Classroom Technology Suite Update

The Iowa City Schools launched the Every Classroom campaign – with a goal of outfitting all of our rooms with a standard suite of classroom technology – in 2012, with tremendous support from the community and the Iowa City Schools Foundation.  This groundbreaking program allowed the district to bring all of our classrooms up to a basic standard for the 21st century, which included integrated projectors, an interactive whiteboard, and a document camera.

The pace of technology evolution is rapid, and in order to ensure that our students and teachers have access to technologies that will support innovation on the part of our outstanding teachers, the district is revising the classroom standard.

The current standard suite, with approximate costs, includes:


The newly-proposed standard suite, with additions highlighted, will update our classroom technology to include:


In addition to a cost decrease, achieved largely through deployment of projectors that have the interactive whiteboard functionality of a SMART Board built in (but at a fraction of the cost), the new standard introduces several new technologies to our classrooms, including audio systems that make it easier for students to understand teachers, and wireless video features that un-tether our teachers from a fixed location at the front of the room while technology is being used.

In the sections below, I’ve written a bit about each of the components of the proposed suite.

Interactive Projectors

Interactive whiteboards are a game changer in some classrooms, allowing teachers to engage more directly with interactive content, seamlessly move between digital resources and written annotation, providing a resource for recording or sharing board notes and lessons digitally, and ultimately increasing student engagement.  The most substantial drawback to the technology is the cost, as interactive whiteboards – such as SMART Boards – are almost always the most expensive piece of technology within a given classroom.

As anybody with a laptop or tablet knows, every generation of technology tends to offer more power in a smaller package.  Following this trend, interactive projectors – digital projectors that offered the same functionality as an interactive whiteboard – were released several years ago, and have been refined ever since.  The current generation of interactive projectors offer a user experience that is nearly identical to that of a dedicated interactive whiteboard, but can be projected on almost any flat surface, including a standard marker board, a flat wall, or even on the surface of a table.  In addition to offering largely the same physical capabilities as a SMART Board, Epson and SMART have also partnered to support SMART Notebook software, allowing our teachers to continue to use the same software that they’re used to, and ensuring that any lesson resources that have already been created will work the same with the new interactive projectors.

The new classroom suite proposal includes Epson BrightLink interactive projectors.  Check out more information here, or view the video below.  Another attractive component of these projectors is the substantial price discount that schools receive through Epson’s Brighter Futures program.

Classroom Audio with Voice Lift

While we have not yet settled on a particular make/model, we will be implementing a standardized classroom audio solution that uses a wireless pendant mic to subtly amplify the teacher’s voice.  There is a substantial volume of research that shows that students benefit from voice lift in the classroom.  As many as 40% of students suffer from at least temporary minor hearing loss, and students in lower grade levels have a hard time using context to reconstruct missing sounds, resulting in decreased understanding.  Focus suffers as students get frustrated that they can’t follow what a teacher is saying, and student/teacher dynamics in the classroom suffer if the teacher is constantly using “teacher voice”, which often falls somewhere between talking and yelling.  By implementing voice lift technology throughout our classrooms, we can address each of these issues in a package that’s simple enough to use that it generally requires no specific training.

Document Camera

lumens_dc265_p2_xlWhile document cameras are not often the most exciting piece of technology in the classroom, they are used daily in hundreds of classrooms throughout our district.  For those of you not familiar with a document camera, think of a modern version of an overhead projector, with a digital camera that captures high-definition, full-color images of documents, objects, and notes.  The capabilities of modern document cameras far exceed those of the overhead projectors that were ubiquitous in classrooms when I was in school.  These devices can record video and audio that can then be shared with students or posted online, offer high-level optical zoom that can magnify tiny details of art, plant material, or circuit boards, and can work directly with software on the computer to allow a combination of manual (with a pen) and digital (with a computer) interaction with documents.

Wireless Display

An exciting piece of new technology that we’re including in the new classroom suite is wireless video.  While all of our classrooms – including new construction – will continue to have in-wall audio/video cabling, each room will be outfitted with equipment to allow teachers to project their screens and audio over a wireless connection.

widi_teacherThis technology has the potential to substantially change the classroom dynamic, allowing teachers to move freely while using technology rather than being tethered to a single point in the room.  Student engagement and focus – and ultimately achievement – are improved when teachers interact directly with students in a dynamic environment that decentralizes the classroom.  Further, students are empowered to project directly from their devices – as allowed by teachers – Wireless video technology is an important step in creating learning spaces within our buildings that are flexible, and that can be structured to meet the constantly-evolving needs of our learners.

Whiteboard Size

One of the standards that we are implementing is a 5′ vertical whiteboard, which will replace the SMART Boards that we had in place prior to introduction of interactive projectors.  While it’s hard to say that a whiteboard is technology, per se, we will see two substantial benefits.  First, the whiteboards can be used as whiteboards, reclaiming markerboard space that SMART Boards previously monopolized.  100-in_diagonalSecond, the increased vertical size of the board allows us to project a larger image.  While we can’t use the full 5′ (due to limitations of the ultra-short throw projectors), we can project a 100″ diagonal image, which is 43% larger than we could project onto the SMART Boards that we previously deployed in most classrooms.


Liberty High School Technology Planning: Ankeny Centennial

Ankeny Centennial High School opened in suburban Des Moines several years ago as the first completely new high school created in the state since Davenport North in the 1980s, a response to rapid growth affecting Ankeny’s existing high school.  Creation of the new school required the development of new attendance zones, athletic and activity booster groups, reassignment of teachers, and myriad other activities in addition to the construction of a new school (or in Ankeny’s case, two new schools as they replaced Ankeny High School at the same time).

Continue reading Liberty High School Technology Planning: Ankeny Centennial

Assistive Technology Usability Pilot at Shimek Elementary

We’re excited that Shimek Elementary has been selected as a specially designed instruction (SDI) usability pilot site by the Iowa Department of Education.

As part of this pilot, we’ll be implementing some software that is new to the district:

  • uPar is a screener to assist in determination of a need for reading accomodations
  • Snap & Read is a reading accessibility tool that reads text aloud, works both online and offline, performs dynamic text leveling, translation into over 100 languages, along with other study tools
  • Co:Writer uses word prediction and speech recognition, along with content databases to help students better express their ideas in writing

We’re excited to implement this program at Shimek, and for the possibilities that the program’s success could mean for students in all of our buildings.

First ICCSD Technology & Innovation Blog Post

Hi Everyone,

This is my first post as the new director of technology and innovation for the Iowa City Community Schools.

As I learn about the people and programs here in the district, I think that it’s also important for others to have the opportunity to get to know me.  I’m originally from Davenport, Iowa and attended Davenport Central High School.  Both of my parents were college professors, so I had an inclination towards education from a young age, and always wanted to work in the field.

Technology has been a passion of mine for most of my life.  Much to my parents’ chagrin, I reformatted a computer and reinstalled an operating system for the first time when I was 8 years old, taught myself to program in QBasic when I was 10,  and built my first computer at 12.   Professionally, I’ve worked in the academic technology field for over 15 years.  Prior to arriving in Iowa City, I worked with the ADM Schools, Carlisle Schools, the WiderNet Project at The University of Iowa, and Scattergood Friends School, preceded by four years of work study with the IT Services department at Beloit College.

My undergraduate work was at Beloit College in Wisconsin, where i earned a degree in Religious Studies in 2003.  In 2007, I completed a M.A. in Political Science from The University of Iowa, followed by a M.A. in Educational Administration from Iowa in 2011.  I am currently a doctoral candidate (A.B.D.) in Educational Leadership at The University of Iowa.

My wife, Sara, and I have been married for just under 10 years, and have two fantastic daughters, Miriam (3) and Nuria (1).  Sara is a physics content specialist at ACT, a change after spending her entire career teaching AP and IB Physics and mathematics.  Fans of The Big Bang Theory – or of particle physics – might appreciate that has spent time working at both FermiLab in Chicago and at CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider.

In my free time, I enjoy cycling, baseball, disc golf, and ultimate Frisbee, and whatever my little girls are interested in on a given day.  I ride RAGBRAI each year, and Sara and I are both big fans of the Cubs and Hawkeyes (working on our girls as well).  On occasion, I enjoy teaching adjunct political science courses at the college level, and – in a lifetime where I had more free time – spent many years as a high school drumline instructor, in addition to writing and arranging marching band music and drill.

I am incredibly excited to continue to get to know the Iowa City Schools community, and to work with all of you to create engaging, innovative space for our students to use technology to reach levels and experience achievements that they might not have thought possible.  Technology is necessary and ubiquitous in our lives and classrooms, but can also serve as a tremendous force for innovation, equity, creativity, engagement, and achievement.

Adam Kurth
Director of Technology & Innovation