Cullman City Hosts Technology Visit
By Denise L. Berkhalter
Each beat commands the heart to inflate and deflate as it delivers lifeblood to every cell in the human body. Spin the heart around for a closer look at each chamber, the aorta, the awesome construction. This three-dimensional splendor is what students in Cullman City Schools may one day enjoy as they learn about heart anatomy.
Wallace State Community College and its partners are working on a grant-funded project to develop 3D and 4D learning objects meant to better engage a generation of students practically born with digital devices in their hands. A two-week Educator in Residence Program will expose K-12 faculty to the latest simulation-based learning technologies used to develop 3D and 4D learning objects. Students will be able to view, touch, hear, interact with and sense reactions to digital objects in real time. Educators will receive a stipend of $500 per week to participate.
Wallace State and Cullman City Schools demonstrated the cutting-edge technology to more than 40 educators from as nearby as Jefferson County to as far away as Nova Scotia, Canada. The Feb. 29-March 2 showcase was part of the National School Boards Association’s 2012 Education Technology Site Visits. Cullman is one of only four sites chosen for this year’s visits and the only one in Alabama. The event highlighted the state’s distance learning program and reading initiative. There were school tours that showed off the system’s laptop initiative, digital piano lab, project-based learning program and use of technology in physical education and with English language learners.
“Through NSBA’s technology site visits, school leaders are able to see education technology innovation in action and develop their own successful initiatives,” said Ann Flynn, NSBA’s director of education technology. “This is a great opportunity for school leaders to witness classrooms where curriculum goals drive technology decisions.”
Flynn took off her 3D glasses and shared just how impressed she was with the visit to a school system that serves 3,000 students in five schools in downhome Alabama. It was the first time, she said, that multi-dimensional teaching tools had been shown at a technology site visit.
“This is not just about the wow factor,” she said. “We all learn in 3D. This comes naturally to students, so think how useful it would be for them to identify, label, rotate and mouse over the skeleton or heart when they’re learning human anatomy. This engages them in the content, and when learners are engaged, they retain the content better.”
Flynn also said Cullman proves successful integration of technology in education is about the “people, not the stuff.” Kenneth Griswold, the instructional technology specialist for Tupelo Public Schools in Mississippi, agreed.
“We’ve seen clear evidence of where they’ve built capacity among the principals, teachers, students and community and developed a culture of support for technology,” he said.
Gregg MacKinnon of Canada’s Halifax Regional School System said his schools are in year one of a one-to-one laptop initiative for students. Cullman is in year six and served as proof to him “that we’re on the right track.” For MacKinnon, the “best moment, being a principal, was a conversation I had with a student about how beneficial this has been.”
Cullman Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris wrapped the visit up after using a bit of technology herself to dismiss school early in anticipation of stormy weather. She was happy to hear that the culture of support for technology in Cullman shone through.
“We spent a whole year getting stakeholder support. You know, my job is to provide the vision, but then I have to go out there and sell it, “Harris said. “Our teachers want to learn new methods of instruction, and our principals want to lead. They need to know that we value their ideas and want them engaged in the process, so we can walk together toward the future.”
Reprinted by permission Denise L. Berkhalter