They say lightning never strikes twice. Try telling that to teachers and administrators at St. Veronica Catholic School in Chantilly, Va.
For the second time in less than six years, the small K–8 school about 30 miles west of Washington, D.C., is enjoying the fruits of a major technology prize — one educators say has the power to transform teaching and learning for its 500 students at every grade level.
St. Veronica joins Piner Elementary School in Morning View, Ky., and the Spaulding School in Gurnee, Ill., as recipients of a $43,000 technology package sponsored by CDW•G and Discovery Education. The 2011 “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes includes, among other items, a document camera, three Cisco Aironet Access Points and 20 Lenovo ThinkPad X220 convertible tablets. (For the full list of 2011 sweepstakes prizes, see sidebar, “What They Won.”)
Educators say the prize, coupled with a previous grant that helped pay for the school’s first computer lab, has enabled teachers to integrate technology in ways never before thought possible.
“This is huge for us — and for our students,” says fifth-grade teacher Mary Gillman, who entered the sweepstakes on St. Veronica’s behalf.
A private school, St. Veronica is funded almost entirely by student tuition. With no state or federal dollars to subsidize expensive technology upgrades, educators look to grants, contests and other promotions in hopes of keeping pace with better-funded public schools in the area.
“When Mary came to me and told me we had won, I thought she was joking,” says Principal Mary Baldwin. Baldwin says the technology, much of which can be wheeled from class to class on a single cart, will be used to integrate multimedia and online education into the curriculum, with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
That potential was on full display earlier this week when teachers and students tested out the school’s new technology. Upstairs in the middle school classrooms, a group of sixth-graders watched videos streamed from Discovery Education’s online library. Later, students viewed and manipulated graphs as part of an interactive lesson on genetics. Toward the end of the demonstration, one particularly talented young artist used the ThinkPad’s drawing tool to create an original anime portrait — all in the span of about 20 minutes.
“As teachers, the goal should be to help students learn to use technology, because this is what they’re going to be expected to know in real life,” Gillman says.
The process starts at an earlier age than you might think. Downstairs in Lauren Shearer’s second-grade class, pint-sized students in red sweaters huddled in front of a newly installed interactive whiteboard and document camera for a discussion about synonyms and antonyms.
The 2012 “Win a Wireless Lab” sweepstakes is open through May 3. Three new winners will be announced in summer 2012.
“Can somebody give me an example of a synonym for the word ‘delicious’?” Shearer asks. Using the whiteboard and document camera, she projects the worksheet alongside the text, running her fingers across the words until a student toward the back of the room shouts out, “delectable.”
“Very good,” Shearer says. “Let’s write that down.” She puts pencil to paper and every student in the class looks down at his or her worksheet.
For Shearer, there’s no substitute for technology when it comes to keeping students focused. “We have a lot of students today who are visual learners,” she says. “It’s not a stretch to say some of them would be lost without the use of these tools.”
Perhaps that’s why she was so excited to get the technology into her classroom. “We were in a planning meeting, and when I heard that we were getting a document camera, I literally jumped out of my chair and said, ‘I’ll take it!’” she says with a laugh.
Shearer isn’t the only educator at St. Veronica who’s jumped at the chance to use technology in the classroom. “All of our teachers have been very receptive,” says Anna Nunez, the school’s technology teacher.
Because the tablets and other technologies are shared across several grade levels, St. Veronica educators must learn how to simplify the devices for younger users while enabling more of the bells and whistles for the older students. “Sometimes, it feels a little like the tail is wagging the dog, in the sense that the students know more than the teachers,” says Baldwin, who worked for years as a middle school teacher before becoming principal. “But the teachers are very willing to learn and think about new ways to integrate the technology into the curriculum.”
Professional development is held throughout the school in small group sessions, where teachers can ask questions about the hardware and share ideas for how to integrate the many tools at their disposal into existing lesson plans. Baldwin says the school also offers webinars as a means of training.
“Students are going to need to know how to use these technologies,” she says. “Our goal is to make the best use of all of the gifts that have been given to us.”
The classroom technology package from CDW•G and Discovery Education includes the following: