VALPARAISO | Technology was all over Stephanie Truitt's fourth-grade classroom Friday. And so were the students.
Some stood doing math at an interactive white board. Others took turns at a computer adding lines to a cumulative story on Truitt's Twitter account. Most were at wireless netbook computers, individually and in clusters, writing, calculating or researching.
Truitt moved among the groups, answering questions and providing direction. But largely she watched and let the students learn.
Creating such a tech-aided classroom requires more upfront work, the Flint Lake Elementary School teacher said. But the result is students who are on task, actively engaged and excited.
"I feel I'm being a more effective teacher," she said.
Truitt's classroom is the face and the future of technology in Valparaiso Community Schools.
Using Moodle, a free online course management system for educators, Truitt delivers instruction, responds to student work, sets up student peer interaction and assesses student performance. Each student in the district has an e-locker where he or she stores reports, worksheets, blog entries, presentations and other work. The program automatically enters grades into Truitt's grade book.
Over the summer, the district purchased 100 interactive whiteboards, 825 wireless student netbooks and 120 laptop computers for teachers, district technology director Bill Moran said.
Each elementary school has two computer carts carrying 30 netbooks each that can go to classrooms as needed, in addition to the fixed computer labs the district hopes to replace.
The eventual goal is to make every building wireless and have one laptop for every student in the district, Moran said.
The use of technology is important, Moran said, because studies have indicated it engages students more than bound books and results in greater time on task. Writing and reading test scores rise with its use, he said. It also frees teachers up from paperwork to focus on more effective instruction.
For her students to get the most out of the technology, Truitt teaches safe networking skills, computer courtesy and assessment of website validity.
"I have to create critical thinkers," she said.
But she blends the technology with more traditional, hands-on school activities. The challenge is finding the best balance, she said.
Using the technology expanded the range of learning beyond traditional sources for a report on Komodo dragons for fifth-grader Allie Gatz, who was in Truitt's class last year.
"Komodo dragons aren't like puppies," Allie said. "There aren't any books on them in the library."