HUNTSVILLE — Students and teachers at Scott High School are about to get a big leg up. 

In the weeks and months ahead, nearly $50,000 in new technology equipment will be installed at the school, giving teachers tools they need to instruct more efficiently, and giving students the tools they need to excel in the classroom.

The grant funding is from asset-based planning dollars made available through the Tennessee Department of Economic & Community Development. The Scott County School System learned Thursday that its grant for upgrades at Scott High School had been approved. The grant is being facilitated by the Industrial Development Board of Scott County.

The grant will consist of two components, which will benefit different subject areas at Scott High: two 30-station research centers, which includes laptop computers for student use, and nine Promethean ActivPanels — which offer teachers state-of-the-art functionality within the classroom.

The school system's proposal was for one 30-station research center and one Promethean ActivPanel, at a cost of $10,000. However, grant coordinators deemed the school system's proposal worthy of an extended request for a second research lab and eight more of the interactive panels.

The research centers are mobile; they can be transported from classroom to classroom. Their implementation will be focused on English and social studies classes, which are largely research-based and require more hands-on use of computers by students. The interactive panels, meanwhile, will be focused on math and science classes, which are more lecture-based than research-based.

As Scott County Schools Assistant Director of Technology Tom Holloway wrote in the proposal for the grant funds, “Math and science classes benefit the most from the introduction of technology that allows students to learn from the classroom teacher’s ‘show me’ approach to how to solve a problem,” while ELA and social studies classes “find little value in such a model. Technology integration in those subject areas should be achieved through individual devices being made available to each student for research and writing.” 

Greg Bond, the school system’s director of technology, said the need for the mobile research stations — which might be more aptly described as mobile computer labs — arose from the fact that the computer lab in the school’s library often has a schedule that is fully booked.

“This is a great problem to have, except when the lab is utilized to handle state testing requirements,” Bond said. “In this scenario, the mobile research labs will be invaluable to allowing those classes to carry on with their research projects.”

Bond said that each of the mobile labs will consist of 30 Lenovo Ideapad computers. He and his staff like the laptops, which are equipped with the Windows 10 operating system, because they’re easy to manage in bulk, unlike most consumer-priced computers, which are not designed for mass management.

“My crew can more easily deploy a 30-station Windows 10-managed computer lab than they can configure and maintenance five Amazon Kindle Fire tablets,” Bond said.

Stacey Swann, executive director of the ID Board, was the person who approached Bond with the idea to apply for the grant funds. Bond credits Holloway with the vision for how to best implement the technology. 

“The goal is to have a research lab for each pod at the high school,” Swann said. “So, for example, the math pod doesn’t have to compete with the computer lab for computer time for students.” 

While the mobile research labs will benefit the English and social studies classes at Scott High, Bond said the interactive panels, which will be installed in eight classrooms, will benefit the classes where teachers provide more lecture-based instruction, such as math and science classes.

“Math classrooms tend to be more lecture-based and focus on examples delivered to the entire class at the same time,” he said. “There is some research from time to time, but for the most part it’s the teacher instructing the students, and the students exhibiting to the class. So our solution needs to provide a better way of allowing the teacher to share their knowledge to the larger group.” 

The interactive panels are not unlike the digital whiteboards that have become prevalent in many classrooms. While those original smart-boards are affordable and a great investment for education, Bond said the new panels have far more features.

“Namely, they’re self-contained,” he said. “They have their own built in computer that runs the panel, so an external computer is not required. They are wireless, and aside from a power cord, require no other physical connections. They’re basically a touch-screen, 65-inch LCD TV or larger, so there is no requirement for projectors to be mounted. They have a number of tools which make them ideal for educational purposes with additional apps being created daily.” 

Bond said teachers usually require little time to adapt to the boards.

“When we bring math teachers into the room and say, ‘Hey, go try that out,’ they spend about three to five minutes getting acclimated to the interface, then immediately making graphs and equations,” he said. “It’s really much more intuitive than any technology we’ve had previously.”

Bond admits that there is an argument to be made that all classrooms, regardless of subject matter, can benefit from both the mobile research labs and the new interactive panels. But, he adds, it’s the availability of funds that makes the determination.

In the meantime, the $50,000 in ECD funding will be a big start in the right direction for Scott High.

“We’re hoping that this will be the first step in bringing this more advanced technology to the rest of the classrooms,” he said.

In fact, classrooms that already have the projector-based digital whiteboards installed can be upgraded with the computer that makes it all work, providing similar functionality.

“It really is quite exciting to see if this ‘new thing’ will bring about better educational opportunities for our teachers and students,” Bond said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much tech you have, it’s the teacher in that classroom that makes all the difference. Our goal is to try and help make their job a bit more efficient, and provide our students with the tools needed to excel in today’s world.” 

This article is the November 2018 installment of Focus On: Education, presented by S.T.A.N.D. on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Focus On series. A print version of this story can be found on Page A3 of the November 15, 2018 edition of the Independent Herald.