”

It was a proud moment for Mrs. Hitchens when she saw her students take ownership of the label maker. “It wasn’t just something that I used. They were interacting with each other, and showing me where they thought labels were needed throughout the classroom. Seeing them problem-solve and use initiative is so wonderful.”

Another unexpected surprise with the label maker for Mrs. Hitchens was its ability to print pictures and symbols. This is helpful for those children in the class who haven’t yet learned to read. They can look at the label on a box or drawer, and if they can’t read the word, the picture will usually spark an idea as to what’s inside. It’s also a boon for her student with selective mutism. He communicates using a set of pictures in a binder that he points to when he needs something; a pencil, perhaps, or his shoes tied. “We’ve used the label maker to label the pictures, to connect the visual with the printed word,” remarked Mrs. Hitchens. “That binder goes with him everywhere.”

Mrs. Hitchens was also interested to hear that the label maker can print onto ribbon, and ribbon with an iron-on backing. “At the beginning of each school year, we make shirts for each student for field trips and other outings,” she says. “This way we can use the iron-on ribbon to put each child’s name on them.”

And that’s not the only reason she’s looking forward to using the label maker during her next school term. “I’m excited for the returning students. They’ll get to explain to the new students about the label maker, and it will give them a great sense of ownership,” Mrs. Hitchens says. “They’ll be so proud to show the new kids the little machine that can put words on stuff.”