A new wave of educational tools has flowed into Sarasota County School District middle schools in the name of TechActive Classrooms of Tomorrow. Fifty COTs have been installed in each middle school in the district.
The grand opening of the classrooms was held Sept. 25 at Venice Middle School with a real-time simulcast fed to seven other middle schools: Booker, Brookside, Heron Creek, Laurel Nokomis, McIntosh, Sarasota and Woodland.
A digital ribbon-cutting ceremony conducted by Lori White, superintendent of Sarasota County Public Schools and Teri Hansen, president of Gulf Coast Community Foundation, officially opened the COT.
COT tools enhance science and math education with advanced technology and a new approach to teaching and learning. With COT, students go from the old way of taking notes while sitting at desks to sitting on chairs with wheels and working out problems in small groups with handheld devices.
“TechActive is a Sarasota County School District initiative,” White said. “It supports the delivery of instruction in a collaborative, hands-on, inquiry-based approach — not just the feeding of information to students.”
The four science and three math COTs at VMS include the following:
• six semicircular computer/lab tables (one for every four students)
• chairs on rollers to enhance collaboration
• six 23-inch touchscreen computers
• a tablet computer for teacher
• software that lets the teacher move images from student touchscreens to the ActivBoard and communicate remotely with students
• a mobile presentation table
• digital microscopes (six for each science classroom)
• digital probes for data-gathering (six for each science classroom)
• TI-Nspire wireless graphing calculators (24 for each math classroom; six for science)
The role of teacher is changing to more of facilitator, White said.
“The students are developing their own concepts and applying them to problems,” she said. “In this way they truly learn. They personalize it [the information] and learn how to apply it. This leads to better understanding. And they learn to listen to each other and respect each other.”
In working out their problems individually and collaboratively, students must justify what they observe.
“The teacher guides them to other thoughts and asks them to explain their reasoning,” White said. “It’s a very engaging process.”
Classrooms of Tomorrow grew out of the STEMsmart initiative of Gulf Coast Community Foundation to transform the way teachers teach and students learn science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). GCCF committed $2.5 million over five years to a partnership with the Sarasota and Charlotte county school districts to jump-start teaching and student achievement in STEM, a GCCF position paper said.
Technology enhancements in the form of COTs are part of the foundation’s STEMsmart strategies.
The total cost for the TechActive COTs for the district was about $250,000, according to Scott Ferguson, SCSD communication specialist, as much of the expense was defrayed by in-kind and cash donations from GCCF ($300,000, plus $100,000 from donors linked through the foundation), individuals, family foundations and companies.
Hewlett Packard and Vital Solutions donated 132 computer monitors and 22 teacher tablets; Faulhaber Foundation donated data loggers and probes; and Texas Instruments provided graphing calculators.
“On the school district side was reconfiguring the classrooms with new wiring at a cost of $5,000 per classroom,” Ferguson said.
“Jobs tomorrow will require new skills, and the students deserve the best opportunities to acquire the skills,” Hansen said. “Businesses deserve to find those skilled (employees) in the community,” she said.
The public will be able to see how Classrooms of Tomorrow work at a Sarasota County School Board meeting Oct. 2 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at 1980 Landings Blvd., Sarasota.
“All are invited,” White said.