High-tech schools pilot program puts kids in charge
BY CARRIE MELAGODAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Sunday, November 25th 2007, 4:00 AM
Alyssa Deonarian uses a laptop to participate in a class assignment.
A Giant outline of the human body is projected onto a 72-inch screen inside Middle School 202, next to a jumble of organs and bones that belong inside it.
One by one, eighth-graders in the Queens classroom walk to the special screen. The kids - a mix of new English speakers and general and special-ed students - touch a body part and drag it toward the empty outline.
The traditional skeleton propped up in the classroom looks downright antiquated as it stands next to the interactive teaching tool called a "SMARTboard."
"It's awesome," said 15-year-old Joseph Guerra, who correctly placed the esophagus. Nodding toward his teacher, he added, "You can learn a lot more than if they're just talking."
The Ozone Park middle school is one of 22 across the city participating in a pilot program designed to create and test-drive the 21st century classroom.
About $13.4 million in capital funds, along with federal grants, have been invested into the so-called iTeach-iLearn schools over the past two years.
The pilot program outfits classrooms in the 22 schools with devices including SMARTboards, laptops, wireless Internet access and special lockers to keep all the technology safe when the school is closed.
Teachers receive training so they feel comfortable with the new technology, officials said, and each school has a specialist so technical difficulties don't derail lessons for days on end.
"It's teachers giving students the opportunity to take control of their learning," said Troy Fischer, director of the city's Office of Instructional Technology, which will evaluate the program at the end of the school year. "Students begin to bring more to the classes."
The pilot comes as other school districts across the nation debate the effectiveness of using similar technology in the classroom. Some schools that rushed to equip kids with laptops have since backed off, citing mounting costs and questionable results.
A study released by the federal Department of Education this year also showed that educational computer software made no significant difference in student achievement.
But teachers at MS 202 are sold on the new technology.
In her second-floor classroom, sixth-grade teacher Dana Matorella uses the newest gadgets to teach kids about ancient Egypt.
The students use laptops to research hieroglyphics, filling in their answers on work sheets. Then Matorella gives them a pop quiz - but instead of pencils, they pull out remote controls.
A question about hieroglyphics is projected onto the SMARTboard, and the kids enter their answers using the remotes, similar to how audiences are polled on TV game shows.
Instantly, Matorella can see that all but one child answered correctly - and only she knows who got it wrong. "It's anonymous and they feel free," she said. "They love when I say, 'Get out the remotes.'"
Principal William Moore was an early advocate of technology in the classroom, teaching astronomy courses online when he worked as a professor at the New School in Manhattan.
When he came to MS 202 several years ago, he put WiFi Internet access in the school and bought laptops for every floor. But he never imagined the changes he's seeing now. "We're lightyears ahead of what I ever thought I'd have here," Moore said. "It totally transforms the school."
In Joseph Birgeles' seventh-grade social studies class, students played an interactive game about the old Jamestown colony called "17th Century Survivor."
Afterward, they were asked to justify their decisions on a work sheet.
"They have lunch right now," Moore said, "and they don't want to leave."
Students at MS 202 said they preferred their high-tech classrooms to the ones in their former elementary schools - and particularly like the SMARTboards more than blackboards.
"It's easier to see and learn," said Kimara Davis, 12, who also doesn't miss using chalk. "It doesn't mess up your hands."