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Tech levy promises whiz-bang for all grades

Instructors would integrate computers with their teaching.

Teachers who use high-tech tools in their classrooms wowed the Bainbridge Island school board Thursday night with a demonstration of what the latest doodads can do.

Their goal: to get the board to think big when it comes to putting a technological levy before the voters on May 17.

Board members are in the midst of deciding what kind of technological improvements are needed, while considering how much the taxpayers will approve.

The most comprehensive scenario presented to board members – which would make laptop computers available to every high school student and teacher in the district, along with wireless capability district-wide and an array of technological tools – would cost about $10 million.

Of that amount, about $7.5 million would go for equipment, and $2.5 million would be earmarked for infrastructure and training

Without the 1,500 laptops for high school students, the cost would drop to roughly $8.2 million.

“There are lots of different ways to slice and dice,” the tech levy proposal, said board president Susan Sivitz. “It’s way too early in the game to say how we might proceed.”

When it comes to prioritizing the purchases, “we’re just not there yet,” she said.

Under a timeline created by district staff, the board has until Feb. 24 to decide the final amount of what the bond measure for capital projects, and the levy for technological upgrades, will be.

Bainbridge High physics teacher Enrique Chee showed board members Thursday how his laptop computer could be used to project a flip chart of lessons on a big screen in the classroom.

Those same images could be edited and saved, and then posted on the web for students who missed class or who want to review the material while doing homework.

He calls the system ESP, for edit, save and post.

Using this technology, Chee said, he can teach his students how to use the computer, an essential tool in conducting today’s science and physics experiments.

“I have been using this for two years. You take away this, you take my pants away,” he said, drawing laughter.

District technology manager Randy Orwin showed how a device that looks like a remote control for a television can be used to enhance student participation.

During a classroom lesson displayed on an interactive white board, students can “click” their answers to the teacher’s verbal questions without their classmates seeing their answers.

Orwin said this is one way to engage students who are afraid to speak up in class.

The results of the questions can help teachers instantly see if students understand what is being taught, and to go back and review if necessary.

Used in a quiz format, the technology tabulates student answers and stores them, eliminating the need for teachers to hand-grade papers.

“Yes!” said a teacher in the audience.

In the lower grades, the use of new projection and camera technology allows teachers to demonstrate techniques for writing, for example, which show the teacher’s hand holding a pencil correctly and writing script so that the whole class can see.

There also are technologies that can “read” stories to children and then “listen” while the child reads aloud, recording words a child stumbles over.

The teacher can download the words, and even listen to a recording of the child reading, if necessary.

At a time when teachers have little time to listen to students read aloud, the technology has been shown to improve reading score.

And principals who want to check on the progress of students can access statistics online, in tabulated form, compared to other districts.

“This is really exciting,” board member Dave Pollock said at the conclusion of the demonstration. “We can see how (technology) could help lower class sizes and enable teachers to do so much more in their classrooms.”

The question for the board now is what to buy, and when.

They can overhaul the technological systems all at once, or phase in the changes over time with a series of levies every four years.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are required to teach technology, but the federal requirement comes with only $40,000 in funds.

The state of Washington provides no funding for technology, Superintendent Ken Crawford said, which is why the levy system was implemented, and is so critical.

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