Late last winter, Valley Stream School District 24 began adopting new interactive teaching tools into its classrooms. The idea is to move learning beyond traditional pen-and-paper correspondence, chalk and dry-erase boards and, more recently, smartboards.
Funded by a $75,000 state grant, all three of the district’s elementary schools now feature a suite of instruments from the Belgium-based vendor i3 Technologies, and on Jan. 27, the Herald visited the William L. Buck School to observe as the district embarks on a collaborative program among its teachers to develop new lesson plans with the tools.
On that day, as a part of a district-wide exercise, about a dozen teachers from the Brooklyn Avenue and Robert W. Carbonaro schools visited Buck as part of the initiative that district administrators developed, called the Professional Learning Community, which, according to Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Sturz, consists of teachers instructing one another on how to better use the i3 devices. The program began in September.
On Jan. 27, fifth-grade students could be seen giggling and shuffling their feet in a classroom at Buck as they scrambled to align 15-by-17-inch blocks — black Styrofoam cubes with distinct patterns on each face — into the correct order.
Their teacher, Christine Brenneis, worked to guide them, as a part of a learning activity using the cubes, which combine both analog and digital components to give students the opportunity to learn through physical action.
For the class exercise, Brenneis split her class of a dozen students into two groups of six, and showed them a picture of a pattern on a card. Then, both teams competed to recreate the pattern by flipping, turning and rearranging the cubes, all while standing on top of them. Whichever team flipped the cubes over first in a way that displayed the pattern won the competition, which also served as a teambuilding exercise.
“Using i3 technology in the classroom helps the students to work on communication,” Brenneis ex-plained af-ter she had announced the winner of the activity.
Students in her classroom said they liked the addition of technology in their lessons. One said it helped build communication skills, and another said it helped teach her how to work together with her classmates as a team.
In another classroom, second-graders were seen working with various touch displays, including LCD panels, projectors and tablets arrayed throughout the classroom, to label and identify patterns. After their teacher, John Reece, showed them a pattern of colored shapes on a screen, groups of students had the opportunity to rearrange the shapes to complete the pattern.
“Integrating this technology in the classroom allows for the kids to split up in small groups based on their abilities and learn the same thing in different ways,” Reece said. “If the kids don’t have these basic skills of learning patterns, learning in upper grades becomes difficult.”
One student from Reece’s class said he enjoyed coloring patterns on the board, and also found that moving things on a device helped him to learn better.
Many of the teachers from other classrooms at Buck reported that they have found their students are also learning and having fun using the technology.
“My students are moving around and improving,” said English as a New Language teacher Krista Anthony, who teaches third- through sixth-grade students. “This technology helps them with acquiring new language skills, matching words and practicing skills in a safe environment.”
Kathleen Murray, another ENL teacher, who instructs kindergarten through second-grade students, said that because of its large-scale interactivity components, she finds the new technology encourages children to work in groups.
“Instead of getting upset, my students share, help and correct each other, which facilitates dialogue,” Murray said. “This technology also allows the kids to move around and learn through games, which makes them better able to sit still during other quieter activities involving traditional pen and paper.”
While the ENL teachers went through their lesson, instructors from other schools stood by and observed or volunteered to take part themselves.
Sturz, who played a role in starting District 24’s Teachers-Teaching-Teachers initiative, said sessions such as the one on Jan. 27 help teachers learn the new technology and improve as educators, which in turn helps students suceed.
“We are moving towards student-driven learning and teachers using technology to create a broader amount of learning opportunities for kids,” Sturz said. “Kids can now understand their learning rather than just the traditional chalk-and-talk at the front of the room.”
Peter Belfiore contributed to this story.