November 20, 2012
Adopt-a-School: Technology ignites a passion for learning in both kids and teachers
By Daphne Bramham
The Smart Board in Kathryn Mazzone’s classroom is indistinguishable from one of those ubiquitous white boards used in offices to scrawl meeting notes — until she powers it up.
As the white screen comes to life, so do Mazzone’s Grade 3 and 4 students at Henderson Annex in southeast Vancouver.
It’s hard to imagine a group of kids more excited about solving arithmetic problems.
And it’s because of the board. It’s like a giant iPad, mounted on the wall, hooked up to a laptop computer, a projector, speakers and, if needed, the Internet.
Images can be dragged and dropped into text. Using special pens or fingers, you can write or draw on it.
Using an arithmetic application, Mazzone’s students read aloud the problem from the board. It involves monkeys, a tree and a log. One student uses her finger to drag and drop the image of a tree onto the main part of the screen; another drags the log over.
Others put eight monkeys in the tree and four on the log. Then, Mazzone asks a student to go to the board and write the equation to solve the problem of how many more monkeys are in the tree than on the log.
With a red pen, she writes 8 – 4 = 4.
“Is that right?” Mazzone asked. Another student gets to push the solve button to check the answer.
Up comes a big check mark, accompanied by an electronic cheer like you hear on TV game shows. If the answer had been wrong, however, there would have been an X and a rather unpleasant BLLLLAAAANNNN.
They showed me how they’d taken the self-portraits they’d done in art class, recorded their voices and then animated them.
Mazzone is as thrilled with the board as the children.
“I’ve been teaching for 30 years and I haven’t quite seen anything like it,” she says. “It’s inspired me and makes me excited to get up and come to work every morning. It’s fabulous.”
Mazzone’s colleague Nick Marino has used the board for grades 4 and 5 science and social studies projects.
For the unit he’s currently teaching on simple machines, Marino used video and photos “instead of the shaky teacher-drawn stuff on chalkboards” that he remembers from childhood.
His students have done their own projects — PowerPoint-type presentations — incorporating maps, videos, and photos alongside reports they’ve written, gleaning material from books as well as the Internet.
And, Marino says, they’ve also learned to problem solve when the technology doesn’t work exactly as planned.
But Marino’s students aren’t using it this year. Henderson Annex’s only Smart Board is mounted in the classroom that’s been taken over by the primary grades.
The school is a charming little one in South Vancouver off Fraser Street at East 54th Avenue. Despite its location, it’s one of Vancouver’s designated inner-city schools. And while it’s in a low-income neighbourhood, kids don’t come to school hungry or without adequate clothing.
Literacy and school readiness are the big problems faced here by the students, which is why this year the Vancouver school board began funding a Smart Start program for 25 children ranging from babies to aged five.
Not only is English the second language for most students, most parents are struggling to find work and fit into a new country, says vice-principal Julie Weatherall. They often don’t have the knowledge, time or resources to set up their homes for early childhood learning.
As a result, their children lag behind others when they come to kindergarten and that’s reflected in the literacy rates. But Weatherall says everyone — staff, teachers and parents — are united in looking for every possible tool to change that.
A Smart Board is one of those tools.
In wealthier Vancouver neighbourhoods, many schools have one in every classroom because parents have been able to raise enough money to buy them.
Ideally, Henderson Annex would have one in every classroom and one in the library as well. That’s what parents and staff want so that their 93 kids have the best chance to learn. That means five more in total.
But a single Smart Board with projector, computer and speakers, installed, costs $5,033.
Through pizza days, a game night and a music night, the parents and staff have raised $2,300. Of that, $600 is already slated for the proper installation of the one that Mazzone’s students share with another class to get the spaghetti-tangle of cords off the floor. But that leaves them $3,308 short of a single new board.
Without outside help, Weatherall figures it will take another year of fundraising to even get a single new board.
As for raising $20,000 for the others, the vice-principal says that’s not likely to happen any time soon because the playground is scheduled for demolition in 2014 and raising money for a new one will likely take priority over Smart Boards.
Weatherall and the Henderson teachers are quick to emphasize that technology isn’t a replacement for books, pencils, paper and pens.
But it’s a tool that enhances kids’ learning. Too many children already lag behind when they come to Henderson Annex.
They deserve all the help they can get to first catch up and then excel.