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Students, teachers use technology to enhance learning

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

A Rex Mill Middle School student writes an algebraic equation on an interactive white board in one classroom while her classmates look on.

In another classroom, young learners are using laptop computers to take an online state math test.

Members of the eighth-grade band listen to a computer play the notes from a line of music before they try to match the notes on their instruments.

The students are using technology to learn their subjects at Rex Mill Middle School, the first school in Clayton County to use the digital classroom technology. Rex Mill was used as a pilot school for the digital classroom during the spring 2007 semester. Every classroom, at every Clayton County middle school, now uses the technology.

"Everything we do today, whether it's math or healthcare, there is technology involved," said Susan Patrick, the principal of Rex Mill Middle School. "It's really taken teaching to the next level, which has, in turn, taken learning to the next level."

Rex Mill, which is also the school system's first math and science-themed middle school, is currently taking applications to fill 50 spots for students, who do not live in the school's attendance boundary, for the 2008-2009 school year. The applications can be picked up at the school, or on the school's web site, but must be returned to Rex Mill officials by 4 p.m., on Feb. 29. The 50 spots will be awarded through a lottery system.

The school began operations at two separate middle schools in August 2006, but the digital classrooms were not used until the Rex Mill Middle School facility opened in January 2007.

Some of the key parts of the classroom are an interactive white board, a teaching slate used to control images on the board, a document projector, surround sound speakers, a projector which hangs from the ceiling of each classroom, and Turning Point key pads. Rex Mill Middle School also has class-sized collections of laptops, which are stored on carts that are moved to classes as needed.

Each classroom at the school has four wired internet ports, and the entire school has wireless internet access.

"If you're not using the things our kids are being bombarded with at home every day, you're not going to reach them," Patrick said.

Ashley Lane and Logan Skinner, seventh-graders at Rex Mill, said they have become so used to the digital classrooms, they are almost forgetting what it is like to learn in a traditional classroom, with chalkboards and white boards with erasers and markers or chalk. Lane said chalkboards are now "like something from a museum" to her.

Skinner said he likes using the Turning Point key pads in his classes. The students are given a question with four choices, and they have to select which choice is the correct answer. Once the pupil has selected his or her answer, he or she pushes the corresponding letter for the choice on a key pad.

As each student selects a choice, a block with a number in it shows up at the bottom of the interactive white board. The blocks allow the teacher to see how many students have answered the question. The teacher can then have the interactive white board show the class a percentage of students, that picked each choice.

"It allows instant gratification," Skinner said. "If you get it wrong or right, you don't have to wait to find out. You know right then. The digital classrooms just allow for more interaction between the teacher and the student."

Skinner's math teacher, Cheri Snelson, said the key pads are helpful because they allow her to quickly figure out which areas of math a particular student is having trouble with. She uses it primarily as an "after-assessment tool."

"If I have some students missing the same question throughout the day, I can take those students aside and review the topic with them without holding back the entire class," Snelson said.

Lane likes the fact that teachers can record a lesson with the digital classroom technology. Everything said in a class, and shown on the interactive white board, is stored on a computer. Pupils who miss a day of school because they are sick, or who need to review a lesson they did not understand, can watch the lesson as needed.

"You get it [the lesson] directly from the teacher instead of relying on your best friend's notes, if you are sick," Lane said.

Karen Turner, the media and technology specialist for Rex Mill, said the school is now considering putting podcast-like broadcasts, from each classroom, on the school's web site for students who are at home because of an illness. She also said the school, and the district as a whole, has to continually go through software upgrades to make sure the digital classroom technology remains up-to-date.

"We were sort of like the guinea pigs for the county in terms of the digital classroom, but we wouldn't have it any other way," Turner said.

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On the net:

Rex Mill Middle School: http://www.clayton.k12.ga.us/schools/029/