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Teaching with technology
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With each new school Newton County adds to its every growing school system, new cutting edge technology is ushering in creative teaching methods. The county's newest school, South Salem Elementary, is poised to take interactive education to a new level.

South Salem opened its doors Aug 1 with 229 computers and 52 Promethean Activboards. With 63 classrooms, roughly 82 percent are equipped with the interactive white boards. Each board and accompanying software will cost the county $4,175 for a total of $217,100. If you ask the teachers, that's money well spent.

"I love them," first grade teacher Perri Walden said. "These Activboards will really change they way we interact and teach students."

The Activboards are basically a large computer touchscreen that teachers can display interactive e programs for students to use. The wireless technology behind them enables teachers to create customized text and images for lessons, quizzes and tests. The boards can also be used to broadcast web, video and audio content.

Teachers control the programs on the screen through their desktop computers. Depending on subjects, teachers can use many different programs for the appropriate material. The idea is for to capture the student's attention long enough to give effective lessons.

Walden, who came over from Fairview Elementary primarily because of the technology, took a spelling lesson she has done in the past and converted it onto the Activboard. The lesson, in its raw form, saw students spread out a set amount of laminated letters on their desk while Walden gave them words to spell. Now, she teaches the same lesson but has it overhead. Even the vowels, which she cuts out of red paper before laminating, are highlighted in red and look the same on the Activboard.

While the small groups of students work with their letters in front of them individually, she calls one forward to spell the word on the board. Using a small stylus pen, the child drags the letters and places them in the proper order to spell the words.

The entire Promethean interactive product line can work with several optional accessories. The interactive pen that came with the board works well for teachers and taller students, but Walden finds herself either assisting the children with a boost or using a stool.

"You don't expect knowing what you need until you get in here and start using them," Walden said about the Promethean boards. "They have wands you can get for the boards as well, but it'll come."

The wands Walden are referring to are the interactive Activwands which retail for around $94. The 21 inch wands would give students like first grader Emily Starr the extra reach needed to use the board easier. However, the wands merely scratch the surface. Oneclass is a software package that can be downloaded to laptops that students could use during class time. Students would be able to participate with each lesson on computers and teachers could use web-based programs for additional instruction. The software would also allow teachers to highlight student's work over head for discussion and each student would be able to submit answers and work instantaneously.

Newton County schools currently have 81 interactive white boards throughout the system but the addition of such a large number in one school raised concern during a recent Board of Education meeting questioning whether the technology infrastructure is ready to support the staff.

Those questions were answered as teachers took classes over the summer that familiarized them with the new system and the accompanying software.

With all that new technology in a new, untested structure, one might think the school experienced some growing pains. But South Salem Principal Holly Dubois, who left her post at Fairview to move to the new school, said everything went well over the first week.

"Over my whole career, this has been by far the smoothest first week I've ever had," Dubois said. "Other than some parking issues, which really affected teachers more than parents, we have had no problems."