So long chalkboard, hello magic pen

The Prague Post

Prague schools invest in high-tech classroom gadgets

Students in Priscilla Moore’s ninth-grade English class at the International School of Prague (ISP) are studying The Odyssey. But, instead of writing a simple book report, the teens will be required to write a summary, act out a scene from one of the books — and podcast it.

Welcome to the 21st century, when laptops and virtual classrooms are quickly replacing chalkboards and notebooks. In an effort to stay on top of these advancements, many campuses around Prague spent last summer upgrading their classrooms with all kinds of high-tech gadgets and gizmos.

Moore’s students are reaping the benefits of a new Apple iBook Wireless Laptop program, which was installed at the school last summer. All ISP faculty members in grades four through 12 were given laptops. And students from the fourth grade on have access to laptops in their classrooms on a rotating basis.

“The students are more motivated by the technology,” Moore said “And, for this assignment, their writing became more important to them, because they have to read and record it.”

The iBook program allows teachers to plan their lessons on their laptops and then project notes, schedules, Web sites and more onto a screen in the classroom.

“For me, everything is more streamlined, I have everything I need moving from class to class,” Moore explained. “And I can put it all on the Intranet for students to access.”

The Intranet is another part of the program. Called “Moodle Stroodle,” it gives students access to the school’s computer labs to download files provided by their teachers or participate in online discussions.

“Stroodle has been huge for me in being able to communicate with my students,” Moore said. “I can grade their work and make comments right online.”

The British International School Prague (BISP) also saw a tech upgrade over the summer, much to the delight of the teachers and students. The entire school was re-networked, and an interactive computer, whiteboard and projector were installed in each classroom.

“Last year, we experimented with a pilot program, trying out different types of hardware,” said Fraser Litster, development and marketing manager for BISP. “The Sahara interactive boards and Lynx software came out tops.”

The system is similar to the iBook program in that teachers can plan lessons and other activities on their computers using the Lynx system, and then project them onto a screen for the whole class. But the Sahara boards allow for true interactivity, with students coming to the front of the room to choose the right answer, highlight words and participate in other ways through the use of a “magic pen” that allows students to “write” on the board.

Class six teacher Chris Hanlon uses the new technology in many ways, through different subjects.

“We can access Web sites, play games. It gets the whole class involved,” he explained. “The students get to come up to the board to participate.”

For example, during a lesson on synonyms, Hanlon projected a copy of text onto the board and asked students to come up and highlight words that meant the same.

“A one-hour literacy lesson used to take an hour to plan,” he said. “Now it takes about 20 minutes, and the quality is much better.”

The English International School, Prague (EISP) is just beginning an interactive study tool for students.

“The Virtual Workspace Program is not a program as such but rather an environment created to allow students to engage in learning outside of the classroom,” said Shelley Leighton, marketing and admissions officer for EISP. “Once it is fully up and running in January, it will provide students with their own personal and secure Web space, which they can access at any time from any Internet-enabled computer.”

EISP is still testing the program, but all students in grades nine through 11 will eventually be involved. Students will be able to store and manage all their coursework and homework online as well as receive online assistance from a group of live mentors. They will also have access to interactive learning materials, discussion forums and chat rooms.

“A distinct advantage the program has for students living in Prague is they are now able to contact other students in the UK, share ideas and, at least for the British students, keep up to date with lifestyle, cultural and other ‘teenage’ issues back home,” Leighton said.

So, are there any drawbacks?

“The initial teacher reaction was negative,” said John Mikton, director of information technology at the ISP. “There were change issues, the program was implemented quickly, and some people felt the process was not inclusive.”

Now, Mikton believes everyone likes the new technology.

“For teachers, the laptop has become their office — no longer are three or four teachers sharing a desktop PC,” he said. “My gut feeling is people feel it’s a positive thing.”

EISP science teacher Paul Colrain said teachers there are approaching the program with “cautious enthusiasm.”

“Teachers do generally see the value in it,” he said. “However, [they] are still learning how to use it themselves and need to dedicate a lot of time to it, which they don’t necessarily have in their busy schedules.”

Students, on the other hand, can’t get enough of it. When Hanlon’s 9- and 10-year-old students at BISP were asked to think back to last year before they had the new boards, many groans were heard.

Comments were the same across the interactive whiteboard: Students have more time to learn and teachers have more time to spend with their students.

“Kids use this stuff all the time,” Hanlon said. “And, for teachers, it allows us to adapt, save and share our lessons. Boring subjects are brought to life.”

Added ISP’s Mikton: “For students, it’s a no-brainer. They have this stuff at home.”