Technology takes center stage at board meet

Published 11:47 am Monday, April 30, 2018

By Lorenzo Salinas


The future is now — at least when it comes to new technology being used to instruct the next generation of Port Arthur youth.

The Port Arthur Independent School District Board of Trustees met for their regular meeting Thursday night at Memorial High School. After Superintendent Mark Porterie took the opportunity to congratulate the girls and boys varsity track teams for their respective successes — and the Memorial concert band for their UIL performance as well — staff reports followed.

“School technology is important to teaching and learning,” Porterie said. “As PAISD works to train students during school and beyond school, we make sure they are tech-savvy… Our students are very, very savvy when it comes to technology and we have to keep up with them.”

Instructional Technology Supervisor Kenneth Daigre showed the board a PowerPoint presentation detailing some of the technological highlights coming up for the district.


Augmented reality

“We have some wonderful things we’re going to introduce to our students,” Daigre said, before introducing the augmented reality, learning tool called zSpace.

“zSpace Science Technology is a computer unit that allows students to do some things in 3D or augmented reality,” Daigre said.

Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes computer-generated images onto a live viewing of a real-world environment.

In demonstrating possible cost-saving measures, Daigre pointed out the significant amount of money the science department spends on animal cadavers for biology classes. By using augmented reality instead, the cost could be reduced and, as Daigre put it, “allow for more science to go on.”

“It allows them to do this in a 3D environment,” Daigre said. “The curriculum can be updated along with some art and music curriculum. It’s very dynamic. It’s just plain cool.”

Daigre said the department plans on installing zSpace technology in science labs across the district’s secondary schools in the near future.


Calculators that are like computers

Daigre next discussed advanced calculator units called the TI-Nspire CX Navigator System.

“It’s almost unfair to call these calculators because they’re so much like computers,” Daigre said. “We plan on using a fair amount (of them) which can be used on testing for secondary students.”

The calculator units will come with training for teachers and software that allows for instruction.

“This really puts teachers in the (running) for the next instrument. Students will definitely be ready for the collegiate field with these calculators,” Daigre said. “Hopefully all secondary schools will receive some of them.”


TVs one can touch

Touch screen interactive televisions were the next announcement for a school district already somewhat familiar with them.

“We purchased some of these machines with grant money before… and we have had so much positive energy and feedback with these that Dr. (Melvin) Getwood would like to put this model in other grades,” Daigre said.

“The cool thing about this unit is it is basically able to turn into a table and several students are able to go to the unit and use it at the same time as teachers instruct from it.”

Daigre said he hopes to put two of the interactive televisions on each campus.


Robots and machines

Daigre followed this up with a discussion on education-themed robotics.

“We’re looking to get Cue, Dash and Dots for middle school,” Daigre said.

Cue, Dash and Dot are children’s robots put out by Wonder Workshop. They sport various features like responsive AI, programming instruction and games for all ages.

“We launched the robotics program with Dr. Getwood for elementary and secondary students last summer and it went bananas,” Daigre said. “It was a success.”

Daigre said the program proved to be so successful that a number of parents bought the colorful robots for their kids to play with at home and to continue the program they started at school.

“Now, we’re working on a curriculum designed for middle-school students,” Daigre said. “It would allow our students to get lessons on math-based curriculum.”

Among other lessons planned are coding and robot basics.

Daigre expressed the idea of an extended course in robotics starting from elementary and running all the way through high school.

“Just imagine,” he asked of the school board.


Tablets for every campus

Finally, Daigre focused on Chromebook tablets and possible updates for them.

PAISD launched Chromebooks as an educational tool about five years ago for every campus.

“Students, teachers and staff fell in love with it,” Daigre said. “And we want to increase the amount.”

IT’s projection for the next school year foresees six carts of tablets per campus for elementary and secondary schools; four carts for Wilson Early College High School; two carts for Washington Elementary; and two to six carts for all other campuses.

“This (initiative) extends to home. Students will be able to access lessons from home,” Daigre said. “It gives them digital experience in what the teachers are teaching in and beyond the classrooms.”

Daigre said the eventual goal is to ensure each student has access to a Chromebook tablet. He noted the department is getting closer to that goal.

Daigre soon pointed to the district’s record of being on the cutting edge for much of the cutting edge technology it is utilizing.

“PAISD was one of the first districts to put 3D printers in our classroom,” he said. “Second, this augmented reality will make PAISD be the first district to use that technology in the classroom.”


In other meeting occurrences, Thursday marked the final board meeting for trustee Joseph Guillory.

Guillory is leaving to run for Justice of the Peace Precinct 8 in May.

“We want to thank trustee Guillory for his service on the PAISD school board…” president Donald Frank Sr. said. “We wish you well in all your future endeavors.”