2018-01-08 / News

Students benefit from timesaving technology at North Branch school

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE


North Branch Elementary School second/third grade teacher Stacey James demonstrates some of the educational uses of the Prysm Digital Workplace Platform, including student interaction, for Michigan State University and Prysm Inc. representatives earlier this month. James is one of four teachers at North Branch Elementary School, tapped to use the system in instruction. The four teachers are the first in the country to apply the system to public school education. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese North Branch Elementary School second/third grade teacher Stacey James demonstrates some of the educational uses of the Prysm Digital Workplace Platform, including student interaction, for Michigan State University and Prysm Inc. representatives earlier this month. James is one of four teachers at North Branch Elementary School, tapped to use the system in instruction. The four teachers are the first in the country to apply the system to public school education. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese NORTH BRANCH – The Prysm Digital Workplace Platform had never been used in a public-school setting until the first part of this year, when several organizations made it happen in North Branch – a nationwide first.

The company that produces the system, Prysm Inc., lists companies like GE, Under Armor and Sprint as clients.

Beginning this school year, four teachers at North Branch Elementary were added to that list as the first educators in the United States to utilize the system in their classrooms.

“These four are the first teachers in the United States to use this system in a classroom setting,” said North Branch Area Schools Director of Curriculum Amber White.

Thanks to a collaboration between North Branch Area Schools, Michigan State University and Prysm Inc. of Carmel, Indiana, North Branch Elementary School has been host to the cutting-edge Prysm Digital Workplace Platform, and teachers at the school have been finding dozens of in-classroom applications of the system, both expected and unexpected. The collaboration is the result of an eight-year partnership between MSU and NBAS that focuses on the integration of a multimodal touchscreen communication technology.

“Teachers waste valuable instructional time switching between various tools and disparate technology,” said Prysm’s vice-president of research and development Brandon Fischer.

“Prysm makes those tools available in a single intuitive interface, allowing the teachers to engage students more effectively, leading to enhanced productivity in the classroom,” he added.

The Prysm Digital Workplace Platform (DWP) is a touchscreen display that allows users to bring existing content, communication tools and applications under a unified digital canvas. The platform allows users to interact in real-time and work together, combining web browsers, videos, interactive modules and more on the screen, as well as projecting onto mobile devices and Chromebooks.

The unit currently housed in North Branch Elementary features a 65-inch screen and is valued at more than $20,000, and the school is the only public school facility in the United States that was selected to utilize the Prysm DWP. Thanks to the partnership between North Branch Area Schools, Prysm, and MSU, the arrangement has come at no cost to the district.

According to MSU’s Dr. Douglas Hartman, professor of technology and human learning, the relationship that has formed between the North Branch Elementary teachers and the workspace have been enlightening.

“Because this is a first-ofits kind project, there are new applications of Prysm’s digital workspace every week,” he said. “For instance, one teacher works with students to produce a daily TV weather report. Working as a team, students use the large Prysm screen to stage a local weather segment that is recorded and posted on the school YouTube channel.”

Hartman described other application of the Prysm system made by the teachers.

“Another teacher used the large digital workspace to read, annotate, and discuss all 30 chapters of a novel. The large canvas made it possible for students to quickly compare characters and events across the entire novel by easily placing pages side-by-side that are far apart in the novel,” he said. “Yet another teacher used the large canvas to help students develop strategies for estimating bird population sizes. By making their thinking visible, the digital workspace helped students better evaluate which of their estimation strategies were more effective than others.”

Four teachers — Kim Gormley, Stacey James (Grade 2/3), Stacey Nowak and Sara Hyde (Gifted/Talented 2-4), along with K-5 Math Coach Cindy Lewis and K-5 Literacy Coach Kerry Rose, have been utilizing the Prysm in their instruction, and through their work with the system in the classroom, Hartman and Prysm officials are getting a glimpse at the potential a tool like Prysm could have in education.

Hartman also visits the district weekly to convene with the teachers to discuss the impact the system has had on instruction. “It’s not just about the technology, it’s always about learning first,” she said. “(Prysm’s) bread and butter has always been the corporate world, and the workforce is changing and evolving, so they’re looking at how this technology can be leveraged in the education world.”

One of the most significant advantages the system provides teachers is the ability to save time, perhaps the most important asset an educator has.

“For teachers, Prysm’s screen puts a range of digital materials in a large workspace for use when needed. There’s no toggling among windows, clicking among tabs, or opening and closing apps, all digital materials are ‘live’ on the screen, ready to go when the teacher needs it,” said Hartman.

“For students, Prysm’s screen puts students in charge of learning. The digital workspace is a blank canvas where projects and activities can be designed to best fit the particular learning needs of students,” said Fischer, pointing out that if a teacher isn’t burdened with constantly alternating mediums of technology in the classroom, they’re able to more efficiently teach.

According to Hartman, the aim of the system’s introduction into a public school environment is four-fold: the learning progressions for teachers, students, administrators as they integrate MTCT into their teaching, learning and leading; types of support that are needed for teachers, students, and administrators to become fluent and effective users of MTCT; the effects of MTCT use on teacher development, student learning, and administrator effectiveness; and innovative uses of MTCT are developed by teachers, students, and administrators as they experiment and experience the affordances and constraints of the technology.

The future of digital workplaces like Prysm in the classroom is bright, said Hartman.

“The touchscreen is intuitive, it connects to smaller devices easily, it permits instant communication to someone far away, and the content on the screen is always ‘live,’” he said. “The teachers and students in the NBAS pilot project went ‘aha’ when they first saw the Prysm system’s potential and were immediately ready to roll up their sleeves and get started. I think others will do the same.”

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