Deer Lakes schools installs touchscreen system to upgrade classroom technology

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 7:34 a.m.

In an age where e-books outsell hard copies and students routinely communicate through social media, educators are using more technology in the classroom.

Such is the case in the Deer Lakes School District, which last month installed seven large touchscreen monitors that are being used in a pilot project at Curtisville Primary and East Union Intermediate Center.

Deer Lakes bought the seven units in November from Michigan-based Qomo, for about $56,000, said Angelo Furiga, director of curriculum and technology. District tax dollars paid for touchscreens after the district failed to secure a grant, he said.

Each 65-inch monitor has a Windows-based computer built in, a camera and the ability to connect to wireless devices.

“All the technology at your disposal allows you to transition from one subject to the other so seamlessly,” said Shelly Znosko, a third-grade teacher. “The kids are actually excited to come in and learn. They're more engaged, and their test scores show it.”

Deer Lakes is the only district in Western Pennsylvania to have the product, and Furiga's goal is to have one every classroom, kindergarten through fifth grade, by 2020.

“We're going to explore every avenue at our disposal to get that done,” he said. “You never know what new technology is going to emerge next year and make something obsolete.

“But I know these will still be invaluable learning tools five years down the road. They've already made such a difference.”

It starts as students enter Znosko's classroom each morning. They can choose their lunch options on the monitor by dragging meal selections to their place on the classroom seating chart. The cafeteria staff gets those meal selections, and the practice doubles as the teacher's attendance record.

From then on, the system is rarely turned off. Nearly every classroom exercise is done through the Qomo system, according to Znosko.

The monitor's touchscreen allows as many as four students to practice math equations in front of the class.

During social studies, every student can hear the lecture since a small microphone around the teacher's neck transmits their voice through two speakers above the chalkboard.

Science lessons are enhanced by the system's document camera. Essentially serving the same purpose as an overhead projector, the camera features an enlarger and transmits images to the monitor through an HDMI cable. A hard drive inside the camera allows the teacher to pause and save images to call up later.

It's one of the things that's made science a little easier for Mason Metzler, 9.

“It's just smoother because you can use more stuff and you don't have to worry about it,” he said.

Superintendent Janet Ciramella sees the new equipment as putting the district at the forefront of national shift in which technology rules.

“Something like this really appeals to the students and it gets them actively involved,” she said. “We know that that leads to higher retention rates and better performance, so we're very excited about it.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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