Not a textbook or dry-erase board in sight, freshman agri-science teacher Surey Rios floated around pods of students at TERRA Environmental Research Institute on Monday, guiding them in a lesson on energy as a crowd watched.
Jessica Bustillos created an interactive poster on her tablet depicting how energy is both used and wasted at her Kendall high school. Joshua Garcia projected the costs and benefits of renewable energy onto a Smart Board 800. Around them, classmates used their fingers to operate a Smart Table, iPads to view a video on creating potable water, and a Steelcase media:scape to share thoughts on managing India’s growth.
In Miami-Dade, call this class of interactive technology and new-school teaching methods the class of the (near) future.
“I keep calling it the classroom of the future,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told a crowd of onlookers. “But really it’s the classroom of now.”
Today, that is true for some Miami-Dade classrooms, though not most. But that’s going to change now that the district has some $100 million to spend on technology as part of a $1.2 billion voter-approved project to renovate, rebuild, and upgrade school campuses.
The district will begin making upgrades this summer. So on Monday, Carvalho and the Miami-Dade School Board held a workshop and technology bazaar, inviting vendors to hawk the kinds of wares that may end up in classrooms, and showcasing how technology is being used to change the way teachers are teaching and students are learning.
“We’re at the threshold of something special,” School Board member Carlos Curbelo said.
Among the district’s broader goals:
• Dramatically expand schools’ bandwidth - likened to an Internet highway - so that classrooms have the capability to support access by hundreds or thousands of students without slowing down or freezing up.
• Place interactive, multimedia and touch-screen devices in every classroom within two years.
• Upgrade and improve technology across the board so that students in all communities will each have access to a device and first-class content with equity, regardless of Zip code.
When the money is spent, the district hopes to emerge a more interactive, high-tech system more geared to projects and presentations, personalized instruction and the use of the ubiquitous smart phone and tablets. Though the district won’t buy every student a device, the hope is that every student will have access to one.
“This is going to be transformative work,” Carvalho said.
To display the technology coming to classrooms - or in some cases already there - the district invited vendors to set up in TERRA’s gym and created a bazaar that attracted education officials from around the state. Reading Plus and Discovery Education showed off their educational programs, while TekTouch vendors explained how their touch screen with a built-in computer allowed students at Nathan B. Young Elementary to talk to kids in China last year.
Safe System presented equipment that places a camera in every classroom and gives teachers a small alert system to wear around their neck in case they have an emergency. The $3,000 system can also be used to record lessons for professional development, or for “flipping” a classroom by recording lectures for students to view at home.