Tech carts – the future of classroom learning?
Vicki Monga’s second-grade class at Sassarini studies the plant life cycle using the new Tech Cart as a collaborative teaching aid.
I think I saw the future of education in a Sassarini second-grade classroom.
Vicki Monga has been teaching in Sonoma for 28 years and she said that the school district’s new “tech carts” have brought about perhaps the most significant technological change she has seen in classroom teaching. “I can’t imagine now how we taught without them,” said Monga. “It is so useful in every single subject area.”
In Monga’s classroom, and in 169 others around the district, there is no more need for chalkboards or white boards. Even textbooks may be rendered irrelevant by the tech carts, at least within the classroom day. Each of the 170 tech carts recently purchased by the district contains an Epson LCD projector and Elmo Document Camera. This is not the overhead projector of our youth.
It is a new generation of projector containing a lens with a tall swing arm. Anything that is placed under the lens is instantly projected up onto the wall. You can also connect a laptop and show anything from the Internet or connect a camera for a slide show. It is simple and quick to use and the projected image can instantly be reduced or enlarged. Teachers face their class rather than a blackboard or whiteboard. It is hard to describe technology without seeing it in action, but the projector has a lens that can project anything under it. Teachers can project a text, a photo, a plant … virtually anything smaller than a milk crate. They can write on any surface and have their words instantly on view to the class. The lens can zoom in or out and even be used as a microscope to examine something more closely.
“The possibilities are endless,” explains Monga. Rather than running around the classroom, looking over every child’s shoulder to see if they are on the right question or looking at the right page, Monga projects whatever they are working on up against the wall. The students can look up to see if they have done the work correctly or confirm they are working on the right page and problem.
“Probably the most important benefit of this technology,” explained Monga, “is how much more efficient we can be as teachers and how much more material we can cover. Not only are we getting more done, even more importantly, the kids are getting so much more out of the material because our lessons are now so visual and provide immediate feedback. It is such a powerful tool.”
In the early grades, the teacher can write on a pad under the document camera and teach proper letter formation, numbers and geometric shapes. Story time is transformed because when the teacher is reading a storybook to the class, she no longer needs to spin in a circle to show pages to each student.
Monga found it particularly effective in STAR testing of young test takers for explaining directions and ensuring that students were all on the right page. Reading strategies and note-taking can be easily modeled for middle-school students. Proofreading and sentence corrections can be done collaboratively by an entire class. Students can easily be shown how to use new equipment like a calculator, protractor or drafting equipment, or just a holiday craft. From showing the entire class the details of computer circuit boards, or items on a microscope slide, to the details of a fossil, plant, rocks and minerals, or a fingerprint, the document camera allows all students to see details clearly.
Teachers can show student work to an entire class without photocopies or passing pages around, so students can see the difference between low, average and high quality work and better understand how their work will be assessed.
There is also an advantage for lower-income students as the camera allows students to develop visual aids for use in presentations without needing to buy any special supplies or software. Students who don’t have access to poster supplies or presentation software will no longer be disadvantaged when it comes to creating required visual aids for projects and homework.
In art and music, the benefits of modeling a skill are sometimes lost on students who aren’t close enough to see the person doing the demonstration.
Whether demonstrating paint mixing or correct hand placement for various musical instruments, the camera brings the benefits of demonstration to all students. There is also the potential for cost savings with fewer photocopies as the document camera can be used to project images of notes, quizzes and worksheets that would normally be photocopied.
Monga has only heard raves from her fellow teachers, despite the fact that teachers can be hesitant when it comes to learning new technologies.
“We are so fortunate to have this technology,” said Monga. “It was truly a gift to us, but more importantly to the kids.”
This fall, 65 percent of all Sonoma Valley Unified School District classrooms have a dedicated cart for their use. Monga is Sasssarini’s tech coach, and as a result she was one of the first teachers in the district to get a tech cart. She began using hers last year and when the request forms were distributed to the other teachers at Sassarini, she urged them all to request a cart, something they thank her for today.
The mobile cart itself features a locking front panel, two locking drawers, and wheels, with the equipment securely mounted onto a sturdy, mobile base that includes a fully adjustable work surface.
The carts were purchased with close to $500,000 of Measure H money for direct instructional use in the classroom.