Elementary students learn at KSU

Daniel Bott

About 20 third grade students race into a room. What are they racing to? They want to be first to get their Palm Pilots.

Since November, third grade students, ages nine and 10, from Fishcreek Elementary School in Stow, have been visiting Kent State. They have been educated in what is one of the unique classrooms in the United States.

Excited chatter fills the room. The teacher decides to take control.

“1, 2, 3, eyes on me,” she says. The chatter continues.

“1, 2, 3, eyes on me!” Silence.

Karen Swan, professor for educational foundations and special services, has been running a program where primary school students are taught their normal school curriculum in a high tech environment.

She said every year eight teachers are selected to bring their classes to the AT&T Classroom for two hours a day, for six weeks at a time.

“They spend that time working with their kids on a regular curricular topic in an extraordinary environment,” Swan said.

“Find ‘Neighborhood Map Machine’ on your desktop, to start this, click on it two times to open it up,” says the teacher. “Click ‘continue’ and click ‘solve the system’.”

The students click away.

The AT&T Classroom is actually two rooms — a classroom and an observation room.

The classroom has various current technologies, including computers with flat panel displays, a digital presenter, Internet access, distance learning capabilities via VTEL and Polycom technology, InterWrite SchoolPads with Bluetooth technology, a classroom set of Dana and Palm handheld computers, and laptops.

The classroom also has digital audio recorders, atmospheric data centers, a Tablet PC, CD and DVD burners, scanners and printers, a variety of software, probes and digital microscopes, Graphire pads, digital still and video cameras, three VCRs and video editing equipment.

The observation room has four stations, four cameras, 16 microphones, two analog VCRs and four DVD recorders. Each observation station is equipped with a laptop, an observation monitor, an AMX touch panel that controls the cameras and DVD recorders.

Geography is the focus of class today. The students have to follow the clues on a map and, using a compass, go and find aliens, dinosaurs, ghosts, monsters, treasure and witches. It’s almost like Halloween.

“I’m looking for the ghost,” says one child.

“That’s the hardest one,” says another student.

“I think I know where he is!” one child excitedly exclaims, hot on the trail of a monster.

Some educational institutions may have classrooms with similar technological facilities, while others may have similar observational areas. But, Frank Seman, educational consultant for teaching, leadership and curriculum studies, says none have both.

“We get visitors from all over the world here, believe it or not — from Australia, China, Greece, Turkey, Bahamas,” he said.

“There’s not another one like it in the country or in world as far as we know,” said Dale Cook, associate professor for teaching, leadership and curriculum studies.

“Where is Moulton Hall from here?” the teacher asks when showing a map of Kent State.

“Press 1, 2, 3 or 4 for your answers,” the teacher explains.

Each student is now armed with a “clicker.”

The “clicked” answers are tabulated.

“Some of you said 2, some of you said 3. The answer was . 3.”

“Yes!” says half the room.

A recent first-time visitor to the classroom was Kent State President Lester Lefton.

“It’s fascinating, it’s an incredible service to the community and a good research opportunity,” he said. “It’s a wonderful laboratory not only for our students, but for our faculty as well as researchers at other universities.”

The teacher is now using the ceiling document camera, a recent addition to the classroom. Items placed on the desk below the camera are projected onto the big screen.

“What direction is the crazy bus from the bouncing bears?” the teacher asks.

“East!” a student says. The question is repeated with an emphasis on “from.”

“West!” a student says. Correct.

Some of the research conducted in the AT&T Classroom has led to interesting results. Cook and Swan both said technology has been found to level playing fields among students, especially those with special needs.

“In general, students in the room score pretty high, but the cool part is that the special needs students are achieving at the level of middle students,” she said. “They’re not really left behind like they are in normal classrooms.”

Swan said part of the reason for this is the classroom’s use of alternative forms of representation and alternative ways of learning. The room offers an alternative to books, pencils and paper, which makes it easier for some students to learn.

Katie DeFrank is a sophomore special education major and student teacher in the AT&T Classroom. She said she was amazed at the students’ skill levels and enthusiasm.

“They are so consumed with the lesson,” she said.

DeFrank also said the student loved their Palm Pilots.

“They love to take pictures with their Palm Pilots. That’s like their favorite thing in the world,” she said. “They think that is so amusing.”

“Well everyone, that is it for the day,” the teacher says. “Save everything into your folders.”

Contact technology reporter Daniel Bott at [email protected].