Forget the smelly markers and the messy chalk. ¶ Schools are trading dated pull-down charts, blackboards and overhead projectors for impressive new gadgets. Glen Lake Elementary in the Hopkins School District displayed some of its latest classroom technology last week, including the interactive white board, along with its eye-popping accessories. ¶ From his desk, third-grader Gabe Fishman studied a decimal problem on the interactive white board and pressed a button on his "Activote." Immediately, teacher Mary Jo Merickel could see which three students got the math problem wrong. ¶ "It's a great indicator of how well they know something," Merickel said of the Activote, a handheld device that students can use in lieu of raising their hands to answer questions confidentially.
"Everybody gets to answer instead of just one person going to the board," Gabe said.
There's a clamor among teachers, students and parents for more of this kind of technology in the classrooms of Hopkins Public Schools. The interactive white boards and accessories, manufactured by Promethean Activboards, each cost about $5,000. But as expectations for student performance increase, supporters say it's a small price to pay.
"The Activboards are an amazing addition to the classroom," said Amy Fischer, parent of two children in grades 8 and 11. "The things my kids come home talking about -- you can tell it enhances the learning. It gets them excited about subjects they might not otherwise be as interested in."
Next year, however, Gabe and his classmates at Glen Lake Elementary might have to revert to the old-school way of learning. The school's fourth-grade classrooms don't have Activboards yet.
Despite budget concerns, the district hopes to install Activboards in every classroom within five years. Forty-five percent of classrooms are already using the technology. Each year, a new group of teachers will adopt the technology.
"It's a priority for the district to give the teachers the tools they need for successful teaching and learning," said Sid Voss, director of technology and information systems for the district. "We know this is one thing that really impacts student learning. ... We're working on continuing to be able to fund that."
In other areas of the Twin Cities, districts are doing the same. But because Minnesota doesn't dedicate specific funds for school technology, many districts are turning to fundraisers and targeted levies to come up with the money. Hopkins funded its Activboard purchases through a technology levy approved in 2001 that funds $2 million annually for technology and curriculum improvements for up to 10 years.
The Roseville School District installed 130 SmartBoards, a similar interactive white-board technology; Anoka-Hennepin, the largest district in the state, would like to have interactive white boards in every classroom, but so far has only been able to afford about 140; but in Minnetonka, every classroom has a SmartBoard.
In Hopkins, Activboards are mounted on the wall in front of the classroom. Teachers use a wireless "Activpen" to call up photos, animation and blocks of text for students to see, hear and manipulate.
Now that she has an Activboard, Merickel said she can't imagine teaching without it. Other teachers in the district have been eager to start using them too. There's more demand from teachers who want an Activboard than there are boards available. The first year that the boards were available, 90 teachers expressed interest. The next year, 150 more teachers applied for a board.
"We need to continue to work with teachers to find ways they can use technology to enhance 21st-century instruction with kids," Voss said of the importance for more boards. "Our students are coming to school with a lot of digital skills. If teachers just stood on a stage lecturing, we'd really be stifling our kids."
Aimée Blanchette • 612-673-1715