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Oak View Shows Off Technology

Japanese educators tour elementary school with eye on technology.

AirLiners, SMART Boards and streaming videos are common to many Oak View Elementary students, though they may sound foreign to their parents. Gone are the days of messy chalk and odorous white board markers at Oak View Elementary: today students create PowerPoint presentations on class laptops and project them onto interactive white boards wirelessly.

The abundance of technology in Northern Virginia schools has caught the attention of the Japanese Ministry of Education, which recently sent three representatives to learn more about how technology enhances the classroom experience here. Professor Takanori Maesako and Spence Zaorski from Osaka University and Takashi Kuroda from the University of Toyama visited Oak View Elementary in Fairfax on Monday, Jan. 8 on a mission to see if Fairfax teachers could teach them a thing or two.

Escorted by principal Debra Lane, the guests first saw how third grade teacher Jason Skerker uses his SMART Board and a mobile laptop lab in his regular lessons. Though the SMART Board may look like an ordinary white board, flipping on the projector transforms the board into a huge touch screen computer. Skerker's students, each group of two using a laptop from the mobile lab, had made presentations about Ancient Egypt with Microsoft PowerPoint.

Skerker brought one of the student’s presentations up on the projector and touched menu buttons to show the children how to put the finishing touches on their projects. He also used an AirLiner, a handheld tablet and stylus, that transmits his inputs to the screen in the front of the class, so he can use the SMART Board from anywhere in the room.

In Mary Gresick’s first grade class, SMART Boards have made the practice of "sounding out" obsolete. Students now “tap out” the syllables of words on a SMART Board, finally pressing on the words to see a picture of what the word represents.

SMART Boards are by far the most popular of the many new technology devices with teachers. They have been sharing SMART Board templates and lessons with each other on the school’s server and they meet after school to brainstorm new ways to integrate them in their lessons. Only eight of the regular classrooms in Oak View are without the boards at this time, and those teachers without have begun getting the students involved in writing proposals to the administration for a board in their class.

“Many teachers say they don’t want to leave Oak View because they’re not guaranteed SMART Boards," said Terri Newman, Oak View’s school-based technology specialist. "It’s changed the way that they’ve taught.”

SMART BOARDS weren’t the only gadgets demonstrated during the tour, however. June Behrmann’s Special Education class uses computer programs tailored to the students’ needs every day. Text completion software helps predict the words the students are typing to speed up their writing. Visual counting games help those with speech disabilities learn their numbers easier. “They feel productive now,” said Behrmann about the new programs.

Heather Skall, an art teacher at Oak View, has every line drawn on her desk projected on to the board for the class to see, and Colleen Bell’s sixth grade class watches streaming history videos using Discover Education’s Unitedstreaming.

Oak View has adapted to the new technology. “The teachers at first were a little reluctant about it but now we see they’re excited to see the results and to have these discussions,” said Lane.

“Long term, it makes things easier,” said Newman. “You can save lessons and templates from year to year.”

The Japanese visitors were happy with their visit, and eager to bring the ideas back to their Ministry of Education. “Whatever class we went into, we were impressed with how well the technology was being used,” said Maesako. Having the technology in the classrooms, he pointed out, was worth nothing if the teachers couldn’t use it well.

Oak View hopes to eventually outfit all classes with SMART Boards and increase the number of mobile labs, but the costs are hard to overcome.

“It’s about $2,500 for everything” in a SMART Board setup, said Newman. The mobile labs are even more. The PTA and businesses have been helping with the costs, however. A local Baskin Robbins recently gave the school a donation to use on technology. “They saw that we were really pushing technology, and gave me a $500 check,” said Lane.