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HPS classrooms go high tech

Havre Public Schools assistant superintendent Dennis Parman has seen the future. Imagine a classroom in which a teacher tells students to turn to page 56, and instead of the rustling of pages, there is only the clicking of keys. A prototype of a new e-book - like a laptop computer - that was on display at a technology conference Parman attended in Miami would do just that. Five major textbook companies have committed to provide textbooks in that format, he said.

That may be a long way off, but the district's technology programs are constantly moving. This year the district has introduced three new multimedia classrooms, each complete with a DVD player, a VCR, and an LCD projector mounted on the ceiling and surround sound. It has also introduced a new laptop computer lab in Sunnyside Intermediate School. Students now use a computer-based reading program to keep them reading at grade level, and teachers keep grades in electronic grade books.

While Parman and his team of about 20 administrators, teachers and staff meet every few weeks this year to lay out a plan for the district's technology curriculum, teachers are busy finding ways to keep their subjects fresh and their students interested.

History teacher Jim Magera started using computers in the classroom about five years ago, when he scanned some of Charles M. Russell's paintings to use for a quiz. He never looked back.

Now he uses the computer-based projector in his multimedia classroom on a daily basis. His lectures are replete with photographs of local landmarks, maps of mountain ranges and drainages, and video and sound clips.

"The more senses you can use, the better you retain it," Magera said, adding that students learn in different ways. "That's what I try to do in class is vary the approach, so I'm reaching every student somewhere in the lesson."

It takes more time to gather the materials and learn how to use the technology, he said, but it's better for his students.

And it's more than just a way to keep students' attention.

Magera remembers a conversation he had with his grown son five or six years ago. His son, who was working for Procter & Gamble Co. at the time, was telling Magera what his company was looking for: people who know how to make a product and work with others.

Since then, Magera's classes have leaned away from pen-and-paper tests in favor of large, technology-driven projects, often done by teams of students working together.

Instead of taking a semester test, students in his Indian culture class make a computer-based slide presentation on an Indian tribe of their choice.

"They have ownership of the product; they're proud of what they've done; they've gotten new skills. But a lot of history is going on here," he said. "Those that have skills of this nature have a better chance of being employed."

In his advanced historical perspectives class being offered this semester for the first time, students are working on a documentary about Havre Beneath the Streets. They will do the research, write the script, film it with a digital camera and edit the documentary.

For students like Joe Herman, 17, the software aspect of the class was a big draw. Herman is interested in a career as a computer programmer or network administrator.

"I like computers and I also like history," he said as he used the mouse to remove the glare in a digital photo of the Fountain Barber Shop.

For others the computers are more incidental. Junior Megan Hickman, 16, was a tour guide at Havre Beneath the Streets and wanted to learn more. She had never used the PowerPoint program she is using in the class to put together the script for the documentary.

The presentation may be technological, but the research she did for the script is not. When it comes to gathering information itself, Magera is wary of online sources. Most of the research for his students' projects is done in the library, in books.

"I think we have to be very cautious," Magera said. "Students go to the Web and they think it's accurate. A lot of it's not."

Cross the divide between social science and hard science, and similar technology is showing up in HPS science classes.

Students in Dave Evans' seventh-grade life science classes occasionally use strips of litmus paper like their parents did in labs, but new computers hook up to electronic probes that measure pH and temperatures. The computers also hook up to digital scales.

A goose-necked desk lamp on Evans' table turns out to be not a lamp at all, but a flex-cam with a microphone attached. It hooks into the television mounted on the wall. Evans can use it to show his pupils a picture of Siamese twins or show them minerals up close. He can even hook it up to a microscope so his students can look at a wriggling paramecium at the same time.

While it takes him an investment of time to learn how to use these new things, it saves time in class. Pictures no longer need to be passed around the room.

"It takes you outside of the book," said Evans, who also teaches the media class that produces the school's weekly 15-minute television news program. He likes it that way. For a generation of students brought up on video games, he said, he has to keep it fast-paced and entertaining.

"For us to have a lesson that captures their interest for very long, we have to use some of those things," he said.

HMS industrial arts teacher Tim Hagen remembers when he used to lug about 75 hand tools into his classroom and pass them around so his pupils would learn them. Now he has taken pictures of the tools with a digital camera and does the same lecture by projector. At home, his students can go into his Web page and quiz themselves on the tools.

"It took me many hours to put the Web page up, but now that it's up, it's pretty easy to maintain," he said.

In December Hagen and HHS industrial arts teacher Chris Comp went to a workshop in Billings about Pro/DESKTOP, a program used by companies like the Harley-Davidson Motor Co. to make 3-D designs. After three days of instruction, they brought back about $30,000 worth of software that can be used on up to 300 computers, for free. Parametric Technology Corp., which makes the program, has been giving the software to some schools to encourage students to go into technology-related fields, Hagen said.

Hagen gives his students a set of dimensions for an object and they use the software to draw it, anything from a clamp with multiple parts to a skateboard ramp. He uses the program before moving to two-dimensional drafting, on the computer and on paper, so students learn to visualize the objects represented on complex blueprints.

At the high school, he said, students will be able to go further with software like this. Right now he wants his students to get some experience with it.

"In my opinion, this is kind of a starting point. If that's what they choose to do, there's avenues in high school that take them in that direction."

The only problem, Hagen said, is that with high demand for the two computer labs in the building, he has to reserve spots a quarter or two in advance to ensure his students can use one. Someday, he said, he'd like to have enough computers in his room for all of his students.

Teachers who are less tech-savvy learn from the ones who are.

Dustin Kraske, who teaches life science, earth science and U.S. history at the middle school, has one of the new multimedia classrooms. He now projects his notes onto a large screen instead of writing them on the board, and livens things up with an occasional DVD.

"Instead of a 32-inch screen, it's five feet by five feet and it's right there," said Kraske, who said he rarely uses the board anymore.

He hopes next year he can learn to add video and sound clips to his notes - the kinds of things Magera does now. It's good to have so many people with that knowledge just a phone call away, he said.

In a technology survey the district gave this fall, about 73 percent of the faculty and staff who responded indicated they need additional technology training in their areas.

Jackie Rygg, instruction technology specialist for Havre Public Schools, was hired four years ago to help teachers and students use technology. Her teacher tool site, which contains resources for teachers in every grade, received more than 100 hits a day last year, she said.

Rygg remembers four years ago teaching a former HPS coach to double-click a mouse. Teachers have vastly improved their skills since then, but some still struggle, she said.

"In the last four years we've come a long way and we still have a lot more we can do."

Parman said the district doesn't have to teach basic computer skills anymore because almost all the teachers have them. Now, he said, Rygg is beginning to focus more on training small groups and individuals based on their needs. The greatest challenge is to learn what those needs are.

"We did that survey and got a sense of what they wanted," Parman said. This spring the district will send out another survey to find how those needs have changed.

It's like shoveling snow when you know the flakes will never stop falling.

"It's always going to be an issue," Parman said. "We're never going to reach the point where we say everybody's trained and we don't have to do that anymore."


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