Tempe district students tapping into technology
Apr. 17, 2006
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
"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
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
"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.