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Norwalk Expands Technology in Classrooms

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk students and staff can expect to see more new technology in the classrooms this fall. All fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms are being outfitted with five new computers and new mobile interactive whiteboards called “Mobis” will be installed in 150 classrooms. The district is also finalizing the purchase of a powerful data system that collects student test scores, grades and attendance records.

“We are working to create a 21st-century classroom,” says Robert Polselli, the district’s director of information technology. “One where teachers and students have access to information at their fingertips.”

Polselli’s team is installing 550 computer stations in the districts fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms, which until now had the oldest machines in the district. Instead of buying five separate computers, the district bought one higher quality computer per classroom to serve five virtual desktops — a screen with a keyboard. Polselli says this configuration has many savings: it’s cost effective, energy efficient and saves desk space. Also, fewer computers will need to be wired and serviced. “The amount of energy saved will be huge, and we’ll be able to provide better tech support,” he said. The computers were part of capital budget allocation made a couple of years ago.

Mobis, which will be distributed at all grade levels, are similar to other interactive whiteboards, but teachers are able to walk around the classroom and write on a tablet device instead of an actual whiteboard. The tablet, which is about the size of a notebook, is connected to an LCD projector mounted on the ceiling. They were introduced in the district last year on a small scale. “You can create a lesson with slides, video, websites and then do an assessment to see if students are understanding the concepts,” says Polselli.

The Mobi, with less hardware, is significantly less expensive — $399 versus $1,500 — than a SMARTboard.

This year, every school will get a new set of “clickers." Students can answer multiple choice and short answer questions on these remote control-like tools and teachers get instant results. The Mobi is also integrated with clickers. “The technologies are tied together,” says Polselli.

Brookside third-grade teacher Jeff Beckley considers himself an “early adopter” of technology. For the past year, he has been actively using clickers in his classroom. “We need to know real time what the kids know,” he says.

As part of his lessons, Beckley regularly uses his interactive whiteboard and video, saying classrooms must keep up with the reality of kids’ lives. “Kids are so technology exposed these days.  We can’t have a disconnect between what they do outside of school and inside.”

Of all the new technologies, Polselli is most excited about the new data portal that will give educators access to a broad range of student data, including standardized test scores, reading scores, grades and attendance. “Every teacher has to use data,” says Polselli. “They can look at which scores are weak and which subject areas individual students need help in.”

Currently, the district has a data portal but it captures only test scores and has limited reporting capability. Polselli says the new system will have more “robust” data that will be useful for teachers, principals and  administrators. Polselli expects the program to be running by January.

Staff training is critical to make the best use of the technology, he says. Training, however, will be more challenging this year because the district lost an IT staff developer and a technician in budget cuts. Polselli says his remaining staff will assist with training, and he’ll also rely on the Norwalk Education Foundation.

This year, the foundation plans to hire, through a grant from JP Morgan Chase, two tech liaisons in each school. The liaisons are staff members who, for a stipend, get training on the new technologies in the school, which they then pass onto others. “Our goal is to build capacity into the schools and free up central office.”

Beckley says his colleagues have become increasingly interested in learning about how to incorporate technology into the classrooms. “There is more desire now, teachers realize they don’t have a choice.”

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