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Perham-Dent 3rd grader Anton Biederman plays a multiplication game with Smartboard. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

Area school districts implement new technology

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Almost exactly one year ago, it was announced that Perham and New York Mills school districts were recipients of a $200,000 technology grant.

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The grant, distributed through Minnesota Department of Education was composed of stimulus dollars and was designated to be spent over 18 months on technology and teacher training.

Perham High School English teacher Jill Walter, is the schools' technology integration specialist, meaning she helps train staff to implement the new technology.

Walter spends her time teaching English in the mornings, and spends two afternoons per week in Perham working with technology and two in NY Mills.

Items and programs that are now used in the districts include Smartboards, iPod Touches, Web 2.0, Google Applications, iPads, Flip cameras and more.

The items are being used extensively at the elementary, middle school and high school levels in both school districts.

The grant is also specifically used for math, giving teachers tools to look at test scores and create assessments to help students succeed.

"We're using it to improve instruction and to improve student scores," Walter said. "We're also working to engage students and make classrooms more interactive."

In all, Perham and NY Mills bought roughly 15 Smartboards with the funding, 60 iPod Touches, up to 50 Flip cameras and several math classrooms in NY Mills now have digital projectors.

Reaction from students and staff

Most of the students are all for the new technology, according to Walter, especially the elementary students.

Some of her high school students were reluctant to come up to the Smartboard, but for the most part the reaction has been positive.

Many teachers are also taking to the new technology, Walter said.

"Some teachers are exploding with what they're doing," she said. "Others are using it for basic uses. Our kids in general are more visual people. I think teachers all know that technology is a glorious thing when it all works."

Examples of the possibilities

It has been a year since the grant was awarded, and the technology is rampant in both school districts.

Students and teachers use iPod Touches to learn math in the form of games.

Students are tracking their progress reading while recording themselves on the Flip cameras.

Fourth grade students are blogging to others instead of writing letters.

Math teacher and track coach Jeff Morris can teach class remotely from his iPad while travelling on the bus to a track meet.

Elementary teachers use interactive Wikis to share with students and colleagues. High school students are using Web 2.0 tools, such as presentation tools like Prezi, which is much more interactive than a PowerPoint.

In art classes, students are learning Flash, Adobe, video editing and art such as Claymation.

If Walter is gone for an appointment, she can use Voki, a Web 2.0 tool that allows her to create a talking avatar to relay an assignment. For example, when she was recently gone, an Australian dog gave students specific instructions on what to do that day.

"You can just type whatever you want it to say and it'll speak and tell you what the assignment is, or give directions for the day," Walter said.

Walter praised what the grant, written by Superintendent Tamara Uselman, has done for the schools. Teams within the districts meet regularly to discuss students' progress and how to improve as the year progresses.

In the meantime, Walter said the new technology and programs are creating a lot of excitement in the districts.

"There are definitely some really cool things going on," she said.

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