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Technology delivers homework -- on a snow day?
New forms of instruction keep Lakeview Academy students connected to teachers, assignments
Caitlin Collins works on her English homework during a break in classes at Lakeview Academy in Gainesville. The school has looked at new ways to integrate technology in the classroom, even setting up online assignments and virtual lectures. - photo by Tom Reed

The walls at Lakeview Academy in Gainesville echo with the racket usually associated with school halls: lots of chatter, locker doors slamming and footsteps racing to beat the tardy bell.

But the action going on behind classroom doors is what caught the attention of Google’s technology gurus and earned the school’s technology director, Connie White, a spot in one of the company’s most prestigious programs for educational leaders.

White was selected from thousands of educators across the nation to attend this year’s Google Teacher Academy, a one-day intensive workshop that hooks up 50 administrators with the latest instructional gadgets and resources produced by Google to bring classrooms further into the 21st century.

“As leaders we have to have the vision of how we want our children to develop to prepare them to succeed in the future. And that doesn’t happen overnight,” White said, stating a philosophy that has helped her oversee Lakeview Academy’s transition into one of the state’s leading platforms for instructional technology in the last decade.

Whether first-graders use computers to create digital pictures for class projects or students access class lessons from their computers at home, technology has become a thread woven into every facet of instruction under White’s direction.

When the H1N1 virus broke out last fall and schools across the nation closed operation to prevent contamination, White and Lakeview administrators decided to make sure students would not miss lessons if the school were to close.

Teachers were instructed on how to make electronic assignments and post them online. Some recorded their lectures so students could watch them unfold in real time and ask questions live.

They put the plan to the test this year. When the academy closed for a snow day this semester, students in Debra Zwald’s geometry class still had homework. She posted a set of math problems online and assigned them “just to show them it was possible,” she said, laughing.

“Our teachers are way intense,” White added.

“Students have been bombarded by multimedia from the time they were born,” White said. “So we try to help them learn to connect with the information in ways that make sense to them. By helping teachers gain the skills in order to do that, the children are more excited about learning and retention increases.”

And with high school students toting laptops to classes and the middle school set to equip each student with netbooks in the spring, Internet security is one of the program’s highest priorities.

“We have one of the strongest Internet safety programs in the state,” White said. “We work with the GBI and have training with them.”

White also visits different schools to help them incorporate safety components that keep technology safe for students and staff.

The school also maintains and repairs all its computer equipment on-site.

“It does take continual expenditures,” White said. “You have to make sure the infrastructure works or teachers won’t take the risks that we want them to take to do the integration.”

The Google Teacher Academy will be held in San Antonio, Texas, on March 5. This will be the first time the program has focused elusively on educational leaders since its launch in 2006.

For White, the biggest draw is the excitement she sees from students more willing to learn.

“The kids love the technology,” she said. “By embracing it and teaching them to use it safely, then we get the best of both worlds.”