Tempe district students tapping into technology
Arizona Republic
Apr. 17, 2006

Georgann Yara
Special for The Arizona Republic

TEMPE - During a recent science lesson, Thew Elementary School teacher Molly Houghton wanted students' undivided attention.

So Houghton asked them to close their laptops.

The crisp echo of 25 lids clicking shut followed nearly in unison. Using the Smart Board on the wall behind her, Houghton showed students how to make an Excel graph to showcase data collected from friction experiments. With a touch of her finger against the screen, a column widened and a new window opened.

This is a typical lesson for Houghton, one of four participants in the Tempe Elementary School District's Teachers of Tomorrow program. Along with teachers at Gililland Middle School, and Rover and Frank elementary schools, she uses the newest computer equipment to teach everyday subjects in a non-traditional way.

Each student works on a laptop, and the Smart Board - a high-tech board that displays a computer monitor and takes touch commands - gives teachers more visual capabilities. The four classrooms also have digital cameras that allow students to capture and transfer images for special projects.

Since the program began in March, Houghton has noticed that vocabulary lessons for English learners seem to be more readily absorbed, homework is turned in more diligently, and students' writing production has increased.

"There is a difference in the number of students who are engaged," she said.

Samuel de la Cruz, 10, admitted he did not like writing but now says it is his favorite assignment.

"I didn't like using the pencil. My hand would get tired after a while, and if you made a mistake, you would erase and you'd get those marks. On the laptop you just delete it and you do this," he said, making the motion of fingers typing on a keyboard.

Bond money funds the estimated $30,000 it costs to run the program in each class, according to David Diokno, district director of information technology. Diokno would like to see the approach replicated on other campuses on a larger scale, but for now, this trial run would monitor what is doable from a technology standpoint.

"The bottom line is, will it make a difference in teaching and learning?
We'll have to see," Diokno said.

In Linda Laneback's class at Frank on Wednesday, some fourth-graders used a software program to create an African music score to go with their presentation on Tanzania. In the corner, students profiled their own "person of courage" using laptops to create a comic book-style piece complete with illustrations.

Jaset Barradas, 10, selected Martin Luther King Jr. as her subject. Although she knew who he was, hearing his "I Have a Dream" speech over the Internet provided her with a special interactive learning experience.

"I felt emotional. Excited. It was the first time I heard his actual voice.
I wanted to find out more," she said.

Laneback said the program has re-energized her as a teacher and sparked a renewed interest for parents in their children's education.

She described a recent parent-teacher conference where a bilingual student showed her Spanish-speaking father a letter she wrote and stored on her laptop in both languages. The man had never been in a room with a computer, so the thought of his daughter working on her own laptop was almost beyond belief.

It was as if touching the machine would make it real.

"He was teary-eyed. He asked if he could hold it while she showed (the
letter) to him," Laneback said, while fighting back her own tears.

She said that children's energy has been "notched up." She credits the program with broadening the boundaries of learning.