http://pleasantonweekly.com/print/story/print/2012/04/20/pta-to-the-rescue


Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - April 20, 2012

PTA to the rescue

In a high-tech world, laptops are essential teaching aides

When the technology at Fairlands Elementary began to fail, its PTA came to the rescue. Thanks to donation by parents during the last several years, the organization was able to purchase 35 MacBooks, one for each teacher at the school.

"Technology can be frustrating when your tools don't enable you to be productive," said third-grade teacher Brian Esse. "These new MacBooks will give teachers the tools to work smarter and more effective."

Teachers are being asked to use more and more technology in the classroom to keep their students up to date with the "real world," Esse explained.

Not only will the MacBooks help with instruction, he noted, but they will help teachers communicate effectively with parents.

"Teachers have already received training in Gmail, Google Docs, Google Forms and Google Calendar," Esse said. "They are using these and other applications to collaborate with colleagues at the school -- some around the world -- and to work more efficiently."

Teachers are using the laptops for their record keeping and assessments.

"Also, all of PUSD's adopted classroom series have a technology component to them that they are able to show to the class, which is very helpful to those students who may not get online access at home," Esse said. "They use Envision math, which has animations for every lesson that teachers can show their classroom via their LCD projectors."

Science and social studies texts also come alive through the endless visuals and resources available via the web.

"Laptops have literally changed instruction in our classrooms," said Principal Kim Michels. "Five years ago, when we made the decision to invest one-time technology funds in conjunction with PTA funds to purchase laptops, LCD projectors and document cameras for each classroom, I would have never predicted the impact this would have on teaching and learning in the classroom."

"It is amazing to see how technology use has grown since the PTA first purchased laptops for the staff," said fifth-grade teacher Lisa Highfill. "Having a laptop enabled teachers to take home their work, build integrated lessons, and better organize the 'business' side of the job.

"Technology takes time to master," she continued. "With a laptop, I am able to work from home and late into the night exploring the latest strategies for bringing 21st-century learning skills into the classroom."

This includes creating websites and "Flip teaching," with the teacher creating projects or videos that students can use outside the classroom.

"My time in the classroom, sharing content, motivating creativity and thinking, is spent in a more individualized way, working one to one with those needing support or re-teaching," Highfill said.

Technology Specialist Tina Davis said that giving laptops to teachers has resulted in a tremendous growth in the daily use of technology in the classroom.

"They have become more comfortable using the Internet to teach educational skills since we no longer purchase software that becomes obsolete after just one year," Davis said. "It is not cost effective to continually upgrade software when there are free or low cost sites available to us on the Internet."

Principal Michels noted that teachers' knowledge and experience with technology varies greatly, but said that they have all embraced the opportunities offered by the new laptops.

"In partnership with their students, teachers have learned and taught technology skills to their students that are preparing them for the future, i.e., Google Apps, iCloud, communicating with other students around the world via Skype, tweeting their learning and more," she said.

"This has been made possible by simply placing a laptop in the hands of each teacher," she added.

"We firmly believe that by purchasing these new laptops for our teachers we are not only investing in our teachers, but also our children," said Fairlands PTA president Laurie Walker-Whiteland. "With all the budget cuts at the state and local levels, it has been really hard on the teachers to maintain their standard of excellence for our children."

--Pleasanton Weekly staff

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