Less operational money at higher grade levels shortchanges some students in technology
by Laura Johnson
lbjohnson@annistonstar.com
Feb 08, 2013 | 5809 views |  0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alexandria High School geometry teacher Craig Kiker has found a creative way to teach his 10th-grade students using technology. Kiker has his iPad connected to a small router and is able to project his tablet screen on a whiteboard in his classroom. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
Alexandria High School geometry teacher Craig Kiker has found a creative way to teach his 10th-grade students using technology. Kiker has his iPad connected to a small router and is able to project his tablet screen on a whiteboard in his classroom. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
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Veteran math teacher Candace Davis has transformed her Alexandria High School classroom with technology this academic year.

For most of her 17-year career she used paper, pencils and textbooks to teach students. Now she uses an integrated smart board, a set of remote control responders and an iPad to get the job done.

“Student engagement has changed tremendously,” Davis said. “The ones that don’t want to talk out loud are using the technology to talk.”

Not all area high school students are as lucky as those in Davis’ classroom. She pays for much of the technology with money she receives for teaching college courses at the Alexandria campus. Many high school educators stitch together grants and donations to pay piecemeal for technical devices but it’s rarely enough to completely equip high school classrooms with technology.

“I think it’s a little tough for the high schools to come up with funds,” said Wellborn High School Principal Rick Carter.

Powering down

Carter’s school has been more fortunate than some and two years ago secured a $250,000 grant to supply students in math classes with laptop computers.

Many area elementary schools, however, are able to equip each classroom with more technology using federal Title I money handed out to schools with a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch. It’s not uncommon for classrooms in local elementary schools to be equipped with several devices, including smart boards.

None of Calhoun County’s middle or high schools receives Title I funding due to cuts in federal funding, said Cindy Hunt, federal programs coordinator. This year county schools received roughly $2.2 million in federal Title I funds.

Because high schools receive less federal funding they are less likely to have as much technology in their classrooms. As a result some area students have had to power down as they made the transition from elementary school to middle and high school, administrators said.

“Kids aren’t as motivated because they’re not seeing as many bells and whistles as in elementary school,” said Craig Kiker, a geometry teacher at Alexandria High School.

Though area high schools aren’t able to equip their teachers with the same amount of technology, the upper-grade level teachers aren’t completely unplugged. Teachers like Kiker are learning to do more with less equipment.

He uses an iPad, an Apple TV — which looks like a small black router — and a projector to create a mock smart board. The setup allows Kiker to project images from his iPad onto a white board, and it mimics the functions of the smart board.

It does not allow for the same level of interaction as a smart board, but it costs less. Davis’ interactive white board, located in a classroom across the hall from Kiker, cost roughly $4,000 two years ago. Kiker’s setup cost roughly $1,000.

Other solutions

The technology shortfall isn’t unique to one or two schools. Each Calhoun County school for middle and high school students struggles to find funding for devices.

Now, through a program county schools are referring to as Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, some local educators are trying to fill in the gap by asking students to use their personal wireless devices in class.

In some ways the new program is starting to ease the digital transition between grade levels.

Another form of technology Kiker lacks is remote control responders. The responders look like TV remotes with four buttons, labeled A, B, C, and D.

They allow the teacher to ask questions and receive an immediate response from each student. Davis, who uses the devices, said they help her educate her students because when using the clickers she knows in an instant whether her students are grasping the concept she’s teaching.

Since Kiker doesn’t have the remotes he sometimes asks his students to use an app that transforms their smartphones into clickers.

The system’s BYOD program began at White Plains Middle School last year because teachers said they needed more wireless devices in the classroom, said Courtney Wilburn, the school’s principal.

Wilburn moved from the elementary school to the middle school, and soon noticed that students in the higher grade levels were learning in classrooms with less technology.

“You almost lose kids if you don’t have the technology,” Wilburn said.

Wilburn and teachers talked about how to resolve the problem without spending more money and they came up with BYOD.

“The kids are excited. The teachers are excited,” Wilburn said of the program. “It’s just opened up a whole new world.”

BYOD is now being introduced to each campus in Calhoun County Schools, which last year changed its policy to permit students to bring their own wireless devices into classrooms. It helps equip more students with technology, but it doesn’t resolve all the issues related to access.

School officials estimate that 15 percent of county students have no devices to bring. That represents about 150 students in Alexandria, said Principal Mack Holley.

Whether from grants, donors, or state funding, school officials said they will continue looking for financial sources to fill in the gaps that remain until each classroom and each child is adequately equipped with technology to teach students how to be competitive in the 21st century.

“We’re taking baby steps,” Holley said. “We don’t have money to buy every teacher an iPad.”

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