The Times West Virginian

Local News

February 6, 2014

Marion schools promote digital learning

FAIRMONT — Yesterday was Digital Learning Day, a nationally recognized day dedicated to using technology in schools to promote new ways of learning.

Because of the recent snow days, it was difficult for teachers to plan special activities dedicated to using technology. The Marion County Board of Education hopes to reschedule Digital Learning Day in Marion County so students can get that experience, said Technology Integration Coordinator Sally Morgan.

“Digital learning helps deliver content better and in a more interesting way,” she said.

Teachers have used online virtual science lab activities, interactive poetry websites, Google Earth, Excel spreadsheets and other online and interactive tools in the lesson plans on previous digital learning days.

Teachers have mixed feelings about integrating new technology in the classroom, Morgan said.

Some are enthusiastic and jump right in, but some are nervous about using the new methods.

“We tell them, just take baby steps and do one little thing,” said Morgan, “I’ve found that some teachers who didn’t want to do it are the ones who like it the best and progress to use technology all the time.”

Administrative Assistant of Technology Services Chad Norman has joined the effort by creating a technology newsletter called “Technology Access Point.”

The letter, which will be sent out monthly, highlights events in the schools involving technology, as well as other digital learning updates.

Morgan encourages hesitant teachers by helping them learn various ways to use digital methods in the newsletter.

“Technology Access Point” was sent out to all schools for the first time this month.

“Here in Marion County, Digital Learning Day is about giving every child and every teacher the opportunity to learn in a robust digital environment, not just on Digital Learning Day but every day,” Norman said.

“We have the goal of success in the classroom, and we want students to carry that success into post secondary education and their career. We want them to take the pledge to support the effective use of technology to improve the education of all students.

“We’re so proud of the teachers in Marion County because they understand their content area. They use technology as a tool to enhance learning and to address content.”

To better meet their students’ needs, two local teachers worked to purchase new digital items for their classrooms.

Leigh Ann Hood, the librarian at East Park Elementary, used part of her library budget, along with book fair money, to buy Nooks for her students.

The library is now equipped with 20 Nooks and two Kindle Fires, along with laptops, DVDs, Leap Pads and books on tape.

“They’re tablets, so they have the Internet on them. They can move much more easily around the room,” Hood explained. “The kids can be anywhere they want to be without being confined to one area. Moving the laptops every day is complicated.”

Students can download e-books to the Nooks, which broadens their options when it comes time for weekly individual reading time. This ensures children are reading content they’re interested in, said Hood.

“It doesn’t really matter what the medium is that they’re reading on. They’re still reading.”

Hood works to incorporate technology in her every day lessons, she said.

She teaches them how to type so they’re prepared to take statewide testing online and uses the Internet to show students photographs of places mentioned in books they read.

She also shows students how to use the Internet for research, explaining characteristics that make websites credible and how to find sources on Google.

“I’ve gotten rid of most of my reference books because the Internet is so vast,” she said.

Valerie Rinehart, a math teacher at East Fairmont High School, has also moved toward a newer, more digital, way of teaching.

Rinehart teaches college-level math classes that require students to take tests online and use math programs online on a regular basis. Students have laptops in the classroom, but their old operating systems can’t support updates needed to run programs properly, she said.

“We’re in a 21st century world. They’re being tested online. Their college classes are going online. Everything is going that route, and if we’re using antiquated equipment, we’re not cutting it,” she said.

To solve this problem, Rinehart wrote grants to get new laptops. She received money to get some new computers, but not enough.

She then wrote letters to local businesses asking for donations to purchase more. If they sponsored a laptop, she said, she agreed to set the desktop background to the the business logo and send “thank you” letters from students.

Twelve businesses responded.

Resolute Forest Products, McCutcheon Heating and Cooling, Valley General Contracting, Joe Romeo I-79 Honda, R&E Electric, Gwynn Tire, TMC Technologies, S&M Glass and Subway all sent money.

Rinehart hopes to purchase all the laptops sponsored by businesses this week.

“The students are ecstatic,” she said. “Every day they ask, ‘When are we getting the new laptops?’ because some of them are still using the old ones. When it’s test day, and my college trig class has to take their test online, they come in early and they fight over who gets the new laptop because they don’t want to have deal with the old ones.”

Laptops aren’t the only technology used in her classroom, Rinehart said. She rarely uses the chalkboard, and she says using computers and other technology makes teaching more effective and practical.

“I can save my notes. I can post them online so when students are absent they have access to what we did in class in living color. When I need to show them how to use a protractor or a compass, I can use my document camera and they can see exactly where they need to be putting everything.

“I don’t have to go around one by one. I can put my calculator under the document camera and they can see what buttons they need to push and can follow along. If students need a copy of the notes, I can click ‘print’ when I’m done. I don’t have to prepare it in advance or rely on a good student and copy their notes. It’s right there for them,” she said.

Rinehart prefers using digital methods, and she looks forward to having the new laptops that will make learning easier for her students.

“I am overwhelmed with the generosity of Fairmont businesses,” she said. “I thought I could maybe get a few laptops, but everyone has been very helpful and very generous, and I’m very grateful.”

Email Chelsi Baker at cbaker@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CBakerTWV.

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