Elementary students won’t be washed away by waves of technology

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The 21st Century Learning Initiative continues to expand in the Punxsutawney Area School District, as technology broadens to the elementary grades.

“We used to just have one computer lab in each of our elementary school buildings,” elementary Principal Travis Monroe said. “There was just the stationary lab where a teacher had to work his or her classroom schedule around its availability. That really tied up a classroom.”

These days, the district has laptop carts storing 30 computers, and the carts can be wheeled to any classroom in a building. And most of the elementary buildings have one or two Smart Boards, or interactive whiteboards that have touch detection for user input, such as scrolling. A projector is used to display a computer’s video output on the interactive whiteboard, which then acts as a large touch screen.

Monroe said this generation of students is very technologically savvy.

“They’ve had it since birth. The interactive boards aren’t as a big a deal to them as it is to some of us,” he said. “These kids have gotten to the point that they expect technology.”

Monroe said the nice thing about the laptops and interactive boards is that they help engage students.

“Good teachers are the ones who can engage students,” he said, noting that technology doesn’t replace that, but is one more tool for teachers to use.

“When the teacher turns on the interactive board, or performs a laptop activity, it piques their interest,” Monroe said. “It’s something that’s on their level and what they’re used to. They really enjoy it. Once you have that, it’s half the battle.”

Technology coach Melissa Fedigan visits each elementary school to provide training to teachers.

“The buildings that already have interactive boards installed, she gets around to each of those buildings,” Monroe said. “Once we have one or two boards in a building, those teachers will be trainers for the next group.”

Parkview second-grade teacher Cheri Barenchik already has her board installed, so she can train other teachers on how to use it when they receive theirs.

She agreed that technology in lessons engages the students.

“The one program is called ‘Spelling City,’ which is an interactive computer game that I use with the interactive board to practice their spelling words,” Barencik said. “We also use the interactive board for the students’ science book where we can call up the science pages, where I can go through and highlight any words, circle any words and they can find vocabulary words.”

“By having Mrs. Barenchik at this building, she can assist other teachers on what is a good position for the board to be located at,” Monroe said. “By having one board in the building already, it gave the rest of the teachers in the building time to learn from the other teachers’ trials and errors.”

Fedigan said her role is more than showing teachers how technology works.

“The bigger picture is how can I use these tools to enhance my classroom so the kids are learning deeper, thinking more and being more creative and having a more enriched learning experience in the classroom,” she said. “I’m helping teachers build these project-based lessons that may be utilized over a long period of time. That’s my goal: To illustrate how a teacher can use an interactive board so they can have an effective lesson, and things are more focused on the kids learning, thinking and analyzing.”

Fedigan said there are more teachers willing to take that step now because they feel more comfortable with the technology.

Monroe added that the district strives to prepare its students for a job market that’s very competitive.

“We want our kids to be ready. We want our kids to stand out and be ready for a global economy” in life after high school, he said. “Whether it be college, or some kind of training for the job market, a lot of the jobs that these kids at my level might be doing haven’t been created yet. If we can give them a solid basis of technology and how to use it — even if those jobs aren’t created yet — hopefully, the skills and technology we expose them to gets them ready for those jobs.”