KPBSD teachers awarded technology grant

Rob Sparks teaches a lesson to his class at Skyview High School, while it was simultaneously delivered to classes at Soldotna and Kenai Central High Schools through video conferencing technology. 

The purpose of the “Classroom Without Walls” project linking social studies classes at Kenai Central, Skyview and Soldotna high schools was to foster interconnected learning beyond the boundaries of a classroom. Those physical walls have become even more nonexistent as the program is now being shared throughout the state as an example of innovative technology use.

Teachers Rob Sparks at Skyview, Greg Zorbas at KCHS and Gregory Weissenberg at SoHi were recently selected as winners in the Artifacts for Alaskans by Alaskans competition, put on by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

Teachers statewide were asked to submit lessons delivered through technology, uploaded onto a website as podcasts, webcasts, slide presentations, videos or texts. Sixteen projects were chosen to win $10,000 grants to purchase technology for their classroom or school. Funding comes from the Enhancing Education Through Technology American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Competitive Artifact Grant, which is designed to encourage best-practices technology use in classroom teaching. Zorbas said the funds were used to purchase new, HD-quality cameras and televisions to expand the project.

The projects will be made available along with standards-based lessons as a permanent resource for other teachers on the Alaska Learning Network website, a statewide resource for Alaska schools.

“It was very nice to be recognized as leaders in the state using video-conferencing equipment,” Zorbas said. “We are hoping that this will help others start using the technology around the state, as well as getting some more teachers in our own district taking advantage of the technology that is available in many buildings.”

KPBSD teachers (from left) Gregory Weissenberg, from Soldotna High School; Greg Zorbas, from Kenai Central High School; and Rob Sparks, from Skyview High School, won a technology grant to expand their Classroom Without Walls project. 

The Classroom Without Walls program, now in its fourth year, takes place through SMART Board technology –interactive, computer-based screens equipped with audio, video and text capabilities. The teachers turn a camera on their classroom then link with classes at the other two schools. What is seen, heard or written on one SMART Board can be shared with the other two in real time. Sparks, Zorbas and Weissenberg take turns leading a lesson, with all three classes able to see and hear each other, and participate in the same exercises and discussions.

The program has myriad benefits, far beyond just familiarizing students with technology. It also shares the resource of the teachers. Weissenberg, for example, being from Russia, teaches a lesson on the Russian influence on Alaska in a way that Sparks and Zorbas could not. Meanwhile, Sparks and Zorbas have areas of special interest and expertise that use to just be shared with their own classes, but now can be shared with students at all three schools. For the students, it gives them a chance to connect with their peers at other schools in a noncompetitive environment.

Lori Manion, professional development coordinator for the KPBSD, said she would like to see the program grow in the district, as well as the state. Teachers could record lessons in their content area that could be shared with classes at other schools — schools that perhaps don’t have the resources or personnel to offer that particular lesson onsite.

“The concept/philosophy is definitely one that needs to continue to be pursued,” Manion said. “As I make my way to different conferences, I am always amazed by the groups and school districts that have fully embraced this style of learning and teaching. These gentleman would really like to see this go bigger and are very willing to assist in any way they can.”