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GRANVILLE SCHOOL BUILDS TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM FROM THE GROUND UP

East Dorset, VT.  June 19, 2002—Twenty Dell Optiplex computers line the Math lab in the Mary J. Tanner School of Granville, New York.  In the undersized chairs at each machine sits a student from Jann Hoffman’s kindergarten class.  As the kids click away, the computer screens fill with of swirls of colors that look like giant lollipops, and the room is sprinkled with phrases like “Look at mine!” and “How did you do that?”  The black computers in this lab and the 16 others in a lab down the hall have not accumulated a speck of dust since they were installed in November, thanks to the efforts of technology coordinator Dan Nelson and principal Kristie Gijanto.

Nelson, a native of Granville with a background in mathematics and computer consulting, aims to transform the schools in his hometown into models of modern educational technology.  His work began with the K-2 school, whose principal, Gijanto, shares Nelson’s vision for the future of the Granville Central School District.  Together, Nelson and Gijanto have ensured that some of the funding by the state and the local community for a building project is used to outfit the Mary J. Tanner School with state-of-the-art computer labs.  While construction to double the size of the school got under way, Nelson updated the specifications for two computer labs so that they took advantage of the latest developments in computer technology.  In search of “the best bang for the buck,” Nelson spoke with several hardware vendors and eventually chose to purchase directly from a Dell sales representative.   Because of his technological expertise and willingness to assume hands-on project management, Nelson was able to set up the computer labs for less than half the amount of money allowed by the budget. In addition to purchasing 54 Dell systems for the Mary J. Tanner School, Nelson ordered 12 for the high school.  Of the 66 computers purchased, not a single one has had any problems. “I’m very impressed with Dell, “ Nelson reports, adding, “They installed the computers in a timely fashion.” 

Even before the two computer labs were completely finished, Nelson and principal Kristie Gijanto began looking for software to install on each system.  Gijanto felt that it was important to get the software right away so that the new computers would not sit dormant.  Nelson agreed; “It’s nice to have all the computer technology in the world, but if it’s not being utilized, it’s worthless.”  After making contacts with several software vendors, Nelson and Gijanto discovered Tool Factory, a local educational software company with over a hundred curriculum content titles and the Tool Factory Workshop suite of tools.  Tool Factory came to the Mary J. Tanner School and installed the software titles that Nelson requested to see, and then left the programs on the new computers for 30 days so that the teachers could try them out.  A month later, Tool Factory sent three staff members to the school during a Staff Development Day to demonstrate and give preliminary training on the software that had generated the most interest among the teachers.  After the Staff Development Day, Gijanto and Nelson asked teachers to vote for the software they liked best.  Based on the results of the survey, Nelson purchased a spelling program, several math curriculum titles, and Tool Factory Workshop, which includes a kid-friendly Word Processor, Painter, Spreadsheet, and Database applications.

Teachers, students, and parents have all responded with overwhelming enthusiasm to the school’s technology program.  Nelson believes that Tool Factory’s training helped to get the teachers excited about the new facilities, and empowering the teachers to make the decisions about the software purchased has ensured that the new programs will actually be used.  Each computer’s desktop is now sprinkled with the colorful software icons and a folder for each class’s projects.  Nelson reports, “It’s nice to have the software, to let teachers come in and use it.  If we just had machines and no instructional software, the new systems would have collected a lot of dust.”   Gijanto is pleased with the Tool Factory software, and says that it has “really allowed the kids to take off.”  For example, she adds, Tool Factory Painter “is so usable with the little tiny kids who can’t even read yet.” 

The fact that kids have taken off with the software is readily apparent as soon as one enters the Math lab where a whole class of kindergarteners is working with Tool Factory Painter.   Last week, the students focused on a particular function in the program that allowed them to learn about symmetry.  A collection of colorful printouts on a bulletin board in the back of the lab testifies to the success of that day and other sessions with Tool Factory Painter.  “See the one with the sun?” one student asks, pointing to a richly colored work of art. “That one’s mine!” Today the children are experimenting with swirling, motion blur, and other effects.  Some students are beginning to add stamps to their creations from the extensive on-screen banks.  Madison, who has typed, “I love my family. From Madison” in the corner of her screen using the text tool, now wants to add an American flag to her project.  She raises her hand and asks her teacher, Julie Saunders, for help finding the flag.  Ms. Saunders kneels down next to Madison, and asks, “What letter does American begin with?” Madison, who has learned that the items in the bank are arranged alphabetically, scrolls to the top of the bank and clicks twice to insert a photograph of an American flag on her page.  She then experiments with the spray paint tool to add red, white, and blue lines before sending her completed project to the color laser printer in the back of the room. 

The great thing about introducing young children to technology, Nelson and Gijanto agree, is that they aren’t afraid to try new things, experiment, and make mistakes.    The students at the Mary J. Tanner School have been enthusiastic about the new technology from the get-go.  Gijanto thought it would be nice to have a Grand Opening for the new labs, and let the students become the tour guides for the parents, who were “really thrilled with the new facilities.”  The families in Granville represent a range of socio-economic backgrounds, and some children came to school with more exposure to computer technology than others.  All the children, however, have quickly learned how to use the computers and the software.

Julie Saunders, the Elementary Math Specialist for grades K-6 in Granville, has been impressed by how easily the kids got into the math curriculum titles like Number Plane, Number Train, and 123 CD.  In some cases, the children have discovered more options in the programs than she knew existed!  Saunders is happy to let the kids teach her things about the software while she uses the software to help her teach math topics.  One day she had the whole class work on an activity in Number Train where students learn about place value.  Next year, Saunders plans to take advantage of the monitoring facilities in the software that allow her to track student progress.  For now, she’s allowing the kids to explore the activities and practice key skills while she walks around the lab and works with individual students. 

The cooperative environment in the computer labs at this K-2 school is energizing for teachers and students.  When asked about learning how to use Tool Factory Painter, a kindergartner named Heidi says, “It was easy to learn.  Some of my friends learned how to use it, and then they taught me.”  Many of the younger teachers and some of the more seasoned professionals have embraced the new technology whole-heartedly.  According to Nelson, many teachers “are doing a lot of different things with Tool Factory products, and they are very impressed with the software.” For those teachers who have been more reluctant to use the programs, the fact that the kids are learning the software so quickly and are so eager to advance their skills is driving the teachers to learn. Some now use part of their free time sitting down in the classroom playing around with the various features of the program.  Nelson had an opportunity to watch a class at work in one of the labs, and he says, “What these little second graders were doing was phenomenal.  It forces us to have the responsibility of continuing with technology.  We need to get at least one lab in the grades 3-6 school in the fall.” 

The kids are creating the demand, and they will be looking for similar facilities and software to use when they advance to the next grade levels.  Nelson is excited about a major project underway now at the high school.  The walls have been knocked out of four adjacent rooms to create what Nelson is calling the “Computer Technology Suite”.  There will be a 25-computer technology classroom, a 36-computer general lab, and 2 business classrooms, where IBM typewriters and older PC’s will be replaced by new Dell systems.  The Granville Central School District is committed to helping teachers meet the ISTE Technology Standards in their classrooms and labs, and with the new facilities and software, they are confident that major progress is being made.  Both Nelson and Gijanto want to make sure that teachers continue to take advantage of new technology as they teach.  Gijanto’s goal for next year is to have more Staff Development Days with technology training that will show teachers how to use software to enrich their curriculum and help students develop higher-level thinking skills.  Nelson feels that “it is important to let the curriculum drive the technology” as the teachers begin to build lesson plans and multimedia projects with their students. 

The building projects in the Granville schools are about much more than building rooms with new computers; they are about building confidence, knowledge and essential thinking skills in kids as soon as they are old enough to use a mouse.  Watching kindergarteners line up at the printer to gather their projects (one copy to bring home, and one copy for the bulletin board), it is clear that the Mary J. Tanner School has come a long way since the days of Commodore 64’s!

For press inquiries, contact Kendra Ericson, Media Contact, Tool Factory, Inc., at (802) 375-6549 or email kendra@toolfactory.com

For more information about this story, contact Dan Nelson, Technology Director, Granville Central School District, 58 Quaker Street, Granville, NY 12832 at (518) 642-1051 x 2141 or email dnelson@granvillecsd.org