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Troy embraces era of high-tech teaching

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| May 28, 2009 12:00 AM

Hana Coy’s second-grade students were squirming with excitement to meet their pen pals, students from a Billings school that they had been writing back and forth to throughout the year.

Using a Webcam and a computer screen projector, Coy’s students were able to talk with the pen pals they would probably never meet in person. They conversed as though they were in the same room and created fodder for future written correspondence.

“We continue writing letters,” Coy said. “They could write more and have more of a conversation (through letters) after meeting them.”

As a first-year teacher, Coy is brimming with ideas to integrate modern technology into her classroom at W.F. Morrison Elementary. Troy school teachers are given the option to have their own classroom Website, so Coy uses her blog to update parents on upcoming events, post photos of the kids and allow her students to write their own blog entries.

“It’s fun for the kids to get on and it exposes them to typing,” Coy said. “I feel like it’s another life skill that eventually they’ll use.”

Schools in small communities like Troy find challenges keeping up with the times due to a lack of funds, but thanks to forward-thinking teaching staff and administration, Troy Schools are keeping up. 

Two of Andrea Cummings’ first-grade students stand at the Smartboard, a large screen that corresponds with a computer. Instead of using a mouse, students can draw or move objects around on the screen with their fingers. The game they’re about to play involves adding numbers on a set of dice on the screen.

“I like the dice game best because when you tap them they roll,” Jason Volkenand exclaimed after taking a turn. He watched his classmates “roll” the dice and then pointed to the computer. “Whenever you do something on the Smartboard, it goes on Mrs. Cummings’ computer.”

Cummings uses multiple programs on the Smartboard that helps her students learn patterns and have more fun learning math and spelling.

The district recently purchased 10 new Smartboards, seven for the elementary school and three to supplement the high school’s current three. Morrison Elementary will have one in each classroom by next fall. The district also purchased a new laptop computer lab to replace the outdated one. The laptops will travel easily on a cart from classroom to classroom.

Most of the funding came from federal money for the Special Education program.

“Smartboards are going to help our Special Education kids because it’s going to hit more learning styles,” Morrison principal Lance Pearson said. “There are different ways we learn. It makes it so it’s visual, it’s tactical – it’s going to hit more of those modalities.”

Though first-graders may be able to make use out of a real set of dice and chalkboard just as easily as the digital versions, teachers say learning about computers and other technology when they are young will be an invaluable tool for their future.

Cummings and Troy High School teachers Neil Newton and Roy Richardson have attended a series of technology workshops this year through the TIC TOC Grant, which aims at educating teachers and improving student academic achievement by integrating technology in the classroom.

“The biggest thing is the networking with other teachers, and being exposed to different technology and how they’re used in the classroom,” said Newton, a math teacher.

Modern technology is making it easier for teachers to create interactive lesson plans.

Newton was the first in the district to get a Smartboard and is in his sixth year teaching. Even at the high school level, he says that the novelty of the Smarboard increases class participation.

“It’s usually hard to get the kids to go up to the board,” Newton said, “but if they get to write on the Smartboard, they’re into that.”

TIC TOC Grant participants have learned about free online programs that can be used with technology they already possess, as well as technology that is still out-of-reach for the district.

“There’s a lot of great things out there but it takes money, and time for training and practice,” Newton said. “It’ll take a while for it to be part of everyday classroom life, but I think it’s on the horizon.”