High-Tech with a Green Touch

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When they wave goodbye to their students this summer, teachers and administrators at Upland Unified School District in Upland, CA, will know that some of their classrooms will look very different when they return in the fall. That's because the district is planning to update the K-12 classrooms at its 14 schools with state-of-the-art technology like interactive whiteboards, microphone systems, laptop computers, wireless Internet access, wireless printers, and LCD projectors.

Michelle Wavering, instructional coordinator of educational technology for the district, said the upgrade will begin in June and will take about four years to complete. The impetus, she added, is to bring "teachers and students into a 21st century learning environment."

"We recognize how engaged students get when technology is integrated into the classroom, and the way in which that technology changes the teaching approach and takes it to a more rigorous level," said Wavering. To bring those results into its own classrooms, the district is tapping the Measure K bond passed by voters in February 2008.

"Initially, we discussed a district-wide foundation to raise money for a fleet of buses that would introduce technology at individual schools," said Wavering. Then the district came up with a better idea: rely on the reputation that it had established five years earlier when it "did a good job of spending bond money" designated for facility upgrades.

"The improvements were visible to the community at large," said Wavering. "As a result, the community got behind another bond that was focused on technology and classroom upgrades."

The Upland Unified School District launched its technological upgrade by using money left over from the previous Measure K bond to gut and renovate a high school room, turning it into a 21st century learning environment. That prototype was used to figure out exactly what tech tools and adaptations would be made district-wide, and which would be discarded.

Now, the same process will take place at all of the district schools. "We're going in and completely gutting the rooms, redoing the walls, flooring, and ceilings and integrating technology into them," said Wavering. Along the way, the classrooms will also become more environmentally friendly. For example, skylights will be installed on every classroom roof, and can be adjusted to control the amount of natural light that enters the room.

In return, the school district not only anticipates a significant savings on its electricity bill, but also expects the students to "perform better in class then they would working under fluorescent lighting," said Wavering. The district is also forgoing standard indoor/outdoor carpeting (typically layered on top of the concrete slabs or on the wooden floors of portable classrooms). Instead, it will use a higher-grade, rubber-backed indoor/outdoor carpeting that prevents dirt from settling into the floor covering.

"The standard option isn't good for our asthmatic students because it traps the dirt," said Wavering. "We tried out a few different types of tile in our new elementary classrooms last year, but they turned out to be cost-prohibitive and couldn't withstand much wear-and-tear. We kept looking and found a better solution."

The rooms' designs are also being updated with new paint, furniture and portable storage units.

Once those structural issues are completed, the new technology will make its debut. At the heart of each room will be an integrated system that controls all of the technology in the room by simply pressing a push-button pad. "They can push a button and the LCD projector will come on," Wavering explained, "and then push another to make the screen go black. It's a very user-friendly system."

To select the technology that it would ultimately install in the classrooms, the district chose one high school and "rotated" the innovations through its English, math, social studies, and science departments. "We were looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each of the four core academic areas," said Wavering.

Not all of the technology that the district tested out will find its way into the upgraded classrooms. While they made an attractive addition to the classroom, for example, the 50-inch plasma TVs won't be in any of the rooms come fall 2009. "We decided that the TVs were pretty much just a waste, other than for teachers to post homework on," said Wavering. Also off the list is the second LCD projector that the district originally intended for use with the rooms' pull-down screens.

"We realized that the teachers were using the interactive boards to display everything to students," said Wavering, "so we pulled the second LCD projector." One tech tool that did make the cut is a voice enhancement system for teachers to use in the classroom. The system includes a microphone for the instructor, and another for students to pass around during question-and-answer sessions.

"This voice enhancement system ensures that everyone hears the teacher at the same volume level," said Wavering, who added that the biggest challenge for the district has been determining which technologies and upgrades are viable and which are not. That's where the "testing" phase proved especially valuable.

"Then," she said, "we had to come to a consensus among all of our different schools before we can sit down and start ordering everything." The upgrade will start this summer, with 143 classrooms expected to be finished before the 2009-10 school year starts. "We'll touch half of the elementary school classrooms, half of the junior high school and a quarter of the high school by the end of the summer."

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at bridgetmc@earthlink.net.

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