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Hall schools add technology to help students
Teachers want to push kids to become producers of Web content
Teachers gather in the theater at Flowery Branch High School earlier this summer for the Hall County Summer Leadership program where the concept of “blended learning” showed teachers how to use new forms of media in their teaching. School starts Monday for Hall and Gainesville systems.

The more Hall County school teachers use technology in the classroom, the closer the school board is to achieving its goal of blended learning.

Blended learning is a model that uses both a teacher and technology, said Aaron Turpin, technology director for Hall County Schools.

“It’s learning that may occur any time using multiple sources of formats. Information technology is changing the way we learn,” Turpin said. “We need to move our students to become producers as opposed to consumers.”

Making students producers means there’s an increased focus in using online and computerized resources to do book reports, research and learning games.

“The focus is on students learning any time, anywhere,” Turpin said. “It’s tailored for these students’ individual learning styles and passions, but it also pushes and allows us to bring in resources of the world. It’s not only what the teacher knows, it’s what the world knows.”

Two of the resources teachers will have access to are HALLCOnnect and Safari Montage. Both of these are online learning databases, similar to Blackboard Learning websites used in higher education.

HALLCOnnect was piloted during the 2010 year in select grade levels and the program will be expanded in the upcoming school year.

John Hardison, a language arts teacher at East Hall High School, is one such teacher. His classes have used movie and music-making software for several years and he’s excited about the prospects HALLCOnnect brings.

“HALLCOnnect is going to give us a hub by which we can pull all of this in,” Hardison said. “We’ve got hundreds of different things we can direct the students to. It’s really going to allow us to open up teaching with collaboration.”

Hardison works with two other East Hall High teachers, Mark Anthony and Joyce Tharpe, to “bring literature to life” through technology.

“We’ve got kids writing their own songs. They write lyrics about (the Georgia Performance Standards). We’ve made 20-minute videos and commercials and music videos,” Hardison said. “The last three years we’ve done this has been an absolute blast.”

Teri Lance, a sixth-grade language arts teacher at C.W. Davis Middle School, was one of the teachers who used HALLCOnnect in 2010.

Instead of just making a PowerPoint presentation, her students used discussion group features on HALLCOnnect’s social media component, blogged about what they learned and created their own poetry websites, all linked to the main database.

“It’s a work in progress,” Turpin said of HALLCOnnect, which is being developed to be compatible with smart phones, digital tablets and computers. “It’s a very pretty interface. Kids at DaVinci Academy are designing the button icons for us so it’s really an instructional platform that we also have our kids involved in.”

Teachers are also using resources gathered on Hall County’s Safari Montage. Turpin said over the year, the online resources in Safari Montage increased from 700 to 15,000.

“It’s websites but it’s a lot more,” he said. “These are pieces where teachers have found high-quality resources, tagged them by the standards. Now when teachers are developing instructional units, they’re no longer bound to just what they find in the textbook.”