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'Smart Boards' now in DL schools

DETROIT LAKES - With a touch of the finger or the sweep of the hand, Roosevelt kindergarten teacher Jessica Sjostrom can summon a new lesson for her students, or call up a video to illustrate a story.

"Anything that you have on your computer is visible via the Smart Board to the students, so it's pretty neat," Sjostrom said.

But what is a Smart Board and what is it doing in classrooms in Detroit Lakes?

Education director Lowell Niklaus said "Smart Board" is a brand name, and the equipment is actually called an interactive white board.

"It provides the opportunity to move away from the teacher lecture method of teaching, where the kids are actually engaged. At the elementary level, they can be working on reading and grammar and taking words and putting words up on the board. There are so many things that can be done with it that it's hard to just identify one," he said.

A quick stop in Sjostrom's kindergarten classroom showed how engaging and interesting the interactive boards are. Students crowded around the board, hoping to write on it or show off some features like the weather report link imbedded in the morning message or filling out a worksheet with vocabulary words.

Unlike traditional white boards, the markers the students use to write on the board don't appear outside of the worksheet they are working on. There are no messy erasers or smudged fingers from ink on the board. And when you ask the students if they like the Smart Board, you hear a resounding "Yes."

Lessons can be prepared for the Smart Boards in a variety of ways. Sjostrom said she can generate her own lessons to fit her curriculum, find lessons on the Internet from other teachers that match Minnesota standards and are grade level appropriate, or things like worksheets can be loaded into the computer through the copy machine.

The computer is connected to a projector on the ceiling of the classroom. The image from the computer appears on the board, and then teachers can use the board to access other lessons or programs in the computer.

Because of the interactivity possible with the boards, Sjostrom said there's a variety of interaction going on, from sound effects in lessons to hands-on use of the board and more visual examples for students.

For example, if her classroom is reading a book on llamas, Sjostrom can upload a video to her computer to show the students what a llama looks and sounds like.

"It can reach all their senses," she said.

Sjostrom and fellow kindergarten teacher Diana Hedstrom are working on developing more lessons together for their students. Working on the interactive boards will give the students more experience with technology, an essential skill in today's world.

"Because we live in such a technology world now, with the Smart Board, it's letting these kids at five and six years old experience the technology first hand, in the classroom," Hedstrom said.

The students are also enjoying the new technology. Sjostrom said she had worked with the interactive boards before in a classroom for a year. She said the novelty of the board never wore off for students.

"I know that the students, in the first few days I had it, they said 'Oh, it's like a game,' and it's making learning more engaging and exciting for them too. Like Diana said too, it's setting them up for a new world, a new world with lots of technology and just making sure that they're ready for that too," she said.

There is one problem. Sjostrom said only one student can work on the board at a time. But even that has an upside.

"They learn cooperation," she said.

Kindergarten classrooms aren't the only places with the Smart Boards.

"We have them in high school social studies, high school math, high school science, each of the different areas at the middle level. We have them in kindergarten, third grade, fifth grade -- we tried to spread it out throughout the district so that it's being used in each building," Niklaus said.

The school district purchased 25 Smart Boards, by Smart Technologies Inc., 25 Epson projectors, and received four responders, three of which were promotional deals. The responders allow students to answer questions or take quizzes, with the results available on the board as soon as the quiz is finished. All in all, business manager Ted Heisserer said, the total spent was $53,104.

That price tag also included the mounting brackets for placing the boards on the walls, and training time for staff. The district paid for the equipment with special state legislative appropriations from 2007. Heisserer said the district received $120,000, half of which was budgeted for technology updates and half for facilities.

The district hopes to expand the board use in the future, Niklaus said. He is already impressed with the student excitement.

"Just in the week or so it's been in now, I've been into classrooms and seen real excitement on the part of kids in terms of using these things. If you can get kids excited in learning, it's going to make learning much better."