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Education Goes High Tech

Nativity School teaches curriculum with latest, advanced classroom technology.

Say goodbye to the old days of overhead projectors and messy dry-erase markers; technology is making education fun and clean at The Nativity Catholic School in Burke.

Part of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, the private Catholic school at 6398 Nativity Lane is providing its students with new technology in every classroom, said Principal Maria Kelly. Thanks to a fund-raising auction, two anonymous donors, parent contributions and a science and technology grant, the school was able to start bringing in $85,000 worth of high-tech equipment last October. The school showcased the new gadgets to visitors at its 10th anniversary open house, Sunday, June 4.

"Our technology has grown leaps and bounds," said Keith Bennett, vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) at the school. "It takes our science program to a whole new level."

Students were showing off their new learning tools at the open house more than the teachers were, displaying what they say is a fun new way to learn. Large touch screens, or ACTIVboards, wireless slates, Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) projectors and electronic clickers keep children engaged and alert during lessons, said teachers, allowing for more class participation and livelier teaching.

“We wanted to bring in technology that could be used in every area of the curriculum,” said Kelly.

“You have fun and you really don’t realize you’re learning,” said fourth-grader Amanda Malloy. “You’re just having fun.”

Amanda demonstrated how the ACTIVboard works with her classmate, Lauren Sinclair. The ACTIVboard displays images from the LCD projector mounted on the ceiling, looking like a large computer screen. The boards are set up in each classroom as the main teaching focal point, overshadowing the blackboards and marker boards now becoming obsolete, said fourth-grade teacher Donna Feary. Most blackboards in the school have since become bulletin boards, with posters and other items covering the majority of the slate surface in Feary's classroom and others.

“The kids love it,” said Melissa Sinclair, computer teacher and technology coordinator at the Nativity Catholic School. “They don’t really need the teachers anymore.”

Amanda and Lauren demonstrated on the ACTIVboard in their fourth grade classroom as if they had been using the system for years, even though it arrived only a week earlier. One program they said they really enjoy is called Google Earth, software that gives control to users over navigation through a system of satellite images of the entire earth. The school has access to advanced versions of such software through educational video streaming subscriptions to services like Discovery’s united streaming. The programs come alive when combined with the ACTIVboards, said Feary, because of the big screen and its high definition quality. That, she said, is what keeps students so engaged.

“The kids are great,” said Feary. “Everybody is very participatory.”

AS THE GIRLS typed in addresses and traveled the earth, their interest continued to grow as they visited each place.

“Talk about around the world in 80 days,” said Amanda. “You can go around the world in 12 seconds.”

Teachers said they also enjoy the visualizer, another teaching tool combined with the LCD projector’s ACTIVboard. Instead of the old overhead projectors that had to be positioned obtrusively in the classroom, the visualizer sits on a desk completely out of students’ views, and its images pass through the LCD projector on the ceiling, keeping all aspects of the equipment completely out of the way, said Feary.

“Putting it [projector] in the ceiling was really a development,” said Feary.

Teachers said they like the visualizers because they aren’t complicated. Instead of transferring textbook pages onto transparency film for the overheads, teachers can simply place the book on the visualizer, and the images are instantly projected onto the ACTIVboard’s screen. Teachers waste less time trying to focus, position and maneuver the projectors into the screen’s frame. The job is now done for them.

Another advantage of the new technology is the ACTIVote, the hand-held electronic system allowing students to respond to questions presented on the ACTIVboard. The hand-held clickers have numbers, registered to each student, letting teachers know how each student is doing. Teachers said this allows them to attend to students' needs more accurately, instead of waiting until test day to realize a student wasn't catching onto the material. The ACTIVote gets all students participating, said teachers.

"It can help a teacher focus on a student having problems, without the embarrassment," said Bennett.