Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

District 11 moves toward classroom of the future

By Debbie Kelley Published: September 11, 2013

There still will be room for old-fashioned glue, glitter and construction paper in the classroom of the 21st century, but what really will capture students' hands and hearts will be whiz-bang gadgetry like the stuff dreams are built on.

"Technology engages students. Why? It's their world. It's all they know," said Emma Leacy, a representative with Promethean.

The international education company is working with Colorado Springs School District 11 on its technology initiatives and on Tuesday unveiled a model classroom with the latest high-tech developments.

District officials and staff got to learn about the futuristic atmosphere that caters to a new educational model, while testing out modern OfficeScapes desks, chairs, tables and stools.

Plenty of interaction, collaboration and the flexibility to learn in a whole class setting, small groups, individually or student-to-student are key components of the equipment, Leacy said.

One of the big draws was an Internet-connected tabletop where groups of students can do assignments by touching the giant flat screen. With its wireless, direct Internet connection, the ActivTable enables each student to individually participate in English, science or history lessons while at the same time work together with their peers.

Teachers receive immediate feedback as to how students are doing.

"It tracks everything," said Jim Marshall, chief executive officer of Promethean, based in Alpharetta, Ga. "It's what's happening today in real time, which allows teachers to change the process of teaching in the classroom, based on the data."

The table costs $5,000 to $6,000, he said.

Scott Elementary will purchase one next month with grant money from the Department of Defense Education Activity's Educational Partnership Grant Program, said D-11 Superintendent Nicholas Gledich.

D-11 received $1.2 million over three years from the program, he said, and seven schools will benefit: McAuliffe Elementary, Henry Elementary, King Elementary, Rudy Elementary, Scott Elementary, Martinez Elementary and Jenkins Middle School.

Other D-11 schools, including Trailblazer Elementary, Chipeta Elementary, Howbert Elementary and Holmes Middle School, also will use grant money awarded from foundations, including the Colorado Legacy Foundation, to apply toward technology.

D-11 is the first district in the Pikes Peak region to pair up with Promethean, Marshall said. Denver, Pueblo, Aurora and Douglas County districts also are incorporating some of the company's products, such as whiteboards in front of the class that interface with personal electronic devices and show students' responses to a teacher's questions.

A $100,000 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation planning grant is helping the district create a strategy for personalized learning using technology, Gledich said.

"It's nice to acquire these grants - for three years we've had a vision, a mission and a plan to personalize learning for every student every day," he said.

Greg Wilborn, D-11's personalized learning coordinator, said educators have always wanted to "meet every kid's needs, where they're at, but we're limited in a one-on-30 environment with paper and pens."

But today's technology, tools and resources are giving way to personalized learning.

"The future of learning is one group of kids who are advanced working on chapter six, another on chapter four, another of students who aren't as far ahead on chapter two," Wilborn said. "The teacher is more of a coach and facilitator than lecturer."

D-11 is considering testing new software Promethean is developing for interactive education, he said. The software will be piloted nationwide, Marshall said, starting in October.

The demonstration classroom will remain set up at D-11's Tesla Building on International Circle for training workshop not only for D-11 educators but also other school districts, Wilborn said.

"We've been working on this for years but have been hamstrung by our miserable budget," he said. "But we're becoming one of the pioneers in personalized learning now; we've had six different states call us and three come and visit."

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