Teachers learn about new tools

By • on August 11, 2011

techCANDLER — Lake Weir High fine arts teacher Suzanne Kiefer-Shelton sat at a Smart table Wednesday and played electronic learning games with several other Marion County School District employees.

She used her finger to drag letters on a tabletop screen over the top of animated animals. She drew lines on the larger-than-life Etch A Sketch, realizing how important the device could be for slow learners or art students.

Kiefer-Shelton is amazed at today’s technology and the difference from when she started teaching at the Maricamp Road high school back in 1983.

“We have students to help us with computers,” she noted. “They (the students) are smarter than we are when it comes to technology.”

Wednesday was the “Day of Technology 3″ event, an impressive display of technology that drew 600 teachers to Lake Weir High on their off-time to explore new toys and to get some of their professional learning certification accomplished.

The purpose of the event, launched by the district’s Technology and Information Systems department, is to expose teachers and administrators to the latest technology used in classrooms throughout Marion County.

Though there were many fun items at this year’s event, some of those items will be out of reach this school year. That’s because a budget crunch means less technology purchases.

And what money there is must go toward computers to get schools ready for FCAT and end-of-course exams next spring.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene said with the state mandate of the new computerized exams, the district will have to invest in new computers in the immediate future.

And the money used to buy computers was carried over from last year. All other technology purchases will be put on hold unless they are paid for through federal or state grants.

“We will have to start back investing in computers (that can handle the state testing),” she said. “We have to keep pace.”

Scott Hansen, the school district’s director of technology and information, said the school district’s technology department already had permission to spend $5 million on technology upgrades for student computers.

At the event, Hansen also unveiled a new employee desktop portal — a digital dashboard that can be accessed on any computer. He also talked about a student desktop that will be released in October.

“Employees will be able to access their records (possibly as early as today),” Hansen said.

Greene said the event is considered a part of the district professional development. The teachers are not forced to go, since they are technically off until Monday, when they are scheduled to report back. School starts Aug. 22.

Day of Technology is important to all teachers because the students “of today live in a different world,” Greene said, adding that teachers get credits toward their professional learning requirements.

Greene said students are quite technology savvy when they start school. They can text and use iPhones and computers. In some cases, they can operate devices better than their own teacher.

Throughout the day, teachers attended many presentations, which included iPads, Smart tables and many other devices. It was a taste of what could one day end up in the classroom.

The morning keynote speaker was Apple employee Kate Kemker, the former director of technology learning and innovation with the Florida Department of Education.

Contact Joe Callahan at 867-4113 or joe.callahan@starbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter at JoeOcalaNews.

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