Fifth-grade students in Linda Laneback’s reading class at Scales Elementary School recently read “Satchmo’s Blues” by Alan Schroeder, a storybook biography of Louis Armstrong’s childhood.
After they finished the book, they used GarageBand, software that allows the user to create music or a podcast, to experiment with making their own jazz music.
To increase their knowledge of the history of jazz they embarked on a “webquest,” a sort of virtual scavenger hunt, looking for information on Web sites about jazz musicians and milestones of the genre.
“It’s a fun thing for them to do to take some time and go in depth,” Laneback said. “We take them back in time into what was going on in the world where this story is set.”
What the students don’t always recognize, amid all the fun, is that they’re not just learning to read, they’re getting a pretty advanced social studies lesson and introduction to music. And they’re becoming increasingly technologically literate in the process.
The goal at Scales is to integrate technology into the lessons at every opportunity, said principal David Diokno.
Beginning this fall, students will have even more opportunities to use technology when the Tempe Elementary School District opens the new Scales Technology Academy, a $13 million facility that was built using money from the $65 million bond approved by Tempe voters in 2005.
It’s the first of about a dozen projects that are part of the bond, and it’s scheduled to be finished in just a few weeks.
Scales Technology Academy will be the first school in the state, and one of few nationally, that will sport one-to-one technology from kindergarten through fifth grade, said Diokno.
That means every child will have a laptop computer at the school and teachers will have interactive whiteboards, document cameras and audio enhancement in every classroom. Now students and teacher share equipment.
The whole campus and perimeter will be wireless, “which will support anytime, anywhere student learning,” Diokno said.
The district is exploring the use of additional technology, such as iPods and digital response pads.
Scales has between 75 percent and 80 percent of students receiving free and reduced-price lunches, meaning that many of them come from low-income families. Diokno said that many students don’t have access to computers and other technology outside of school and that the new school will open the door to resources they could not reach before — like access to online museums and libraries.
Technology also allows teachers to keep the attention of the many different students in each classroom.
Kindergartner Austen Jeffries practices his vocabulary and reading by following along with an animated magician through a program that shows him sentences that include the words and sounds he needs to learn.
He said using the computers in class every day is “a lot of fun.”
“I use it for reading, see,” he said, choosing the correct word to complete a sentence on the screen.
His classmates can work along on the same program he uses, but practice different sounds and words based on their reading level.
His teacher, Karen Schmidt, says that’s the biggest benefit to using technology — that students can be simultaneously engaged but learning different material based on their needs.
Schmidt, who has been teaching for 11 years, joined the Scales staff this year because she wanted to use more technology, and said she has a lot to learn.
“I had never done a podcast before this year,” she said.
Teachers at Scales now volunteer for training on how to use technology and how to integrate it into their lessons. But at the new academy, training will be in-depth and ongoing, Diokno said.
Laneback said that as a veteran teacher she is excited to be going with these students to the “new frontier” of education.
“Technology truly transfixes their focus,” Laneback said. “They are 100 percent engaged. They are so engaged, they don’t even realize how much of the curriculum is tied in.”
She said for weeks her students were reading articles online that were introducing them to vocabulary words at a high school or college level — words like “obsequious” and “inconsequential.”
“When I told them they couldn’t believe it,” she said.
She said the new academy will provide more opportunities for this kind of learning.
“At the new school there will be such a tremendous, exponential growth in the learning possibilities. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most.”
Enrollment for Scales Technology Academy begins Jan. 30 and will continue until the seats are filled. Spokeswoman Monica Allread said the district does not anticipate that the school will be filled to capacity.
Enrollment packets will be available beginning Jan. 30 at the temporary Scales School site, 1045 S. Beck Ave., Tempe.
What: Registration for fall 2008 for all Tempe Elementary schools except Ward Traditional Academy will begin at a special evening registration.
When: 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 29 at each school.
Details: Parents can register children who will turn 5 before Jan. 1, 2009. After Jan. 29, register 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during regular school days at all elementary schools. Parents need to bring the child’s certified birth certificate, documented immunization record and two verifications of residence.
Information: Contact the school for availability and for specific registration times. Call (480) 730-7406 for more information.