Burien’s Gregory Heights School Shows Off “21st Century Classroom”

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Story & Photos by Michael Brunk

As data is displayed on a wall screen via a digital projector, participants sitting at tables provide input using wireless, hand-held devices. Nearby are racks of net books, available for projects or research. The leader is using a wireless pad to control the flow of information appearing on the screen.

You might think you’re in a high-tech corporate boardroom, but in fact this is just another day in Marianne Shibly’s 4th to 6th grade English Language Learners (ELL) classroom at Gregory Heights Elementary School right here in Burien.

On Thursday, April 29th, Gregory Heights principal Phil Robinson and teacher Marianne Shibly hosted an open house to demonstrate what is being called the “21st Century Classroom.” The purpose of the event was to share with representatives from other Highline School District schools, parents and members of the press how technology is being used to support teaching in a multi-language classroom.

The students in Mrs. Shibly’s classroom come from a variety of cultures, but are united by the fact that English is not their first language. In some cases, they also lack grounding in basic learning skills that would also put them at a disadvantage in a regular classroom setting. In the ELL class they receive the teaching they need to ultimately transition into classes with their peers at Gregory Heights.

The technology is a fundamental part of the learning experience for these students. Funding through several special grants has allowed this classroom to be equipped with a digital video projector, net books for each student and a Student Response System (SRS) that allows each student to interact with a central classroom computer using a small, hand-held “clicker.”

Using a wireless control pad, Mrs. Shibly can display a question on the screen. Students then key in the answer on their own hand-held. As responses come in, the screen shows the percentage of students responding, and which students still need to key in their answers.

When the teacher is ready, a touch of a button shows the correct answer and various displays of how the students answered. In just minutes, Mrs. Shibly can assess how the classroom as a whole is grasping the lesson and which students need additional instruction on the topic.

Compare this to current techniques that involve paper handouts, manual grading, and perhaps returned to students days later when the class has already moved on to new material, and you can begin to see how technology – properly applied – can lead to a more nimble classroom situation.

The SRS system being used at Gregory Heights is from Qwizdom, a Washington-based company that not only provides the hardware and software, but also curriculum that teachers can draw from that is geared to Washington State teaching standards. Teachers can also create their own custom content, and that new material can be shared over a network or via e-mail.

Currently, Mrs. Shibly’s classroom is the only class at Gregory Heights that is completely equipped with the new technology. Plans exist to roll out these teaching tools for additional classrooms, but the current budget crunch facing all schools has delayed implementation.

In the mean time, across the Highline School District teachers and administrators can visit Gregory Heights to learn how they can apply this technology within their own new and existing facilities as budgets allow.

The demonstration clearly showed that students are excited and engaged by these new teaching tools. You might even go so far as to say the children are having fun in class. In this case, that seems to be a very good thing.

Here’s a Photo Slideshow of the demo:

Click to Play
Click to Play Michael Brunk’s Photo Slideshow

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2 Responses to “Burien’s Gregory Heights School Shows Off “21st Century Classroom””
  1. Steve Gilbert says:

    This is a great application of technology in the classroom. Rapid feedback from the students provides a valuable tool for educators in discovering how well students are understanding the lessons.

    The feedback allows for not only higher efficiency in the classroom, but increased comprehension of the subject (a teacher can zero in on the particularly challenging concepts as indicated by the feedback) and the greater ability of educators to decipher where a student may be having particular challenges.

  2. Mike says:

    I use this in my classroom along with an interactive whiteboard.
    These devices are the greatest educational tool I have ever used! I use these for instructing new content, review, and assessments. The real key is that the remote gives instant individual feedback to the student, and that is very motivating. They do not need 2-3 days for the teacher to grade the test and get it back.
    Kids can take paper and pencil tests with these. I can even have the kids take multiplicaton timed tests as a game. Hopefully, these devices will help raise my students scores on the MSP.
    To use these, you need a person who is technologically savvy and dedicated to using them. Also, the content to use these is not just ready to go. You have to create most of it from scratch and that has taken me hundreds of hours this year.

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