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Tech offers hands-on learning

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

Months after Galax Elementary School’s Cooperative Center for Exceptional Children received the exciting news that they had won a $10,000 prize to buy a smart board for their curriculum, Order of United Commercial Travelers of America (UCT) President Robert Kellogg and wife Bert dropped in to see first-hand what the national contest sponsored by the fraternal organization has made possible.

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As they walked through the door into teacher Linda Hunter’s classroom at CCEC, they immediately spotted two students mesmerized by a giant electronic smart board that now dominates the back of the classroom. As colors and shapes zoomed across the screen, the students touched shapes and sounded out words, and giggled at the silly animations as the screens transitioned.
In the video contest, held in March, the winning school was selected by popular vote. Votes were accepted online for a total of nine finalists, and votes were limited to one entry per computer per day.
As the UCT contest continued, students and faculty religiously logged on to every computer available each day to vote. As the contest went on, something extraordinary happened. Locally, and even nationally, votes began coming in to support Galax in its mission of getting the supplies needed to help the CCEC students.
When the class was moved to Galax Elementary School, Hunter was provided as much as possible to maintain a functional classroom, but as she explained in their video submission, tools like a smart board would go much further in developing skills that her students could use later in life. As the contest narrowed down to its final contestants, a sign went up on the empty wall of her classroom to “reserve” the space for her goal purchase.
The smart board, which works like a giant computer tablet, can run a variety of computer programs and videos. Hunter opened a program called “Starfall” as an example: a favorite for her class.
One program gave the students a word, the sound of the word and a picture of what the word stood for. As the students moved through the program, stars and sparkles guided them along the process by hovering over the buttons they needed to hit next.
Other programs included things like a calendar and a news site where the students answer questions and do activities. “What is great is that our students are up here doing these programs on the screen, when they wouldn’t do it on paper before,” Hunter told the group as they looked on.
Once that purchase was made, Hunter used the leftover money to purchase a swing for one of her students, and various other supplies that her students could use to develop their motor skills.
Students in Hunter’s class can typically attend until they are 22 years old, where they learn a variety of concepts that they can use in employment after they graduate.
Due to the success of this year’s contest, UCT is planning to hold another contest next year.
“The vote this year was so close, so maybe next year the school that came so close to winning will get the prize,” Hunter said.