Dent classroom melds the best of both worlds

In High Tech/High Touch, author John Naisbitt examines mankind's use of technology and continuous search for meaning. The book's premise is quickly stated: "The two biggest markets in the United States are consumer technology and escape from cons...

In High Tech/High Touch, author John Naisbitt examines mankind's use of technology and continuous search for meaning.

The book's premise is quickly stated: "The two biggest markets in the United States are consumer technology and escape from consumer technology." The 1999 book, written along with Nana Naisbitt and Douglas Philips, explains how people cope with the changes technology brings to their lives. It reveals how men and women instinctively both embrace and seek to escape technology.

Teacher Rex Kingsbury's classroom would make an excellent case for inclusion in the book. In his classroom, "high tech" comes in the form of remote responders, which allow his students to answer questions via an individual, handheld unit. "High touch" is embodied in the classroom's furry feline companion "Buddie."

A typical day for the third and fourth grade students in Kingsbury's class at Dent Elementary School might include some reading time where Buddie roams free, with more than enough sets of hands ready to pet her soft fur. After taking turns holding the cat, students return to their desks, taking out their responders to prepare for a quick quiz.

The responders are a new technology in the Perham-Dent school system. Officially dubbed "Renaissance Responders," the devices are lightweight and ergonomically designed, featuring a large LCD display. Students use the responders to enter their answers to questions asked by Kingsbury.


The text of the questions appears both on the individual responders and on a large projector screen in the front of the classroom. These high tech responders, along with a receiver that "captures" the students' responses, are a part of the 2Know! Classroom Response System.

Kingsbury first learned about the system from the internet. One of the features that drew him to the responders was that they do not need to be aimed at a receiving point. They work on radio frequency, which means there's no aiming required and line-of-sight issues are nonexistent.

With a receiver that plugs directly into his classroom computer, Kingsbury is instantly able to review the individual responses students give to questions he asks. Their scores are then automatically computed and can be saved directly into his grade book.

The answers students give to the questions are kept a secret from the other students responding in the classroom. In this way, Kingsbury is the only one who views their results, and knows exactly where each student may be struggling.

"It's new technology that fits kids perfectly," said Kingsbury of the Classroom Response System. He commented how he has found that today's kids are generally very tech savvy, and are easily able to adapt to the new system.

The responders can even be taken home, giving students an opportunity to review electronic notes on information that was shared in the classroom. If students are sick, Kingsbury explained, they can simply log in and get their notes. The responders can also be used as multi-function calculators.

After discovering the remarkable amount of functions and benefits each responder gives to his students, Kingsbury plans to work on getting some more units ordered for the second and third grade classroom in Dent. He said the district is currently working on getting some responders in the high school.

At approximately $100 per responder, the units are relatively inexpensive. All of the Dent responders were purchased through an anonymous donation from a parent. Although the responders have limited uses in comparison to having laptops for each student, they can serve as a low-cost alternative to some more expensive technology.


Another benefit is that everyone gets a responder while completing assignments, unlike much of the work students do in school computer labs, where limited resources often result in several students sharing a single computer. The responder technology ensures that each student is involved in classroom question-answer sessions, fostering an active learning environment.

While Buddie the cat cannot be simultaneously comforting each of Kingsbury's students, her presence in the room promotes another type of active learning.

"The kids love petting Buddie," said Kingsbury, who has had the cat in his classroom for the past month.

"I figured that I could rescue a cat and bring one into the classroom at the same time," he said, explaining how his mother was the one who discovered the once-abandoned cat.

With all of the impressive technology in the room, Buddie helps keep the balance. Her relaxed demeanor creates a calming presence in the classroom, helping the kids feel at home. She also brings forth the nurturing nature of the young students.

In Rex Kingsbury's classroom animals and technology work together to create an empathetic and effective learning environment. Here "high tech" and "high touch" - modern technology and a member of the animal kingdom - join forces to create a setting where both embracing and escaping technology are encouraged and students benefit from both.

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