Ditching the Dusty Chalboards for Clear Touch™ Panels
Slate chalkboards are still affixed to the walls of elementary, middle and high school classrooms in New Jersey’s Clayton Public School District. What you notice, however, when you step into any of Clayton Public Schools’ 100 classrooms, is not the once-dusty teaching necessity of yesteryear; it’s the gorgeous 65-inch HD LED touchscreen panel mounted over the old chalkboard.
“We wanted to continue our district’s forward momentum with cutting-edge technology. From my experience in the tech industry, I knew the Clear Touch panels would … do that.”
— Dan Marakowski
Clayton Public Schools, which serves over 1,430 students, completed a district-wide rollout of Clear Touch Interactive panels just prior to the start of this school year. Dan Marakowski, District Technology Coordinator, spearheaded the project and worked with Clear Touch and its integration partner, LeCroy, to install the panels and train the teachers before students arrived in August.
Advancing the District’s Technology Agenda
Incidentally, the slate on the walls behind the Clear Touch panels doesn’t tell the whole story of this technologically progressive school district. The panels replaced, not old chalkboards, but rather outdated smartboards that once hung in their place as well as ceiling-mounted projectors well past their prime.
“The boards began to fail and all the projectors were dying. We toyed with the idea of going with smartboards again and installing new projectors, but that seemed so regressive,” said Marakowski. “We wanted to continue our district’s forward momentum with cutting-edge technology. From my experience in the tech industry, I knew the Clear Touch panels would allow us to do that.”
The district’s forward momentum has included, in recent years, a one-to-one iPad initiative. In 2012, iPads were issued to all eighth grade students, and every year since, additional iPads have been distributed to students in other grades. The 2015-2016 school year is the first year in which all students in grades 8 through 12 have an iPad. Every teacher in the district also has an iPad.
Clayton Public Schools has also increased its classroom computing power by combining each of their new Clear Touch panels with the optional integrated computer module, which slides directly into the back of the panel.
Teachers can interact with Windows directly on the panel after logging in with their Active Directory credentials. “Anything they can do on a desktop, they can do on the touchscreen panel,” said Marakowski. “Our teachers love it. It’s instant-on. There’s no warmup time on the panel, and the PC boots quickly.”
Leveraging Technology to Promote & Enhance Learning
“Our teachers can now teach from anywhere in the classroom. In the past, they utilized desktops to control the smartboards and projectors, but with the panels, we were able to rip all of that out, leaving only the desktops for email, grading, curriculum planning, and other non-student-facing tasks,” said Marakowski.
The setup provides endless teaching possibilities. The panel can be used as the integrated PC’s display and input device, but it can also wirelessly display any iPad screen, including, for those teaching grades 8 through 12, students’ iPads.
“Clear Touch panels are software agnostic, which is great from a usability and diversity standpoint,” said Marakowski. “We employ a mix of Clear Touch software and third-party software to give our teachers extreme flexibility.”
Teachers can pull up any Windows-based application, any iPad app, any video, any online resource, etc., and display it on the screen. What’s more, the panel gets students involved and engages them in lessons better than ever before.
Marakowski said Clear Touch’s ability to recognize up to ten simultaneous points of touch drives student engagement and collaboration. “I’ve seen it in action: ten little pre-k fingers manipulating objects and matching shapes all at the same time, first graders learning phonics with the help of online games, middle schoolers collaborating on difficult math problems, and high schoolers working together to connect points on a giant diagram,” he said.
Ensuring Panel Visibility & Reachability
Not all of Clayton’s new panels are mounted to the wall in the same way, and two panels are not mounted to any wall. In selecting the installation hardware, special consideration was given to classroom layouts and student height.
All of the panels installed in Herma Simmons Elementary School classrooms (46 total) are mounted on balance box systems. With these spring-loaded, height-adjustable wall mounts, teachers can effortlessly slide the panels down the wall to accommodate their shorter operators. “We wanted our younger students to be able to interact with the panels in their own writing position,” said Marakowski. “The balance box mounts do that.”
Two types of wall mounts were used to hang 65-inch Clear Touch panels in the 54 middle and high school classrooms. Fixed mounting systems were used in classrooms that don’t have line-of-sight obstructions for students sitting at their desks, while panels in science and art classrooms can be raised on the balance box systems, allowing students to see over lab stations and art tables.
Clear Touch panels are designed to be easy to see.
“The panels are bright, vivid and clear. With the projectors, teachers had to turn off the lights, and even then, students in the back of the room couldn’t see the washed-out image projected on the whiteboard. With the Clear Touch panels, the lights can be on and sunlight can be streaming through the windows.”
— Dan Marakowski
In addition to the 100 panels mounted to the slate on classroom walls, two 84-inch panels are mounted to balance boxes on mobile stands. One is housed in the middle and high school media center; one in the elementary school library. These panels are used for videos and presentations to larger groups of students.
For example, elementary school teachers recently gathered their students in the cafeteria in front of the 84-inch Clear Touch panel and conducted a Skype call with a marine biologist in Florida, who spoke about his profession.
Training Teachers & Maintaining the Panels
“Clear Touch and LeCroy worked tirelessly to get us up-and-running before the school year started,” said Marakowski. LeCroy installed the panels, and Clear Touch and LeCroy together provided onsite training for teachers.
Marakowski and his team have offered additional training opportunities since the panels were deployed. During some of the district’s regular in-service days, they have presented one-hour sessions for teachers to continue learning. “The panels are so easy to use. Most of our training is focused on better utilizing available software and introducing new apps,” he said. “The panels are also very reliable. We currently have a zero failure rate for the panels.”
Prepping Students for the Future
Marakowski said Clayton Public School District has an incredible amount of technology, especially considering its smaller size. He credits the visionary administrative leaders and the Board of Education, noting that technology plays a vital role in their mission to help schools embrace the opportunities of today to prepare students for the opportunities of tomorrow.