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Barrow Co. schools showcase new technology classrooms

WINDER - Eighth-graders at Westside Middle School watched as Greg Book, a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, used an electron microscope to look at a bee's stinger.

"That's a nasty little dagger that bee has, isn't it?" Book asked.

The students didn't travel to the institution's Microelectronics Research Center for the demonstration. Nor has the Barrow County school acquired the $1 million piece of equipment.

Instead, the demonstration took place via a video conference students watched on a high-definition TV in their Advanced Broadband Learning Environment (ABLE) classroom.

Barrow County Schools officials on Tuesday showcased the district's Direct-to-Discovery Initiative within the ABLE classroom, created through the school system's partnership with institutions and organizations such as Georgia Tech, Promethean and Safari Montage.

"When I get to see students in classrooms learning as you have never seen before, being able to have conversations with scientists - and I mean in real time - ... it brings goose bumps to me every time I see that," Superintendent Ron Saunders said.

Teacher Pam Sloan showed off some of the capabilities of the Promethean's interactive whiteboards. Through a video conference displayed on the board, another teacher in the district talked to students about the differences between plant and animal cells. During the lesson, Sloan pulled up images, such as English physicist Robert Hooke's drawing of cork cells.

Students could also interact with the Promethean board from their desks by using tools such as the Activote, a learning response system, and the Activslate, a mini-board the children used to manipulate images on the larger board.

Student Morgan Cheek said such technology helps her pay attention in class.

"A regular whiteboard is kind of boring," she said. "I look forward to interacting with the (Promethean) board."

Westside Middle principal Eli Welch said his goal is to have a Promethean board in every classroom by the end of next year.

"I see energetic students when I go into a classroom (equipped with the technology)," he said. "I also see energy in teachers, too."

Saunders said the district's Direct-to-Discovery Initiative began at Westside Middle, but the school system wants to expand it into more classrooms throughout Barrow County. The school system first launched the initiative at the middle school level because the district is focusing on improving eighth-graders' performance in math and science, he said.

The district's partnerships bring a cost benefit, Saunders said. For example, the partnership with Promethean allows the district to buy one board and get one free.

Marshall Chambers, the district's director of strategic initiatives, said the school system is service about providing a world-class education with hometown values for its students.

"We are defining what a 21st century classroom is," he said. "We are bringing creativity and innovation to a 21st century classroom."