Film crew visits Piedmont schools to promote regional technology consortium
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Dec 20, 2012 | 3455 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A crew member of Big Communications, a Birmingham-based firm, films students at Piedmont Middle School for a video that Jacksonville State University will use to promote a new technology consortium. (Trent Penny / Anniston Star)
A crew member of Big Communications, a Birmingham-based firm, films students at Piedmont Middle School for a video that Jacksonville State University will use to promote a new technology consortium. (Trent Penny / Anniston Star)
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Eighth-grade algebra teacher Stephanie Steward came face-to-lens with a video camera and a professional video production crew on Dec. 13 in an otherwise empty hallway at Piedmont Middle School.

Big Communications, a Birmingham-based firm, filmed Steward for a video that Jacksonville State University will use to promote CORE, a developing consortium that aims to help educators infuse classrooms with technology. Once complete, the video, which will also feature other school districts in the state, will serve as a portal into some of northeast Alabama’s most technologically advanced schools, developers said.

CORE is a partnership between Jacksonville State University and about 20 K-12 school systems in northeastern Alabama. CORE, which formed last summer, provides workshops to help educators show each other how to use technology to prepare their students for life after high school, according to JSU officials.

“The ultimate goal is transforming all of Northeast Alabama through our technology initiative,” Piedmont schools Superintendent Matt Akin said of CORE. “We can all learn from each other.”

CORE is an offshoot of a partnership developed between Apple, Piedmont City Schools and JSU last year. The group formed this summer as Piedmont schools and JSU began discussing sharing what they’ve learned with other districts.

All of Calhoun County’s school districts and several districts in surrounding counties are participating, Akin said.

In November, JSU hosted the first CORE conference, which more than 90 people attended. The next meeting is scheduled for January, and a large-scale CORE Academy conference is scheduled for June, according to Angie Finley, a JSU spokeswoman.

Three years ago Piedmont City Schools began the type of progressive technology initiative that will be discussed at CORE conferences. Since starting the technology program, the school system has put a take-home MacBook computer in the hands of each student in grades 4 through 12, and it’s working on equipping students in kindergarten through third grade with Apple-made mobile devices.

In front of the cameras at Piedmont Middle on Thursday, Steward summed up the significance of the initiative for her students.

“It’s made the world come into our classroom,” she said.

It’s also extended her reach as a teacher. Through the use of the Internet, Steward is able to help her students with homework, she told the film crew.

“I’ve seen them take more ownership of their learning,” Steward said.

Technology in Piedmont schools is already impacting students in all grades.

A few hallways away from the spot Steward was being interviewed, first-grade teacher Liz Harper spent the morning teaching small groups of four students using an iPod touch and an iPad. Through an application that allows users to draw on screens with their fingers, Harper taught the children frequently used words.

Harper called out a word for the four students to spell, and then, using their fingers as writing utensils, the students spelled the word on the small screens before flipping them over to show her the word. Then, Harper turned her device, an iPad, over for the students to see the correct spelling of the word.

“Those are really fun games but they teach you about reading,” Harper’s student Tanner Curvin said about some of the iPad games he uses in class.

Piedmont picked up the details of its technology initiative from a school district in North Carolina.

“We took everything they were doing and learned from them and brought it back,” Akin said. “As we’ve grown over the last three years, we’ve begun doing our own thing, but we’re still doing some of what they were doing.”

The technique Harper used in her classroom Thursday is the type of information Akin wants his district to share with other schools through CORE. But the superintendent said he also wants to help other school districts in a broader sense at CORE, much in the same way the North Carolina district enabled Piedmont to implement its aggressive technology initiative three years ago.

“JSU can really help us take it to the next level,” Akin said. “If we can pull from Talladega to Fort Pane and take the best of the best and pull from each other, that’s what it’s all about.”

Staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.
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