Sunset Ridge School District 29 is a small district in the Northern Chicago suburbs comprised of just two schools and around 500 students. The small size means that the classrooms enjoy an advantageous teacher-to-student ratio, supporting the district’s student-centered philosophy and dedication to a rigorous learning environment.
Last year, Sheri Styczen, the Director of Technology for Sunset Ridge, began searching for a better option to replace the schools’ interactive projectors and whiteboards.
“We’ve always been an advanced district in terms of technology. We first started out over a decade ago with interactive Promethean boards,” said Styczen. “We were actually one of the pilot schools for the boards in 2006. We installed two Promethean boards and rolled them out over the next couple years.”
In the 2012-2013 school year, Sunset Ridge decided to start replacing the ActivBoards with another brand of interactive projector and whiteboard, but Styczen felt there had to be a better option.
“There were all kinds of problems and unanticipated downtime with interactive projectors,” said Styczen. “The bulbs didn’t really last, and we had to install speakers and connect to teacher laptops with various cords. Even worse, since there are so many moving parts, it was difficult to figure out what wasn’t working when something wasn’t working. We had to use trial and error, which ate up a lot of class time.”
A New School Needs New Technology
“I’d seen a few boards and interactive panels at different conferences, so when I became Director of Technology, I knew what direction I wanted to go. Interactive panels are simply better for teachers and students,” said Styczen. “Plus, we were planning to build a new school, which was my opportunity to submit purchase orders for the right technology throughout the process.”
Styczen and her IT team evaluated several options for interactive panels, eventually narrowing the field to Clear Touch™ and one other competitor.
“The reseller I was working with carried both brands, but he actually recommended Clear Touch™ over the other option,” said Styczen. “Clear Touch™ came in and did a demo for us, and it was obvious that they offered more. There were clear advantages.”
However, the IT team at Sunset Ridge didn’t want to make a unilateral decision without teacher input, so they asked Clear Touch if they could have a panel to test out for a semester.
“I know we’re not their biggest customer by a long shot, but they never hesitated. They sent us a panel on a mobile stand immediately,” Styczen said. “That made an impression. All of our teachers got to use it, touch it, and get experience with it before we purchased for the new building.”
The First Year With Clear Touch™
In July of 2017, Sunset Ridge had 22 panels installed at Sunset Ridge School, which serves grades 4-8, and an additional panel installed at Middlefork School, which is the home for the district’s K-3 students. The district chose the 86-inch panel with some training and professional development.
“As the Director for a smaller district, I get to know all my teachers personally. And they are not shy about providing feedback and telling me what they think,” said Styczen. “This first year has been incredibly successful. Everyone loves the interactive panel.”
Styczen believes that, since the teachers were already used to interactive projectors, the transition has been even smoother and simpler, noting that teachers who weren’t ready or didn’t have the time to create new lessons with the new software could easily continue to use what they’d developed in the past—just on a better panel with more connectivity and interactive capabilities.
“I can’t say enough good things about this panel,” said Styczen. “The sound quality is perfect with the built-in speakers, and the teachers and kids both love it. If you’ve been in the classroom you know that you can lose students quickly if something doesn’t work. These panels make the classroom experience connected and virtually effortless. The teachers also love that they don’t have to turn off the lights to use the panels. It’s bright and clear and keeps all of the students engaged. I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback.”
Engaging with Students
The school has equipped classrooms with Clear Touch Interactive® panels. They have also purchased three panels with mobile stands, including one on a convertible mobile stand for the Learning Center.
“The mobile panels move all the time between the library and other rooms for presentations, teacher meetings, and parent meetings. But I think our favorite is the panel that converts to a table in the Learning Center,” Styczen said. “We’ve been using the Snowflake entertainment suite and letting the kids play curling, ping pong, and air hockey during recess and lunch. It’s a great, active option to reward students, it completely engages them, and it brings them together to play and learn.”
In order to best use the interactive panels, Sunset Ridge increased their bandwidth and purchased additional technology.
“We ramped up our bandwidth at the beginning of the year so that we’d get the most value out of our new technology. We now have 400 MBs per school,” said Styczen. “The mobile flat panels include a wireless adapter that ties into the network seamlessly, so there are no wires. We have a really good network and infrastructure, and the panels work beautifully with our setup. They also support multiple devices, so students and teachers can connect with their iPads or Chromebooks at the same time.”
The result of this fast, simple connectivity is more engaged and more confident students.
“I recently visited a classroom and saw 5th grade students presenting their Genius projects,” Styczen said. “They were up at the front of the room using the panel like pros, connecting with their own devices, using the annotation features, turning the pages, and leading class discussion.”
The teachers also enjoy the different features that Clear Touch™ panels provide.
Looking to the Future: More Training, More Support, More Technology
“The initial installation and training went so well, that we’re already looking at ways to expand with this technology,” said Styczen. “The Clear Touch team did an amazing job with the first round of training, and then we did a lot of training in-house. We have an amazing tech assistant who went around to individual classrooms and taught the teachers new features they could use. It’s a process, and we’re still learning how to fully use the panels. But they’re intuitive and fun, so it feels like an easy learning curve. From a tech standpoint, it was also a remarkably seamless transition. I hardly ever get called on to fix an issue and, when I do, it’s always easy to pinpoint and resolve.”
Because of the success of this pilot year, the district has decided to install more panels for next school year.
“This summer, we’ll be installing 15 more panels,” said Styczen. “This time at the elementary school. Our end goal is to get interactive panels in every classroom in the district.”
Sunset Ridge’s success has also started to affect other districts in the area.
“We’ve actually started inviting other districts in to see the panels in action when we have our training,” said Styczen. “They’ll sit in on a demo with Clear Touch™ or even come to a training session that we’re hosting. I’d love to see other districts in the Chicago area make the switch to these interactive panels, because I’ve seen first-hand the impact they have on the teachers and the students.”