Champaign school's computer lab gets overhaul
CHAMPAIGN – The students in Kenwood Elementary School's computer lab last week were working on new computers, in a spruced-up room with new carpet, new lights and a fresh coat of paint.
Kenwood Librarian Todd Lash was using a new LCD projector to show students a Web site and direct them where to go on the site to learn about online guestbooks. He'll soon have access to other new technology to engage students.
He said the renovated lab is a vast improvement.
"Maybe half (the computers) at any time were not working. There were wires everywhere. It was just a much grungier room," Lash said. "Sometimes I had two or three kids on one computer. (The lab) was really difficult to use, and consequently not many people used it."
The lab now has the new computers and LCD projector, a retractable screen, and a Numonics board – an interactive whiteboard that allows teachers to use an electronic pen to open a Web site, move images around, and write on the board.
The school district bought the new computers in the lab, but the other improvements came through donations by local developer Peter Fox. The school also has 20 new tablet computers and wireless technology in two places in the building, and a freestanding Numonics whiteboard, courtesy of Fox. He paid for the makeover of the room – which includes built-in cabinets and a new wall built to separate the computer lab from the literacy library – in honor of former Kenwood Principal Pat Lewis, who retired last spring.
"I think this will bring us more into the 21st century in terms of being technology-literate," said Kenwood Principal Murial Bondurant. "We want to make sure our students are capable of using technology and knowing what it means."
Bondurant said she wants the technology to help teachers present educational information and connect their use of technology to academic achievement by students.
Pamela Zachay, a literacy specialist at Kenwood and chairwoman of its newly formed technology committee, said students are excited to use the lab.
"When they know the lab is involved, they are extremely motivated," she said.
She plans to have students e-mail their "reading buddies" about books they are reading together, and some students may start conversing about books via e-mail with those at another Champaign school. She hopes to use Web sites with book reviews by children to promote discussions about books, and interactive Web sites to help children with reading.
Zachay also wants students to learn keyboarding and how to use word processing programs and PowerPoint earlier, to help prepare them for college.
She said the improved technology lab has increased the interest of teachers in using technology as well. While the school had a projector on a cart that teachers could use, "When you're in a classroom and you've got 20 children, you don't have time to go check out the cart, bring it to your room and set it up," Zachay said. "Now you walk in, you press a button on the remote, your screen's ready and off you go."
The school's technology committee was trained on use of the Numonics whiteboard last week, and they'll train classroom teachers. Lash is looking forward to using the technology.
"It allows you to make your lessons really, really interactive," he said. "You can take the things you would use a chalkboard or an overhead for, and make them much more interactive. You're going to engage kids a ton more.
"You're teaching technology skills but ideally you're teaching curriculum too," he continued. "You reach different kids in different ways. If you can get a kid up there using the pen, dragging things around, it's going to be a lot more powerful. The more kids are involved, the more buy-in there is."