NEW PORT RICHEY — Like most schools these days, the Dayspring Academy charter school wants to add more technology to its classrooms to enhance student learning.
"If our students want to become professionals, they have to be able to use technology at high levels," middle school principal Sara Calleja said.
Yet with costs high and money scarce — Florida's charter schools for years have received minimal funding for capital supplies such as computers — the school's options appeared limited. But then one of the school's science and computer teachers learned about an inexpensive way to turn classrooms high-tech.
Using two $29 Wii remotes (which serve as cameras), a $20 infrared pen and a $500 multimedia projector, teacher Tim Greenier turned his classroom white board into an interactive screen. It doesn't just have to be a white board, either.
He's run lessons on the floor, on desktops and on walls, too. He just connected his equipment to his iPad and, for a fraction of the cost of a SMART Board or Promethean ACTIVboard, livened up his lessons.
"Look at the simplicity of this system, but how unbelievably interactive it makes it for the students," said Greenier, who picked up the idea from a technology conference he attended in Orlando. "You now have the students who might try to fly low wanting to join in."
He piloted the system, which relies on free software and relatively inexpensive replaceable parts, most of last year. He even tested it at home. "My son did the entire FCAT Explorer on the living room wall," Greenier said.
This year, almost all of Dayspring's classrooms are being equipped with it.
"We didn't have the ability to put in Promethean boards at $4,000 to $5,000 a pop," said school business manager and co-founder John Legg, the state representative. "This worked perfectly, for less than $700."
Of course, simply having the ability to use the technology does not necessarily translate into higher student academic achievement. Effective teaching still must occur, incorporating the tools that are available.
That's why Dayspring Academy is training its teachers in the best ways to use Wii projection, as well as newly donated computer tablets, for educational lessons.
"If they don't know how, it sits in a box and they don't use it," Legg said.
Sixth-grade humanities teacher Kelly Covic had the system installed in her classroom a few days ago. She said she feels ahead of the curve because she's used a projector to show PowerPoint presentations in the past.
But with interactivity, new doors have opened, Covic said.
"I'm looking at the different options I can use in class," she said. "I'm really excited."
So, too, are the school's students, many of whom have not used the interactive boards in the past.
"It's better than just reading out of a textbook," said sixth-grader Rachel Lucas, 11. "That gets boring after a while."
Greenier's lessons, combined with the game-like quality of the computers, make learning fun, said sixth-grader Pilar Santamaria, 11.
"He teaches us really good, so we don't have any problems remembering what he says," Pilar said.
In his trial run, Greenier said, he saw students become more engaged in class. "From that, we saw better scores."
Last year, A-rated Dayspring scored among Pasco County's highest FCAT scores in both math and science.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.