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Hall schools look at upgrading whiteboard technology
Lyman Hall Elementary first-grade teacher Erin Crandall demonstrates how the HoverCam device works in the classroom. The USB-powered device allows projections of objects to be shown to the class, much like an overhead projector, but it can also be used with the interactive whiteboard. The HoverCam can also scan documents to make emailing, archiving and organizing files quicker.

In a Lyman Hall Elementary classroom, music teacher Tony Villarini is instructing his students via an interactive whiteboard on how to play the guitar.

While the rest of the fifth-grade class either practices keyboarding or math skills in other areas, a small group sits staring up at the screen. Each strums along with the music projected, while Villarini supervises.

“I’m a big technology person so I constantly use it with everything,” he said, demonstrating how the whiteboard can serve as a touchscreen. “I can do one thing on the (regular) board, but I can do the exact same thing on that projector board and it’s a whole different thing to the students.”

Technology and education intertwine at Lyman Hall where, according to Principal Robert Wilson, 99 percent of the student population is on the free or reduced-price lunch plan. Around 98 percent of Lyman Hall students are Hispanic. Using devices like the interactive whiteboards, iPods and computer programs helps keep them engaged in classwork.

“We use this stuff so much,” Wilson said. “The whiteboards, the computers and the iPods, they use every single day.”

More and more, devices in schools are being used on a regular basis, and Aaron Turpin, the county school district’s executive director for technology, said he hopes to both upgrade the existing whiteboard and projector technology while expanding usage throughout the district’s 2,100 instructional spaces.

He said some classrooms, like the ones at Lyman Hall, are fully equipped with the interactive boards.

“That goes from complete packages like we have in our new schools down to items like the parent-teacher organization or booster club may have (bought and donated),” he said, noting there are still 246 instructional spaces in the schools that have no audiovisual devices. On top of those, there are 845 rooms with equipment 5 years or older.

“The amount of money we will spend fixing them this year equals $500 sometimes, per machine,” he added. “It costs us a lot of money to keep these things operational.”

Additionally, it takes around an hour to replace the bulbs in the boards. And if there’s a malfunction, it can take up to six weeks for repairs to be made. Turpin said he thinks upgrading to the newer whiteboards will erase those factors, making it one less thing for teachers to worry about.

He’s reviewing the cost of placing those interactive boards in classrooms, and plans to present the options at an upcoming board meeting.

It’s a topic of concern for Superintendent Will Schofield.

“We’re getting closer and closer to what I would say is an overwhelming majority of our teachers that would use (the devices) and make very positive use of them if (they were) available,” he said during the January work session of the school board. “This is a decision, in my mind, we’ve got to make. We’ve got to decide what the solution is for these teachers and these digital natives.”

Like at Lyman Hall, where every classroom is equipped with a whiteboard, Villarini said the digital world is second nature to his students.

“The efficiency of my teaching (is) better because before I had to draw that little guitar up there on the board every time I taught,” he said. “And it looks the same every time, which is probably the way it helps the kids. They can see the consistency of it. The interaction (with the students), obviously, is a lot better.”