Classroom Innovations: A Great Neck Public Schools Technology Update

by Marc Epstein, district technology director

              In some respects, schools are similar to the way we remember them when we were students and, in other ways, they are almost unrecognizable. Schools are still organized by grade levels and departments, and classrooms still have desks and chairs. Students still get homework, do projects, and take tests. Principals are still school leaders, teachers are still the key ingredient in the classroom, PTAs still contribute to the vibrancy of school life, and parents still provide crucial support through involvement in their children’s education. While these pedagogical constants defy the ravages of time, technological change continues to wash over the educational enterprise, resulting in a school landscape that is constantly evolving.

              When you enter a Great Neck school in 2005, the influences of technology are impossible to ignore and their impact is reflected across all curriculum areas and grade levels. In our elementary schools, classrooms have banks of five networked computers and students have access to library automation systems and Computer Instructional Centers. In our secondary schools, content-specific labs have been created for such areas as foreign language, science probes, electronic music, multimedia, ScanTek, and business. In all schools, students and teachers have access to scanners, digital cameras, digital camcorders, CD and DVD burners, large-screen monitors, and multimedia projectors. District-wide technology services include a StarLab portable planetarium, two videoconferencing systems, a district TV studio, a district Web site, and a Web-based e-mail system. To make all of this possible, computer teachers and teaching assistants provide instruction, staff developers provide technology training, and technicians troubleshoot, repair, and maintain our technology systems.

Technology Developments

              The most exciting technology developments in our schools today are inextricably intertwined with information, communication, and innovation. Here are some examples:

              Digital Video. Many teachers routinely stream or download video clips from a video-on-demand system, sponsored by WLIW, to present to the whole class or to embed in PowerPoint presentations. Teachers and secondary students film and/or edit their own digital video presentations for class projects.

              Monitors/Projectors/Smartboards. The district has an ongoing goal to equip all classrooms with display devices for technology-based instruction. Many elementary and secondary classrooms are already equipped and an additional 60 rooms will have multimedia projectors installed next year. In 16 of these rooms, interactive white boards, known as Smartboards, will also be installed.

              Wireless Services. Students at the Village School use wireless laptops to take notes, do research, and complete assignments. Wireless laptop carts are also available for Special Education instruction in our secondary schools, and two elementary schools that do not have the physical space to open a second computer lab will receive a wireless laptop cart in the fall.

              Web Services. Many students access online resources, such as databases, WorldBook Online, and the School Island test review site, from school or home. Many teachers communicate to parents through our district Web site (http://greatneck.k12.ny.us), which provides updated information to bridge the home-school connection. A transportation search tool is also provided on the site to enable prospective home buyers and real estate agents to determine school zoning and bus information for a particular address.

              Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs). Administrators use PDAs for professional productivity. High school administrators and deans carry Palm PDAs with each student’s schedule.

Innovations

              Even more impressively, things we used to read about in science-fiction books and could barely imagine are becoming, or will soon become, a reality in our district. Three exciting innovations on the near-term horizon are highlighted below:

              Videoconferencing. Videoconferencing enables our schools to conduct a live event between two locations with real-time audio and video over the Internet. Some of our schools have conducted videoconferences with schools in Indiana, Michigan, Texas, and Alaska, and have connected to sites such as Pennsbury Manor to study colonial times and the Cleveland Museum of Art to study Spanish painters and paintings. These virtual field trips will no doubt expand in the coming years to provide students with educational experiences they would not otherwise be able to have.

              New Student Information System. During the 2005&endash;2006 school year, the district will be implementing Infinite Campus, a new student information system. Infinite Campus is an elegant, powerful, integrated Web-based system for managing enrollment, census, scheduling, attendance, grade reporting, assessment, state reporting, and other student information. It includes a cube analysis tool for data-driven decision-making, a communications server for contacting parents, a parent portal for Internet-based access, an electronic message center for school announcements, an electronic attendance system, and an electronic grade book, among other features.

              Energy and Communications Performance Contract. The school district is in the process of receiving proposals to provide significant energy and communications upgrades to our schools on a performance contract basis. This means that the energy and communications savings will fund the upgrades resulting in a budget neutral initiative. Some of the energy upgrades may include new energy-efficient boilers, lighting, windows, energy monitoring, environmental control, and solar panels. Some of the communications upgrades may include a fiberoptic Wide Area Network, fiber-based Internet access, a new digital phone system, and a school notification system to better inform parents about school activities and emergency situations.

              For more than a decade, it has been a priority of the Great Neck Public Schools to expand its technology program to meet the instructional needs of students and staff. The tangible benefits of this priority are evident in classrooms throughout the district. What will the classroom of the future look like? The innovations described above are helping to shape the answer to that question right now.

# # #