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Technology keeps Galax students engaged

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Galax teachers are using the same technology that kids use for recreation to keep them interested in learning.

By SHAINA STOCKTON
Staff

To create a fun and dynamic learning environment for students, Galax High School teachers are using new software applications to spice up their lesson plans.
At this month’s Galax School Board meeting, Spanish teacher Emily Boyles and English teacher Ashley Hale presented examples of the software they use for their classes.
Boyles said she is a fan of “paperless classrooms,” which offer students options like online textbooks and class notes that can be accessed from virtually anywhere.
A website called Gaggle allows teachers to upload lessons that are easily accessed by their class. Students can also turn in assignments digitally and receive faster feedback for their work.
Hale recently used Gaggle in her class for a reading assignment. Students submitted their views on the assigned reading using the discussion board feature. “Gaggle works a lot like Blackboard and similar software used on college campuses,” she said. “It’s a great way for students to practice and get used to that kind of environment.”
Paperless classrooms also offer lessons through podcasts. This creates a “flipped classroom,” where class time is used for one-on-one discussions with the teacher.
Students are encouraged, if possible, to bring their own devices to class, said Boyles. Around 40 percent of students have their own devices, such as a computer or smartphone, according to a rough estimate.
To make the lessons more interesting, Boyles and Hale use an assortment of fun programs and websites. These programs create a learning environment for students with different learning styles, whether it be visual, auditory or hands-on.
An example is StripGenerator.com, where Boyle’ students created a scene with Spanish subtitles to describe each panel. The website allowed each student to think creatively and expand on their writing assignments.
Hale used social media to modernize her lessons on Romeo and Juliet. Students were given an option in one of their assignments to create profiles of the characters on Facebook.
Boyles also believes in using music to help her students retain what they are learning. “Kids’ heads are full of lyrics from the songs they listen to,” said Boyles. On the high school’s Facebook page, she uploaded a video of her students singing along to a Spanish/English song mix. “When I give tests, I can actually hear some of my students humming the songs to help them remember an answer,” she said.
Both Boyles and Hale recognize that students learn more when they are having fun with the material. By integrating modern elements, they hope to create classrooms that are both functional and enjoyable.

In other action at the Oct. 9 meeting:
• Superintendent Bill Sturgill presented members of the board with awards from the Virginia School Boards Association. Sturgill, board chairman Ray Kohl and board members Helen Kyle received an Award of Distinction, and board member Stewart Merdian received a Certificate of Recognition.

• Enrollment numbers are continuing to grow, according to Sturgill. He noted that the current number of students is 1,278.

• The date for November’s school board meeting was changed to Nov. 20. Both the November meeting and the December meeting will take place at the Galax Elementary School library.

• Upgrades for the track and field are almost complete, but there is still an issue of water ponding at the high jump area. The board agreed that funds to fix this issue will be held until they receive an estimated cost of repair.