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Teachers venture on Technology Safari

On professional education day, 125 educators choose to embark on a journey among wireless computers, digital cameras and other tools.

By LORRI HELFAND

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 21, 2001


On professional education day, 125 educators choose to embark on a journey among wireless computers, digital cameras and other tools.

PALM HARBOR -- Pinellas County educators went on a quest for knowledge Friday. Some toured familiar ground, some explored uncharted territory and others braved a "technology safari."

For professional education day, 125 educators attended a technology workshop. During the school district's seven-hour "Technology Safari," the group learned about wireless computers, digital cameras, scanners and a host of other tools.

Mary Corbett, a Pinellas County Schools area specialist, said that educators who selected the Technology Safari were heroic to do so.

"People who chose this were willing to take a chance, willing to try something new, willing to venture out of their safe haven," she said. It also takes a lot of nerve to use technology in the classroom, she said, especially when something goes wrong.

Judy Ambler, the district's supervisor of instructional technology, said the seminar was necessary to keep educators abreast of technological advances. In the spring, she called Cindy Seletos, Apple Computer's Pinellas account executive, and asked her for help. After months of brainstorming, they came up with a theme and agenda for the largest hands-on technology workshop ever attempted in the district.

Coinciding with the event's theme, "Our Town," teachers at the seminar were encouraged to create mini-lessons about Palm Harbor. That way, Ambler said, they could see how technology could be used as a tool in the classroom.

Unlike the "old days" when students learned how to use computers, now the focus is on using computers to learn other subjects, Corbett said. "Now we want them to use it as a tool to help them to work a lot better and have employable skills. There's real learning going on here. Not technology for technology's sake," she said.

The day began with a seminar overview, where educators viewed video projects, Web pages and other examples of how technology could be used in the classroom.

Next, the group was split into teams of six educators each. All were headed by a school technology coordinator or other educator with technology experience.

Then, educators went on a "jungle stroll," which was a tour of various technology tools and programs. With 10-minute stops, they had the opportunity to visit almost half of the 14 stations.

One station demonstrated Probeware, scientific instruments that hook up to a portable computer. There, teachers got to fiddle with a thermometer and a motion detector, which graphed movement changes.

Another popular station exhibited a microscope tool, which lets users take videos or stills of magnified objects.

"Elementary teachers are going wild over this," said Adair Caperton, an Apple Computer development specialist who manned the microscope station.

Educators also got basic introductions to software for making presentations, planning projects and creating Web sites.

Midway through the workshop, participants had an hour and a half to squeeze in a lunch break and field experience. After grabbing a bite, each group worked on its final presentation. Some designed Web pages, other participants visited historical sites and some videotaped establishments in downtown Palm Harbor.

At the end of the seminar, groups displayed their projects.

Educators who took part in the safari came for a variety of reasons. Some had a lot of technology experience and others had little.

Sherry Detraz, a technology coordinator at Rawlings Elementary School, came to learn about the hottest trends in technology. "It helps me to be able to see new and different things and take them back to my school," she said.

Rebecca Ransom, a social worker at Paul B. Stephens Exceptional Student Education Center, said she's not computer savvy and wanted to catch up with some of her peers.

Many ended the day with a boost in confidence, and all found ways to stimulate students, Ambler said.

"We have wonderful teachers around the district, but not every day is exciting, and this can really turn kids on," she said. "When they're learning about using technology, we're giving them skills they can use for a lifetime."

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