Digital learning tools are touted at showcase organized by Blairsville-Saltsburg School District
By Jeff Himler
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
About 150 educators from several surrounding counties gathered near Blairsville March 7 to compare notes on the latest digital learning tools that are cropping up both in and outside of area classrooms.
Blairsville-Saltsburg School District, which this past fall provided an iPad tablet to every student in grades 9-12, played host to the Techworking Showcase at the Chestnut Ridge Golf Resort and Conference Center.
Blairsville-Saltsburg, Ligonier Valley, Apollo-Ridge and Marion Center Area were among participating school districts that displayed devices and applications they're using to make lessons more interactive and accessible for today's tech-savvy youth.
Blairsville-Saltsburg Assistant Superintendent Ian Magness was among those who organized the showcase, along with Stacie Isenberg, the district's technology integration specialist.
“We wanted to have a real professional event for educators,” Magness said. “We wanted to celebrate the really good things our teachers are doing in the classroom.”
“Flipping” is a concept that some Blairsville-Saltsburg teachers have adopted for their approach to course instruction, and Blairsville High School math teacher Trisha Kaylor has been one of the district staff's early adopters of that concept.
In fact, she's become known as the school's “Flipping Queen,” a nickname she used as an attention-grabbing theme for her showcase display booth, which was tricked out with pink tiaras.
“I like sparkles and pink,” Kaylor said.
In the concept of flipping a course, students are able to view customized video recordings of lectures, narrated by their teacher, during afterschool hours on their iPads. Then, during their class period at school, they complete what would previously have been “homework” assignments with the teacher on hand to offer help and answer questions.
Kaylor, who teaches advanced algebra II, trigonometry and precalculus for grades 10-12, said making the flipping concept a reality for students is “a lot easier with the iPads. The iPad has totally transformed my classroom and how I teach.
“Overall, my kids like it. They like the flexibility of this. They can go at their own pace” when reviewing her recorded lessons.
Kaylor is among Blairsville-Saltsburg instructors who also teach students enrolled in the district's virtual academy. She noted her recorded lectures work just as well for students learning solely from home as they do for those who attend in the traditional classroom setting.
“I don't have to do it twice,” she said of the lessons.
The recorded lessons also make it easier for students to keep pace with her class when they miss school for a field trip or illness, she said: “They can get into their email and just watch the video, and they're more likely to be able to do the assignment.”
Lauren Falcsik, who teaches ninth- and 11th-grade English at Saltsburg Elementary School, said both she and her students have embraced new technology for creating and sharing writing projects.
She explained students submit written essays to her using the Google Drive file-sharing service. “They just add me as a collaborator, and I can grade it right online,” she said.
In addition, she noted, students can digitally record spoken introductions to their essays, save them as audio files and link them to their submitted document using a QR (Quick Response) code — those printed squares that look like a cross between a bar code and a Rorschach inkblot and can be scanned by a cell phone.
“I am excited about it,” she said of the technology, noting it seems to have helped her students: “I see a lot of growth in their writing skills.”
Blairsville-Saltsburg librarian Josh Cunningham said he will provide about 25 copies of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel “The Great Gatsby” in e-book format for student use in a unit planned by Falcsik. The students will be reading and writing about the book without requiring one page or sheet of paper.
Cunningham said he recently spent $2,000 to purchase a collection of 229 e-books that are divided between the libraries at Blairsville and Saltsburg high schools. He explained that e-books checked out by students automatically return to the library account on the specified due date — although the student can check a title out again if he isn't finished using it.
One big advantage e-books offer over printed versions is the elimination of lost, damaged or overdue copies.
“There are no more overdue library fines,” Cunningham said, adding, “Their dog can't eat it, and they can't drop it in a puddle.”
While only secondary students at Blairsville-Saltsburg are assigned individual iPads, at the elementary level, teachers can access mobile carts stocked with iPad devices.
Susan Slezak, a reading specialist at Blairsville Elementary School, showed examples of interactive reading lessons her students are able to complete using the iPads. Students can record themselves pronouncing words that appear on the screen and then play them back for review.
“The kids get to listen to themselves read,” she said, in the process hearing how they sound to others and picking up on cues that may help them improve their spoken verbal skills.
With a Spelling Magic application, the iPads can be used to help young readers sound out individual letters of the alphabet and blend them to form short words, Slezak added.
Janine Vallano, a technology integration specialist at nearby Ligonier Valley School District, showed how students in Kristin Johnston's fifth-grade class at R. K. Mellon Elementary School in Ligonier have completed electronic essays as part of an “iPad-infused expository writing lesson.”
Vallano displayed an essay one student created about earthquakes by combining recording narration with screens of text and accompany visual images.
She explained the students used a series of iPad applications to complete the assignment — first using the Notes app to compile their research notes and then Word Magic Thesaurus to fine-tune their prose with more sophisticated words. Then they used a Book Creator app to format their presentation as an iBook before sharing it with others.
According to Vallano, the iPads Johnston's students used for the exercise included some the youngsters brought from home, some the instructor obtained with a grant and others purchased by the district.
Magness' wife, Becky, who teaches journalism at the Franklin Regional School District in Murrysville, demonstrated greenscreen technology that allows the district's television and video production students to create graphics to use as a backdrop for their presentations of televised morning announcements.
She noted she has discovered an application that may allow district's with iPads to have their students create greenscreen-style graphics without investing in a full-scale television studio set-up.
“Instead of having a studio, students can create something with just an iPad,” she said.
Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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