Tricounty News

Technology aids teachers in new ways

By Jean Doran Matua

Remember the days in school when having a substitute teacher meant a goof-off day? Or maybe, like me, you felt frustrated because you still had lots to learn but the substitute didn't really teach anything?

Missing a day of teaching can't always be avoided, so two teachers at Kimball Area High School have found solutions.

Monday this week, Jason Mortenson couldn't be at school. But his math classes had a lot to work on, especially with this being finals week. There was a substitute teacher in the classroom, but Mortenson was there too, in a sense, teaching the lessons of the day.

Knowing he would not be at school that day, Mortenson had recorded the lessons on a special pen that records what he wrote and what he spoke as he wrote it. It requires the special pen, and a special notebook. Each lesson could then be uploaded from the pen to a computer, and played on the computer through a projector onto the whiteboard in the classroom, just as he wrote and spoke it.

Students saw Mortenson writing math problems and solutions on the board, as they heard him describe what he was doing and why. Just as if he were there. The lesson I observed was about 20 minutes long, but they can be of any length.

The students in the class, a college-level math class, seemed pleased with the lesson. The only difference between the pencast and having Mr. Mortenson there in-person was that they couldn't ask him questions. But the lesson can be paused, portions repeated, and zoomed in or out, at the control of the substitute teacher.

Another technology being used in Kimball is "screencasting." A teacher can record a series of actions on a computer screen, and upload the recording to a school computer to be played for students later.

Nancy Bonnifield, business teacher and curriculum director, has used screencasting to record lessons for her classes when she's had to stay home with sick children.

Screencasting is a free program, and it's free to use. The special pen and notebooks for pencasting cost around $150, an expense that Mortenson paid himself. There is no cost to the school district, then, to use these innovative technologies.