Techno-schools
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By Steve Chiotakis. Aired June 27, 2001.

(BIRMINGHAM) -- Recently, the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex was transformed into a technological playground. With vendors exhibiting and selling every type of gadget from Apple I-macs to educational software, to music, to personal computers you can fit in your hand.

One vender is enthusiastically giving out her propaganda.

"We're showing off one of the newest pieces of educational technology which is the pocket PC...(kind of like a Palm Pilot)...Well, it's better than a Palm Pilot..."

The tone of her voice underscores the word better.

Everyone is selling something here. And the teachers who attend the Alabama Educational Technology Conference are buying.

While education funds in Alabama have been cut more than 6 percent for K-12 -- much more for colleges and universities -- the pressure is on teachers to perform their tasks as efficiently as possible.

And that takes technology and camaraderie, says Melinda Maddox...

"Teachers have a really hard time getting together with other teachers to find out 'what have you been doing that really works?' or 'what has worked great in your classroom?' And so this is the time for teachers to get together and hear the best of the best."

Maddox, from the Alabama Department of Education, has helped put the A-E-T-C together for more than 8 years. She's seen the advancements at similar conferences all over the country.

She says with all the computer equipment and web-based software that goes with it, the challenge of the conference is to show teachers how to get their message from keyboard to screen:

And that's where Patrick Crispen comes in. A consultant who also develops web material for the University of Alabama College of Arts and Sciences, Crispen gives a no-holds barred step-by-step account of how educators can turn the new technology into teaching tools.

"Today we're talking about internet graphics and how to create graphics and we started with absolute basic stuff which was 'what is an on-screen graphic,' or 'what is a pixel?' And if you're in the entire presentation, we went all the way up to just to the doorstep of intensity, transfer, function and gamma, which college graduates don't know."

But the most advanced part of this show isn't equipment or software. It is an idea: the T-4 Alabama Project, or Teens and Teachers Teaming for Technology, part of the national Generation Why program. It formally binds teacher with student and delves into the role reversal that helps drive the technology point home.

17-year old senior-to-be Helen attends Bob Jones High in Madison, about 10 miles west of Huntsville. Last school year, she learned and then gave a presentation about Microsoft PowerPoint for her fellow classmates, who she says were very receptive.

"...(and) it gives them a chance to know more�and it's not boring. Kids don't have to sit there and kind of go through their teacher just talking. They get visuals. They get web sites they can look at, so it's a lot more interactive. And the teacher, I think the teacher has a lot more fun doing it. I know I had a lot more fun. I mean it was hard work, but it was fun doing it, so..."

In a smaller, more intimate setting of the B-J-C-C, Gardner commands a workshop for the much older educators who yearn to know more about PowerPoint... or the internet... or just plain Word. All on a day she could be enjoying her summer vacation.

"Actually, they gave up workdays. They're missing pay to come."

Beverly Massa is the Computer Applications teacher from Bob Jones High. For her, it is role reversal that takes away some of the teacher-student barriers...

"The students are taking an active role in their education and in molding the future. And this is perfect�by bringing them here to this�.what a better experience."

She says while she had plenty of opportunities to learn new things in high school and college, she didn't have the chance to stand up and tell others about them until she became a teacher.

Since there is so much for students to learn today, she's glad there is one conference with all the latest advancements in learning... and in the case of her students: teaching.

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