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Technology at Fair Street School ups the ante
From flat screen TVs to tablets, new school building full of interactive learning
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Fourth grade social studies students at Fair Street Elementary School still use textbooks, but on Friday all eyes were on tablets and iPods. From left, Steven Rivas, Abel Gallaga, Aden Zavala and Jean Peralta are immersed in their electronics. - photo by NAT GURLEY

The new Fair Street School building may have been built to resemble a traditional schoolhouse, but the up-to-date, almost futuristic, technology has placed it firmly as a leader for other schools in the city system.

Flat-screen televisions line the hallways. Students are issued their own tablets. Even some of the tables are basically giant, flat computers.

“The biggest news is, of course, the KUNO tablets that all students (in) grades 2-to-5 are getting,” said Keith Palmer, director of technology for the city school system.

Students were in the school’s media center Friday, using those tablets to type out what they liked most about their new school. Those messages will be shown at a future Gainesville school board meeting.

Meanwhile, fourth grade students got a chance to play around with their KUNO tablets, and kindergartners stood around a SMART Table, learning how to build a bar graph.

“It is so much fun to be here,” said Debbie Valdez, technician at Fair Street. “It turned out to be, with setting the computers up and everything, almost flawless.”

Having moved into their new school a little over a week ago, the students are now being introduced to the abundance of technology.

Eventually, the older students will get to take their KUNO tablets home.

Kindergarten and first grade classrooms will have six tablets per room, with the children still a little too young to handle the responsibility of having their own device.

What they do get is a SMART Table in each room.

“It’s a touch-screen computer that’s tipped as a table,” Valdez explained. “Six kids at a time can work at it.”

Kindergartner Samantha Gutierrez was spending some time on Friday moving stars to make a bar graph.

“You put the star, whatever color it is, you put it in the same box with whatever color it is,” she explained, using her finger to drag a digital star from the side of the screen onto the graph.

The school system ordered 10 tables, one for each classroom, at around $6,000 each. Palmer said that if they do well, he may look into bringing them into other classrooms.

For the older students, the KUNO looks and operates just like any other tablet device, though built specifically for education. When students log on to their screens, they see eight individual buckets for their various apps, books and assignments that teachers load onto the devices.

Fourth-grade teacher David Howard said the device will be a great tool to share links and other resources.

“Of course, (the students) love them,” he said. “What I’ve been able to do so far is mostly put links on my website that I’ve created ... and links that I have already found for them, so they can click on those. (The websites) are related to the units that we’re studying.

“I want to use (the tablets) as much as possible.”

His class was having a sort of free time Friday afternoon for having behaved all week.

“I like that we can play lots of different games that Mr. Howard downloaded for us,” Miriam Martinez said. “I like this game. It’s called ‘Move It,’ and you have to move the square into its original place.

“I like the challenging games.”

Downstairs, some students in Theresa Hall’s first-grade class were practicing different math lessons on their six KUNO tablets through the Destination Math program. Some students were at their desks, some were at the SMART Table and six were in a line at the KUNO tablets, each working on their own math skills. Hall moved from group to group, providing guidance when needed.

“It teaches the kids a skill from start to finish, and then checks for comprehension,” said Dana Kirk, Fair Street academic coach, about the education program on the tablets. “You’ve got (students working on) patterns and displays, greater than or less than and subtraction. All going on at the same time.”

All KUNO devices should be distributed by early November. Palmer said they were looking into how to appropriately allow the tablets to be taken home.

Another new piece of technology to be installed soon will be an interactive projector for each classroom.

“No longer do you have the ones that hang in the middle of the room, and then a separate interactive board,” Palmer said. “That was very expensive: $1,000 for this, and about $2,000, $3,000 for the board. Now it’s all built-in.”

Those pieces should be delivered to the school over the next couple of weeks.

“It’s very different than it used to be,” Kirk added. “We’re thrilled to be here. This completely levels the playing field. It doesn’t matter how much money your parents make; you still have a KUNO when you come to school. And that is huge for some of these kids.”