By Ashley Dunn
LAND O’ LAKES — Sunlake High 12th-graders Karey Gumina, Taylor Rowand, Rhianna Davis and Chelsea Devlin crowded around a lap top in Rhonda Leslie’s American Sign Language class.
On the screen, they could see two students from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, and those two students could see them.
“What’s your favorite movie?” said Rhianna, as she used her hands to sign the question.
The two boys on the screen signed back.
“Pineapple Express,” Chelsea said aloud as the girls laughed.
“Good movie,” Rhianna said as she signed.
For the past five weeks, students in Leslie’s class have been using Skype to communicate with deaf students at the school in St. Augustine.
“The goal is two-fold,” Leslie said. “It’s for them to develop their language through immersion and socially interact. Most of these kids may never meet a deaf person, it’s just a way for them to connect.”
Leslie got the idea for the project over the summer. It’s still in the beginning stages, so students are working through some of the technical difficulties. The yearlong project will be highlighted by a class field trip to visit students at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind.
Skype is being used more often in Pasco schools, according to Wendy Spriggs, director of the district’s Instructional Media and Technology department. It’s one of many technologies to help prepare students for the future.
“Ten years ago, students were barely using the Internet for research,” Spriggs said. “…Now, students use technology for communication and collaboration.”
Gone are the days of filmstrips. Overhead projectors are becoming fewer and farther between. Remember movie days when the lights would be turned off and your class would spend the entire period sleeping instead of watching the educational film at the front of the room?
“They don’t get that luxury so much anymore,” Spriggs joked.
Instead, teachers are encouraged to include short video clips in their lessons. If they’re teaching their students about the H1N1 vaccine, they can import a 3-minute clip into a PowerPoint presentation, for example, and get right to the point of the lesson.
Some schools use iPods and iPod Touches to watch videos or read e-books. Multiple books can be loaded onto an iPod Touch and pages can be turned with a finger. The technology give students access to reading material right at their fingertips, while saving the district money because it doesn’t have to order volumes of books.
In the classroom, teachers are using student responders, devices that allow each student to answer multiple-choice questions as they are learning a lesson. Teachers are instantly able to gauge how students understand the information. It’s more effective than calling on random students every so often, Spriggs said.
Classrooms are also being equipped with digital projectors with cameras, which can project images of anything one puts in front of the camera. Chalkboards are being replaced with electronic whiteboards.
Students have interactive slates, too. When teachers call on a student, they can pull up that student’s slate and project it on the whiteboard while he or she gives the answer.
At Double Branch Elementary, students recently received a dance mat that uses an interactive whiteboard and computer projector. Students can solve math problems by projecting them onto the whiteboard and dancing on the mat.
“In the last five years, things have exploded,” Spriggs said. “Moodle is exploding more than any technology.”
Moodle is a free and secure learning management system that teachers and students can use to interact with others. It stands for Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment.
Moodle gives students the opportunity to communicate globally by uploading files, podcasts, songs and other media. It’s mainly used for discussion, Spriggs said.
“When you’re discussing something, it really deepens the knowledge,” she explained. “Being able to do it with technology… it’s a more engaging way for students to discuss what they’ve learned. We really see technology as enhancing teaching and learning and really taking learning to a deeper level.”
Elementary schoolers have used Moodle to create instructions for kindergarteners on how to draw a snowman, and Wiregrass Ranch High uses Moodle to announce the morning news in podcasts.
“They (Wiregrass Ranch) have really jumped on using Moodle in a variety of ways,” Spriggs said.
Every school has access to Moodle, but some schools and teachers are much more involved in it than others. Some schools don’t use it at all.
“I would say 25 percent of our schools are using Moodle in one form or another,” Spriggs said, “and it’s growing quite rapidly.”
The Pasco school district has used Skype for about three years. Pasco Middle was one of the first schools to use it to communicate with China as part of the district’s Global Partnership Project, which connects Pasco schools with schools all over the world. Now, there are schools in the district that communicate with classes in both China and Sweden.
Teachers, principals and even Schools Superintendent Heather Fiorentino also use Skype to communicate.
Ultimately, though, the emerging technology in schools is meant to get students ready for life after they leave the Pasco school district.
“It’s a new world in schools today, and it’s a new world in business and colleges today, and it’s our job to prepare them,” Spriggs said.
Back in Leslie’s classroom, the girls continued signing to the two male students in St. Augustine. One of the boys held up a prom picture of his girlfriend, and the girls asked how long he had been dating her. They gasped when they heard the answer: five years.
“Wow,” Rhianna said as she signed, holding up three fingers on either side of her face.
Karey Gumina said she uses Skype at home and is excited to use it in school.
“I think it’s fun,” she said, “and something new and different.”
Glossary of terms
Skype — a software application that allows users to make free phone calls, send instant messages, transfer files and videoconference over the Internet
PowerPoint — a computer program that allows a user to create a multimedia presentation
iPods and iPod Touches — personal and portable media players
e-book — a digital book that is the equivalent of a printed book
student responders — devices that allow each student to answer multiple-choice questions as they are learning a lesson
electronic whiteboard — an interactive display that connects to a computer and projector, which casts an image from the computer to the board
interactive slate — a smaller, personal version of an electronic whiteboard about the size of a sheet of paper
Moodle — (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) a free learning management system that teachers and students can use to interact with others
podcasts — a series of digital media files that are released by episode and can be downloaded