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Technological advances continue to be made at BEA

By Staff | Feb 7, 2011

Andrew Moen wears his Lightspeed microphone around his neck as he teaches his second grade class at Blue Earth Area Elementary School.

Gone are the days when going to school meant a tedious 15-minute walk — uphill, of course — to a one-room building where a single “peep” out of turn resulted in a good rap on the knuckles from the teacher’s ruler.

Times have most definitely changed, and now schools have more classrooms, more teachers, more students and a whole lot more technology.

One piece of technology in particular is helping Blue Earth Area teachers become less stressed and their students become more attentive.

For the past four years, the elementary school has slowly been integrating Lightspeed microphones into its classrooms, and the benefits have been abundant.

“The achievement goes up, attention goes up and teacher productivity is improved,” says Lightspeed consultant Ken Engstrom, adding that teachers no longer need to constantly repeat what they’re saying because of students not hearing.

Blue Earth mayor and Sertoma member Rob Hammond (left) presents school nurse Sharon Hoyt with a $1,000 donation from the Sertoma Club to help the school afford new Lightspeed microphones for its classrooms.

Teachers at the BEA?elementary school had been using microphones already, but because they operated on radio frequencies, it was easy for the school to pick up interference from other microphones used in nearby locations, and vice versa.

“If there was going to be a funeral across the street, they would have to call us and say, ‘Could you shut those off?'” school nurse Sharon Hoyt explains.

She also had numerous run-ins with being in one classroom and hearing the voice of a teacher from a different classroom across the building.

Lightspeed microphones operate with infrared technology, meaning they use infrared light to carry audio signals throughout the room, rather than using radio waves which can result in low quality audio since they are susceptible to frequency interference.

Not only did the school upgrade on quality, but also on convenience since the old microphones had cords and headsets but the Lightspeed ones can be worn around the teacher’s neck.

“This one is much easier because you even forget you’re wearing it,” says Andrew Moen, a second grade teacher in Blue Earth.

And since it can be so easily taken off, teachers will often let students take turns using it when they’re reading aloud or giving presentations.

Moen has been a teacher for 23 years, and though he’s experienced education without the microphones, he points out that most of his students have not.

“They don’t know any different because they’ve had them since kindergarten,”?he says. “But they can recognize when you’re not wearing it.”

Moen enjoys the Lightspeed microphone for the fact that he can wander throughout his classroom while he teaches, and the volume of his voice will remain consistent for each student.

“The teacher can walk anywhere and the sound is the same to a student right in front of them as it is to one 40 feet away,” audio consultant Engstrom explains.

The Blue Earth Area school district has been integrating Lightspeed microphones into its classrooms for about the past four years, but since the units are costly, they’re putting them in one classroom at a time. A recent donation from a local organization is helping to hurry the process along.

The Blue Earth Sertoma Club — which focuses largely on hearing health — presented Hoyt with a check for about $1,000 to go toward the purchase of a Lightspeed microphone.

“The Sertoma funds really made a huge difference,” Hoyt says. “Sertoma has been very good to the school over the years.”

The group’s donation was enough to buy a Lightspeed microphone system for one classroom. One unit typically costs right around $1,000, but is offered to BEA at a $125 discount since the school trades in its old microphones for Lightspeed ones.

Since Blue Earth Elementary began switching to Lightspeed, Hoyt has heard nothing but positive feedback.

“The teachers can just see the dramatic affect it has on the kids’ hearing,” she says.

And the teachers themselves can also benefit, as long as they can make one small adjustment, Engstrom says.

“The first thing they have to do when they get the system is learn to talk in a conversational tone,” he explains.

But if that’s the biggest change teachers have to make, the new microphones are win-win, giving students a better learning experience and educators an opportunity to save their voices — no longer having to shout over energetic kids.