By Casey Hans
Carpenter Elementary third-grade teacher Bethany Tabaka said she’s always been a good user of technology, but she’s never considered herself “super tech savvy.”
Her curiosity was piqued from information she found in a graduate-level education technology class last winter, leading her to the Internet where she found details about creating an interactive whiteboard for next to nothing.
One trip to the electronics store – and sharing some ideas with her tech-loving dad – and she was off and running.
Just a few months later, nearly all of the classrooms at Carpenter are outfitted with the inexpensive technology which includes a Wii remote mounted to the ceiling, an infrared pen that one can buy or make, a Bluetooth-enabled laptop computer and a couple of pieces of free or low-cost software. It provides teachers with an interactive platform to teach all subjects.
This inexpensive approach – found under a “Wiimote whiteboard” Internet searches – has transformed her classroom with new technology and a new learning environment.
“I’ve always had a love of gadgets,” Tabaka said. “But this was a whole new ballgame for me,” said Tabaka, who for two years divided her time between Spanish at Pittsfield Elementary and Title I classes at Carpenter and, this year, has her own classroom of third-graders.
On this day, third-graders were learning the Geometry concepts of area and perimeter and all were clamoring to go the board with their answers.
She can control the technology from her iPod (an iPad or smart phone will also work with a free downloadable application) from anywhere around her classroom once it is synchronized.
Tabaka blends the technology with traditional, paper-and-pencil problems and said the new tool has engaged students who otherwise would never come to the board to do a problem in front of the class. “Most hands go up to answer when the Wiimote whiteboard is being used,” she said.
Even when the screen is just being used for graphic elements and students are writing on the whiteboard with a marker, it is a highly effective tool, she said. “Students like it better.” For writing, Tabaka sometimes scans in student works so they can be highlighted or edited on the screen. She also uses it for Social Studies and reading lessons.
Ann Arbor Public Schools Director of Instructional Technology Monique Uzelac praised the initiative.
“This is being driven by teachers who really want to try the technology,” she said, adding that the district fully supports these innovative efforts by teachers. “Part of our role is to support teachers finding innovative ways to integrate technologies into their classrooms.”
Tabaka said she was also asked to share her experience with Pittsfield Elementary where the technology is also being considered. “It wasn’t intended to be as big as it is – I was like a kid in a candy store,” she added.
Despite the localized success at Carpenter, there is a downside to this technology that will not allow it to become a district classroom standard, Uzelac said. The interactive Wiimote interferes with use of the soundfield audio enhancement systems installed in each classroom, which uses the same infrared technology. The soundfield systems were installed with dollars from the 2004 bond issue.
A Chelsea native, Tabaka is married and lives in her hometown. She has a bachelor’s degree with a double major in Elementary Education and Spanish from Western Michigan University and is working on a master’s degree in Education Media and Technology from Eastern Michigan University.
Casey Hans writes and edits this newsletter for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. E-mail her or call 734-994-2090.