Classrooms go high-tech

Published: Tuesday, March 6 2007 12:05 a.m. MST

Michelle Tanner, a teacher with the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind at Gerald Wright Elementary, works with a student on his sign-language skills. Her students will soon have a video iPod to add to their backpacks.

Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News

Students in Michelle Tanner's class will soon be better-equipped than the average third-grader.

The students in Tanner's class at an extension of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind at Gearld Wright Elementary will soon each have an video iPod to add to their backpack of school supplies. And while most people use the pocket-size devices for entertainment, these students' iPods are for homework only.

Tanner is one of 20 teachers receiving technology grants this month from Qwest for her innovative use of technology in the classroom. Nine of those teachers are from Salt Lake County, and not all the winners have been announced yet.

The grants — totaling $50,000 — will allow teachers to buy software, begin projects, and in Tanner's case, equip deaf students with brand-new iPods.

"This is just amazing. This is about as out of the box as you can get," said Gary Younger, spokesman for Qwest.

Tanner will use the iPods to help her deaf students with their homework, making videos of herself signing the assignments and vocabulary words for the week. Now, Tanner records herself on VHS tapes so that students can study at home, even though parents may not know how to sign that week's spelling list.

That VHS method is falling short, however, with many students not having tape players at home and Tanner having to record over the tapes each week.

"Sign language is a visual medium, so it's really been hard. In the past, parents said, 'I don't know how to help them with their homework. I don't know the signs for their spelling words,"' Tanner said.

The video iPods, however, will enable Tanner to put words at the bottom of her lessons so that parents can also understand and help their children study sign language. Tanner will also be able to upload her lessons onto iTunes, allowing students to access her mini-tutoring sessions from anywhere.

Florence Graham, a sixth-grade teacher at Gearld Wright Elementary, will also receive a $2,000 Qwest technology grant to help her students plan futuristic cities using real city planning software. Students in her class will each apply for different city positions, ranging from engineers to open space preservationists, to work together to create a city.

The software is pricey, however, and Graham said she's been crossing her fingers that she'd get the Qwest money so her students could use SimCity and computer-aided design software to create the city. The computer programs will allow the students to create utility lines, plan traffic patterns and even devise cultural activities.

"I'm hoping they learn about the components that make up a community and that they think about the future. When they're older, what are some ways they could save utilities and protect their future?" said Graham, who will be playing the role of the chief city planner in her classroom city scenario.

High-tech equipment will also soon be added to Laurel Steele's classroom at Bryant Middle School, thanks to the Qwest grant.

Steele, an eighth-grade science teacher, has had her eye on a state-of-the-art white board that will allow her to show videos in real time while students watch on graphs and charts what is actually happening on the video. A video of a ball bouncing, for example, would be accompanied by a corresponding chart showing how the momentum of the ball changes as it hits the ground and bounces back.

Students can pause the video by touching directly on the white board to get a closer look at just how science works, Steele said. Students can also drag words to match them with various processes like photosynthesis, or browse through photos right on the white board.

"There's this connection. You're right there. You touch, you drag, you do it. They have instantaneous results," she said.

Grant winners from other Salt Lake County schools include Julianne Paul of Lincoln Elementary, Ruth Ann-Abbot of Jordan High School, Deborah Owens of Draper Elementary, Rhonda Small-Oakes of Hartvigsen, P.K. Sanders of Olympus Junior High and Mary Martinez of Cottonwood High School.

The remaining winners from around the state will be announced by county in coming months.



E-mail: estewart@desnews.com

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