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With new technology, first graders can tour the globe with touch of a finger

WESTERLY — During the school year, first-graders at State Street Elementary School can tour the world if they want to — with the touch of a finger.

In Kristen Federico’s class, students also will be able to use eBooks together and receive real-time feedback after tests.

“We’re bringing lessons alive for the kids,” Federico, a first-grade teacher, said. “If we’re doing a lesson on animals and some of the students have never been to a zoo, we can see the (National Zoo in Washington, D.C.) in real-time. It’s just going to make a world of difference.”

In her quest to make her classroom and the entire first-grade wing at State Street a technology-rich environment, Federico proposed and received an interactive whiteboard system she will begin using when school starts Aug. 28. The system, which includes a large whiteboard that is activated by the touch of a pen or finger and a student response system, enables teachers to use technology to captivate students in every subject from math to reading to social studies.

For example, clicking on an Earth cam can bring students a live video shot of almost anywhere in the world, like Times Square in New York City or Niagara Falls.

“We’re leaping into the future from a chalkboard to this,” Federico said. “It’s going to be a lot easier for me, too. Last year for one lesson I was using a projector, an Elmo, a laptop and iPad all at the same time. Now, I have one piece of equipment.”

Federico applied for a grant from the Westerly Education Endowment Fund for the system and was awarded it two weeks ago. The fund is a nonprofit whose goal is to enhance the educational experience for Westerly public school students. Since its inception in 2001, it has awarded nearly $200,000 to various programs in all schools and funded about 175 grants.

The interactive smart board system is just one technology-based grant that the endowment has awarded. Last year, it supplied money for the purchase of iPads for Westerly Middle School.

“This type of technology keeps students engaged,” Superintendent Roy Seitsinger Jr. said. “It’s amazing, and redirecting the way teaching happens.”

Federico’s system, which she said the three other first-grade classes at State Street will share, is one of a handful the district has purchased for a pilot program that is beginning this year at the elementary school level. Mark Lamson, director of technology for Westerly Public Schools, said the systems will be used at State Street for the first part of the school year. Later, they will be used in the district’s other three elementary schools with the exception of Federico’s, which will stay at State Street.

Lamson said Westerly High School has between 80 and 85 interactive whiteboard systems, while the middle school has about nine. “It’s an effective way of teaching kids,” Lamson said. “Instruction happens with the touch of a human finger.”

Lamson said a single system can cost anywhere from $4,000 to $5,000, depending on the need for various components. The technology allows students to use remote control devices to answer questions.

“This technology can be integrated into every subject,” Federico said. “With the student response systems that each student will have, they will be able to respond to a question without being embarrassed or worry that it’s wrong. They will be able to see the results of assessments in real time, and we’ll be able to gauge a student’s understanding at that time, too.”

“It’s so cool.”

Added Assistant Superintendent Alicia Storey: “It also will reinforce listening and following directions.”

Officials believe technology like the interactive whiteboard systems will make Westerly a premier school district in New England.

“Instead of kids standing around one computer screen in a lab, they’re able to all do it at the same time,” said Fran Prescott, co-chairwoman of the endowment fund’s grant committee. “It’s giving all kids global access.”

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