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Springville fourth-graders Brianna Hawkins and Brent Cowley access the Internet through a netbook computer in TracyAnn Reece's classroom. Reece's class is one of 10 in the country competing for a free set of computer netbooks.

As times have changed, the way students learn has also evolved. Where textbooks and neat lines of front-facing desks once resided, children like those in TracyAnn Reese’s fourth-grade class at Springville Elementary commonly use podcasts, powerpoints and video projects to enhance their educations.

In fact, the class has developed so much video talent that they’ve risen to the final stages of a nationwide competition for a free set of netbook computers through Acer, Inc., pitting the students against elementary, middle and high schools in New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina and Kentucky.  

“We found a few weeks ago that we were in the top 10, and the kids were so pumped. There were cheers and shouts, they were just really excited,” Reece said.

As a teacher, Reece believes that getting kids involved with technology in the classroom not only teaches them valuable skills, but also integrates ways of learning that they’ve grown up with.

“The thing I notice is that any time I can get computers in their hands is when they learn the most,” Reece said.

“The fact is, the 21st Century is the technology age. The earlier I can get technology into their hands and get them comfortable with it, the better it will be for them — it’s setting them up for success.”  

Reece purchased three computers for her classroom, which the students use for a wide variety of tasks, from playing educational games to preparing podcasts about classroom subject matter to share with one another.

“They love it when someone asks a question in class that I might not even know the answer to, some will ask, ‘Can I go Google it?’” Reese said. “By going through that process of finding the information, they remember it more.”

While she said students do a wonderful job of taking turns on the computer and making do with three computers for 28 students, Reece and her students were excited for the opportunity to use their skills to try for a full classroom set of netbooks.

“We’ve made videos in class before, so when we found out we could submit a video [as a part of the application], the kids got excited. They had a really good time doing it,” Reece said.

The students got right to work developing storyboards and a plot for the video. They also were responsible for editing the video footage and uploading it to TeacherTube, an educational video hosting service.

“All I did was hold the camera, because everyone wanted to be in the video except for me,” Reece said.

The students put in a lot of hard work, but now their fate is left to the voters. Ballots can be cast for Springville Elementary School until March 14 at http://tinyurl.com/AcerCompetition, with one vote allowed per email address.

Should they garner the most votes, Reece said the information available at each student’s fingertips will help them not only learn how to gather information on their own, but also take more ownership in their own learning.

“If they’re reading something and they want to know more about the topic, with the netbooks, they can go look it up. There are so many online activities and games that can bring in the technology that they’re accustomed to. If they finish with their work in class early, they can go and play a game online to extend the lesson and really bring it alive.”

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