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School officials get taste of e-learning
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Hall County school officials got a taste this week of the kind of innovative technology teachers and students are using in the classrooms.

Veteran educator Aaron Turpin, who has been the school district’s technology director for the past seven years, brought three e-learning specialists to Monday’s school board meeting for a hands-on demonstration of two relatively new teaching tools — Nearpod and Gizmos.

“We want to give our kids every tool possible ...,” Turpin said, as he passed out Chromebooks to board members and others at the meeting, so they too could get a feel for the kind of interactive learning taking place in classrooms throughout the district. “We’re going to take a dive into two of these applications so you guys can see what’s available to our students and our teachers right now in our classrooms.”

The e-learning team of Penny Christensen, Greg O’Dell and Danica Pruitt turned the meeting into a classroom experience as they gave an overview of the two applications and how they can be used in the classroom.

“No kid is going to hide in this content. We’re all going to interact with this at some point,” Christensen said as she went through the Nearpod application features while conducting a basic lesson on root types.

Christensen said the program allows the teacher to see which students have mastered the material and are ready to progress to the next lesson, or identify those students that might need additional help.

“Now this is a really fun part,” Christensen said. “On your screen you have the option to go ahead and draw. Now, the first time you draw on a computer, it’s not pretty. So, I put up a pretty ugly picture so that nobody feels bad. Go ahead and try it.”

O’Dell said he’s seen Nearpod sessions at schools with up to 75 students “and it didn’t even blink.”

“It changes in some way how you think about classrooms and opens up a lot of opportunities for interactivity,” O’Dell said. “We really like Nearpod.”

Pruitt gave a demonstration on Gizmos, which she said is used to teach math and science to middle and high school students. She guided the group through a simulation on growing plants.

“Some things that a teacher might talk about with students in this experiment are things like your control, the amount of light, what kind of plant you will be testing with, how much soil you give the plant. … Then it runs a simulation and you can see how your plant grows,” Pruitt said. “You can measure the height of the plant. … When you look at those things, it can help you determine what a healthy plant is, and you’ll know what the secret recipe is to get a healthy plant.”

After the brief introduction, Pruitt let board members and anyone else with a Chromebook to go at it and “have fun.”

Turpin said the two software applications are among 40 being used throughout the district. He said the cost of providing Gizmos to approximately 14,000 students in grades 6-12 is $42,000. He did not immediately have the cost of providing Nearpod licenses to 500 teachers — about a quarter of the 2,000 K-12 teachers in the school system.

Almost without fail, learning applications being used at the district level have been recommended by classroom teachers who already were testing the apps on their own, Turpin added.

“There’s nothing top-down about our approach,” Turpin said. “That differentiates us from other districts.”

Turpin and his team noted that the drive toward incorporating technologies into the classroom is in line with the school district’s strategic plan and the Georgia Vision Project — a road map for public education that was created through a collaborative effort by the Georgia School Superintendents Association and School Boards Association in 2009.

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