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New technology tool helping students

By Staff | Nov 14, 2008

“We use it all day long, in all our subjects,” Blue Earth Area fourth grade teacher Sue Ristau says. “I can’t imagine not having it now.”

The ‘it’ she is referring to is a new technology tool called a ‘Smart Board.’

It is a little like an overhead projector displaying a transparency on a white chalk board. But it is so much more.

“A computer is hooked up to both the board and the projector,” says middle school science teacher Brian Kokos. “That enables it to be totally interactive.”

Kokos prepares a lesson on the computer, or uses one that came with his textbook. The computer displays it on the Smart Board.

This is where the magic comes in. Kokos can move the items on the Smart Board, hiding the answers to questions until he wants them to appear.

“We can also write on the board, underline items, or change the words,” Kokos says.

In Ristau’s class, students do math lessons on the board, with each student coming forward sometime during the class to write an answer on the board.

Each Smart Board computer is also hooked to the internet, giving it an added teaching dimension.

“We look up the weather, and have tracked hurricanes,” Ristau says. “During the election we have studied how each state was projected to vote.”

Just like on CNN or Fox News, students are able to move the states around, change their colors, or tap on each one for a pop-up box containing more information.

“Anything you can do on a computer, we can do on the Smart Board,” Ristau says.

The Blue Earth Area Schools installed 15 of the boards just before school started this past fall. They already had four of the units, so the total is now 19.

Each one of the units costs around $3,200, according to BEA Superintendent Dale Brandsoy.

“That is for the Smart Board, and the overhead projector unit,” Brandsoy says. It does not include the cost of the laptop computer.

“If we have to buy all the equipment, including the laptop, the cost rises to $4,500.” he explains.

The school district spent $30,000 on the new Smart Boards, which cost $50,000.

“We received a $20,000 grant from the Blue Earth Area Schools Foundation,” Brandsoy says, “And that is how we were able to make this purchase.”

He says the foundation used money from the Bucs Night Out event from last year to help fund the Smart Boards.

“I can’t say enough about how their gift enabled us to make this commitment to technology in the classrooms,” Brandsoy says.

There were a total of eight of the Smart Boards put into the elementary schools in both Blue Earth and Winnebago. The other 11 are located in the middle and high schools in Blue Earth.

“Of course, our ultimate goal is to get one into every classroom,” Brandsoy says. That will take a while to accomplish, he adds.

In the meantime, Mrs. Ristau is happy to have one in her room. So are her students.

“I put each student’s picture on the computer, so we display a slide show of their happy faces, if they get 80 percent or higher on a test,” she explains.

The kids love to see it, because they all posed with big closeup smiles.

In Mr. Kokos’ science class, the students each have a handheld unit resembling a television remote.

“I put quiz questions on the Smart Board, and they answer on the remotes,” Kokos says. “We immediately see what percent of the class has the question right.”

It seems to make the students try and work as a team to get as many correct as possible.

“The boards are just a wonderful tool for teaching,” Kokos says. “Every month we learn some new things the boards can do.”