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Technology bridges achievement gaps in Federal Way schools

Adelaide Elementary School teacher Jake Booker credits classroom technology such as the ActiveBoard (shown above) for improving the performance of his entire second-grade class. All of his students are now meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. - Kyra Low/The Mirror
Adelaide Elementary School teacher Jake Booker credits classroom technology such as the ActiveBoard (shown above) for improving the performance of his entire second-grade class. All of his students are now meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations.
— image credit: Kyra Low/The Mirror

New technology has brought about the end of an old problem.

Jake Booker's second grade class at Adelaide Elementary was the first classroom in the Federal Way School District to get the Promethean ActivBoard system. Principal Jason Smith first brought the boards to school last May when he saved up money from Adelaide's budget to purchase two boards for the price of one.

Booker, already known as being tech savvy, was one of two teachers selected to try out the board. The PTA has helped purchase four more. Since then, the district has purchased 44 boards for classrooms throughout the district, and Adelaide received two more. A simple look into the change in Booker's classroom makes it easy to see why.

"The engagement level," Booker said. "It's huge. We are seeing that bell-shaped curve disappear. All the students are meeting or exceeding expectations."

Since starting with the ActivBoard, Booker said he has seen the achievement gap disappear. Almost every single student qualifies as "exceeding expectations," with two students that are borderline meeting/exceeding. And not a single student is failing to meet expectations.

ActivBoard

If you have seen the UPS television commercials with the Smart Boards (the white boards that can be manipulated), then you have a basic idea about the ActivBoard.

"But this is better," Smith said.

The ActivBoard can be used like a white board. It can also be used as a giant computer screen monitor, while the ActivBoard's software takes it to another level.

"I am using it for everything," Booker said. "There is not a topic or section that hasn't been affected."

Story time has gotten high tech on the ActivBoard. Booker can scan each page into the computer and put the story up on the big screen — where, unlike the small print of standard books, the students can read the words themselves.

Using the software from the ActivBoard, students can also mark and write directly on the board, picking out verbs and underlining nouns.

Story time can also come alive on the board. In one story about a caterpillar who becomes a butterfly, Booker integrated video into the story of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Students can also get a biology lesson: Hovering a cursor over the names of the butterflies brings up a photo of what that breed actually looks like, rather than the cartoon drawings on the paper page.

"Kids crave that multimedia input," Booker said. "It lends itself to meeting where they are at."

Handheld interaction

Another aspect of the ActivBoard is the handheld devices. Each student gets their own ActivExpression (their names are written on the back on a piece of tape). The device looks similar to a cell phone, allowing students to answer multiple choice or even text their answers to questions on the board. Booker is then able to tell instantly what percentage of his class is understanding the material, and whether he should try a different approach to teach.

Even further, he can look at which students got the correct answer and how long it took them to get the answer. He can also pull up students' individual records and see how they have been doing on those types of questions in the past.

Students also love the idea of a more interactive way to learn. Rather than doing math quizzes, which then Booker has to correct before returning them, students can take the quiz as more of a game show style — and Booker knows right away which students understand and which need more practice.

"You can integrate on the fly," Booker said. "It creates the level playing field and hits all the learning styles."

Training first

There is quite a bit of training that goes along with the board. Teachers spend around five hours in training before using the board. Booker also went through about six hours of online tutorials to find out all he could about the program.

The exposure to technology at such an early age has made the students quite comfortable with technology they will use in the future.

All of Booker's students can create PowerPoint presentations. In fact, he has had parents tell him that their second-graders helped them with PowerPoints for work.

The students put together their projects, using research and citing references, then show their presentations on the board. The PowerPoints have varied from Van Gogh and Picasso to dinosaurs and sharks, to even the environmental impact on the polar bears.

"They man through computer systems," Booker said. "They swing through Windows like monkeys."

Students use prescreened Web sites to gather their information, called a hotlist, and already know how to save images to the server.

Check it out

Click here to read about the Federal Way School District's technology levy, which goes before voters in the Feb. 9 special election.

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