Monroe County School District serves over 8,700 students at 16 educational institutions in Florida’s upper, middle, and lower keys. This unusual school district stretches over 106 miles, making any full-scale technology deployment difficult.
The operational hurdles didn’t stop the forward-thinking district from looking for the best EdTech solution for their teachers and students. In late 2013, Joy Nulisch, the Director of Instructional Technology for Monroe County, and Thomas Matangos, the IT Operations Manager for the district, began researching options for installing interactive panels in every district classroom.
“I came across Clear Touch™ at a conference,” said Nulisch. “I saw the panels from across the exhibit hall and it drew me in, because it seemed more engaging than anything else I’d seen. It was midway through the year, so I had a limited budget available to replace some older projectors. They came down for a demo, and I ended up doing a small initial purchase of 15 panels for each of our three high schools.”
While the teachers who received the panels absolutely loved them, Nulisch and her team didn’t have the budget remaining to purchase interactive panels for all classrooms.
“We decided to go with interactive projectors for the other classrooms,” said Matangos. “That ended up being highly problematic. The bulbs burnt out, they weren’t compatible with all software and devices, and we were constantly getting calls to come fix problems. As soon as we had a new budget, we got engaged with Clear Touch™ again.”
Teachers Evaluate Interactive Panel Options
Nulisch and Matangos saw the new budget as a chance to outfit all of the Pre-K through eighth grade classrooms with the same technology they’d purchased for the high schools. Along with Clear Touch™, the IT team evaluated three other vendors—making the teachers part of the process.
“We wanted to base our decision on what the teachers wanted, so we invited teachers to come see a demo of all the panels,” Matangos said. “Afterward, we conducted a survey. Overwhelmingly, the teachers chose the Clear Touch™ panel.”
According to the feedback, the teachers loved how easy the panel was to use and the included software, particularly EasiNote and Snowflake. They also loved being able to adjust and convert it into a tabletop.
“We had the panel on the convertible mobile stand, which kind of sealed the deal,” laughed Nulisch. “The teachers fell in love. The three other panels didn’t get any votes.”
Matangos agreed. “The stand sold it for our elementary teachers especially. They can adjust the height for different grades. I know at least one teacher who adjusted her panel toward the end of the year, because younger kids grow so fast.”
Larry Schmiegel, the principal at Poinciana Elementary School, was instrumental to the evaluation process, ensuring that he and his teachers got to test the products.
“I’ve been a principal in three districts, and this is the first time that I’ve seen an IT department ask for teacher input instead of buying what they thought would be best,” said Schmiegel. “It was important to me to make sure our teachers took the opportunity to have a say.”
The teachers also enjoyed the evaluation stage.
“I really appreciated being part of the process,” said Bridget Harrigan, a first grade teacher at Dr. Schmiegel’s school. “We’re on the front lines, working with students every day. Being asked for input made me feel professional—valued as an integral member of the team.”
“Since the teacher’s device doesn’t have to be tied to it somehow, it eliminates security issues and gives students control. We’ve successfully flipped the classroom with Clear Touch™.”
— Joy Nulisch
Installing the Panels and Teacher Training
The IT department ordered 328 panels, choosing convertible mobile stands for all Pre-K through second grade classrooms and adjustable mobile stands for all third through eighth grade classrooms.
“Clear Touch™ really delivered for us,” said Nulisch. “They brought their team members here for support, unloading trucks and getting it done. Mr. Matangos led that effort, and he gave them a massive schedule, spread out across 10 schools and over 100 miles. They were able to adjust their delivery model so we could be successful.”
So far, the response to the panels has been
entirely positive.“We drop in and check on the schools, make sure everything is going well,” said Matangos. “We’ve had great feedback from everyone, but especially from the special needs classes. The panels adjust and can move so far that they’re accessible to everyone, and we’re seeing these students enjoy learning like never before.”
In addition to the interactive panels and mobile stands, Monroe County chose the optional onboard PC modules and the professional development package.
“We got Billy Jack for training, and it’s been such a pleasure,” explained Nulisch. “He’s a former teacher, so he understands the kinds of things that teachers are going to want to know. He’s been to each school twice this year, doing group sessions and going to individual classrooms to show teachers specifics. We have a wide range of comfort levels, from tech gurus to technophobes, so it’s been helpful to get that level of training.”
Even without the training, though, the IT team believes that the panels are so intuitive that the teachers and students could use them right away.
“Other products we tested were cumbersome and hard to use. We love the interoperability and the ability to use the panels without a computer tied in,” said Matangos. “Before we even had formal training, the teachers were pulling up the interactive whiteboard feature and starting to use it.”
The optional onboard PCs also allow Monroe County to brand the panel with their own Windows image and give teachers the ability to have a separate computer in the classroom, which enhances security.
“At the end of the day, this is a device for the students,” said Nulisch. “Since the teacher’s device doesn’t have to be connected, it eliminates security issues and gives students control. We’ve successfully flipped the classroom with Clear Touch™.”
The Teacher’s Perspective: Using Clear Touch™ in the Classroom
Julie Bridger, who teaches in a self-contained ESE classroom, and Bridget Harrigan, who teaches first grade, have used Clear Touch™ for the past year. Both teachers work at Poinciana Elementary School with principal Larry Schmiegel.
“So far, this year’s been amazing,” said Schmiegel. “I invite friends in administration to visit, and they can’t believe the technology we’ve put in the hands of our teachers and students. Often, in initiatives like this, planning forgets self-contained classrooms or assumes they can’t use the technology. Under Joy Nulisch’s leadership, all of our classrooms have the panels.”
In the self-contained classrooms, teachers are finding the technology to be incredibly helpful.
“If there’s something I want to explore, it’s simple to jump in and try something new. It’s so intuitive, and the kids pick it up even more quickly. My kids can come in and do their own attendance; they’ve completely taken over that responsibility,” said Bridger. “We use it from the first moment. We do a fitness program in the morning, calendar time, counting patterns. It’s so engaging, and it makes expression easier for students who, sometimes, have difficulty expressing themselves.”
Harrigan has also discovered creative ways to use the panel in her classroom.
“We have a morning message as soon as they come in, so they go to the board and respond, connecting with the lesson for the day,” said Harrigan. “We use it as a word work and writing center. My students will co-write and then edit a piece right on the panel. Snowflake is amazing for word work and ELA in general—with spelling games, phonics games. They love this game where they spin the beginning of a word and have to figure out the rest. In Math, it is always a center. I put it in tabletop mode and 8 students can get around it at once. With Canvas, they easily screen capture one of their quadrants and share to the others. Or, the students work problems on individual whiteboards, take a picture and send it to the panel to explain their methods to the class. The kids start to teach each other.”
The Shifting Classroom Dynamic
Dr. Schmiegel added: “One thing I’ve noticed since getting Clear Touch™ is that the teachers say we a lot more when talking about the technology. Students use it as much as the teachers. The teachers have collaborative conversations, engaging students in dialogue about their own education. The classroom dynamic is changing, and the technology is helping us get there.”
As part of the shifting classroom dynamic, Monroe County is also planning to purchase more flexible, collaborative furniture in the near future to help students stay mobile in the classroom.
“As a first-year teacher, I don’t know anything other than having students up and moving around,” said Harrigan. “They are self-paced and nearly self-governed by halfway through the year. I can’t imagine them sitting still the whole time, doing a worksheet instead of an engaging, awesome activity.”
Bridger, a veteran teacher, has similar thoughts about a more mobile classroom.
“In the past, my students have been expected to remain in their desks,” said Bridger. “But they need to move and interact to learn. I have fewer behavior problems now because they’re getting that need met, and because I’m free to move around the room, too, and be with them.”
In addition, the teachers appreciate how much time, and money, they save because of the panels.
“This is the first year that I’ve felt I can truly focus on my teaching,” said Bridger. “I’m not scrambling to make copies, and I don’t spend nearly as much time getting worksheets together and cutting stuff out.”
One final benefit that both teachers have noticed while using the Clear Touch™ panels is a greater ability to collaborate in lesson planning.
“I’ve joined a Facebook group called MultiTeachers, and Clear Touch™ connected me with other teachers across the state who are using the panel,” said Bridger. “We’re always sharing tips and resources. It’s amazing how many people I’ve connected with, and often they share something that’s exactly what I’m working on with my students.”
“Since these panels are easy-to-use, more teachers are embracing the technology and using it in incredible ways.”
— Thomas Matangos
Technology Teachers Can Rely On
“We wanted to have technology that could be used for more than just presentations,” said Schmiegel. “We wanted something flexible that would emphasize the student.”
The teachers have all experienced breakthrough moments with their students using Clear Touch™ technology.
“My students have been playing a Snowflake game called Numbers that asks them to fill in a balloon with the right numbers to complete a math sentence,” said Harrigan. “I had a lower performing student who whizzed through math with this game, but then he got stuck during assessment. I asked him which balloon he would use, and I got to see the light bulb moment when he realized the quiz was the same as the game he loves.”
From the perspective of the IT department, the first year with Clear Touch™ has been a complete success.
“Compared to other technology we’ve used, this deployment has been 100 times easier,” said Matangos. “We can manage everything remotely, and I can count on one hand the number of tickets we’ve had the whole year for 328 panels.”
For Thomas Matangos and Joy Nulisch, though, using Clear Touch™ isn’t about making their job easier.
“The teachers can rely on the tech and know it’s going to work, instantly, when they turn it on. My wife is a 5th grade teacher in the district, so I know,” said Matangos. “When the teachers have to stop and fix a connection problem, they lose momentum. That’s frustrating, so they quit using it. Since these panels are easy-to-use, more teachers are embracing the technology and using it in incredible ways.”
Nulisch added: “And that means better ROI, because the technology actually gets used. That’s the IT nightmare—to walk into a classroom with an interactive projector and see a poster or student work hanging on the whiteboard. You know it’s not being used. That never happens anymore with Clear Touch™.”