Shaniya Abraham and Khloe Berry paid no attention to their noisy classmates as their tiny fingers slid a bunch of letters around on a whiteboard at the front of the classroom.
“They’re identifying their letters and putting them in alphabetical order,” said Tonya Wells, who teaches 4-year-olds at Edisto Primary School. The students are also learning the beginning sounds of words as they learn to use a new interactive projector system or panel and the Nexus tablets recently put in place at Edisto, Wells said. They love playing the games, she said.
Across the building, Amy Thompson is leading her second-graders through the steps to log into the science lesson on their Nexus tablets.
“Open up your tablet to your home page,” she said. “Look for ‘pebble, go’ — it’s in a blue box — and click on it. Pick ‘life sciences’ and click on ‘living or nonliving.’ “
The lesson will have a number of tabs, Thompson told the class. Go through each tab. Look at each one and answer the questions, she told them.
Thompson continued, “After the tabs, the lesson has two videos without sound. Mash the play button and watch each one.”
“Next week, you’ll be studying living things. The answers to all your work will come from the lesson on your tablet,” she told the class.
Only a few children needed help with their tablets, and once the lesson was completed, Thompson told the students to put their tablets to sleep. They followed her instructions without problems.
The same implementation of new technology that is going on at Edisto Primary School is going on at all schools in Orangeburg Consolidated School District Four as part of a four-year, $4.4 million technology and safety update.
During this school year, all teachers received a new laptop and 233 computers were installed in the district’s labs and media centers as well as in the offices of guidance counselors, bookkeepers, secretaries, attendance clerks and nurses.
In addition, interactive projector systems that can make any board interactive have been placed in every classroom in the district. OCSD 4 is also in the process of installing a wireless system at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, Branchville and Edisto Primary schools and six tablets in every K-4 through grade two in the district.
Once the wireless system is complete, students will be able to interact with the whiteboard through their tablets, Thompson said. But at this time, students can go up to the whiteboard and do lessons or play games on it, she said.
After students broke up to work into small groups, several of them went to the board and played a “number bond” game. With classmates giving him suggestions, Colby Franks used his finger to move numbers into place that equaled 10 when added together.
Thompson said her students love the new technology and are making rapid strides in learning. They’re also very responsible with their tablets, she said.
The rules for handling them are posted on the wall, she said. If students don’t follow the rules, they have to face the consequences, Thompson said. They can lose the privilege of using their tablets for a specific period of time, but usually, they seem to be right on task, she said.
One of the students, Breeley Felkel, explained the rules to The Times and Democrat reporter.
“You lightly touch it (the screen),” she said. “If we touch it hard, it might break. Don’t hold it with one hand. Don’t drop it. If Mrs. Thompson tells you to get on something and you don’t, you’ll lose it for about two days or a week.”
But Thompson’s class is “really cool,” Breeley said. “She has a tablet and we all have tablets, so whatever is on her tablet and the board, we can answer on our tablet.”
Jayden McCoy demonstrates a game he plays on his tablet. The program shows time on a clock and offers three different possible times for him to choose from. Invariably, Jayden gets them right even though some are as difficult as 35 minutes past the hour.
This is his favorite thing about the tablet, he said. But he also noted it makes it “really easy” for him to learn other things.
“I do extra math,” Jayden said. “It gives you a problem and you answer it. But if you take too long, the tablet gives you the answer.”
The tablet lets him work on math, money, geometry and time, he said.
Even though Jayden shares a tablet with another student, his classmate can’t sign in on his work, he said.
“You’ve got something called IXL,” he said. “It’s has a keyboard and you sign in with a password. If somebody uses my tablet, it won’t open up my work. It opens up theirs.”
Thompson and another teacher share tablets so that every child in their classes has his or her own tablet during class. This acts like a home network where each child has a password and only he or she can go into their “bubble,” she said.
Both Thompson and Wells say the new technology has revolutionized their teaching.
Wells said her students are learning faster and in more depth, and even at the age of 4, they’re beginning to take responsibility for their own learning.
Before the district put the new technology in place, students would be coming to her for help constantly as she worked with a small group. But now, they can work very well on their own, she said.
“I can be sitting at my table with my small group and my children can interact with the panel by themselves,” Wells said. “I don’t have to stand there and say, ‘Oh, do this; do that.’ “
Thompson says her second graders are learning at a faster and more advanced rate with the new technology.
There are many advantages with the new system, she said. For example, her computer is connected with the students’ tablets. When the kids are working, it takes only a glance at her laptop to see which students are having problems with specific questions. This kind of immediate feedback is a great benefit to students, Thompson said.
“Right now, I’m looking at this particular website that they’re on. They’re answering questions for me right now, and I’m getting automatic feedback. I can pull groups in or I can work with them individually to reach children that might be struggling with something,” she said.
Principal Susan Zeigler reported that all 33 classrooms at Edisto Primary have at least six tablets and the interactive projector system was put in every classroom after Christmas.
That’s an increase from just six rooms with tablets last year, she said. All the teachers are trained in using the new technology, Zeigler noted.
“It’s exciting to go around and see the innovative ways teachers are using it,” she said. “The sky is the limit to what you can do when you have interactive projectors, tablets and all that.”
The district is in the process of installing wireless access at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, Branchville and Edisto Primary, said Julie Christopher, director of technology.
“We will be starting at the other schools in the summer and hope to complete them by the end of the next school year,” she said.
The rate at which the work is completed depends on when federal e-rate funding comes in, Christopher said.
This year, six tablets are being placed in all the district’s K-4 through second grade classrooms, she said. By the end of the 2016 calendar year, the district will place Chromebooks in the hands of every student in grades 9-12. The following year, students in grades 3-8 will get Chromebooks.
Also on the docket for 2016 is a new integrated phone and intercom system, Christopher said.