But converting a boring subject into a interesting one is a challenge Monterey High School teacher Penny Riddle is now better equipped to handle Ñ thanks to innovative instruction from Tennessee Technological University instructor Sandi Smith.
Smith showed Riddle how to change attitudes about learning basic computer skills when the Monterey teacher came back to Tennessee Tech to earn an advance degree. Putting Riddle to work on a project of her own, Smith taught her how to scan photos, create graphics, use music, download information and run software, all to produce a video.
Back in Monterey, Riddle had 25 workstations in the classroom where freshmen and sophomores are first introduced to computers. What the classroom sometimes lacked was energy and enthusiasm; a little show-and-tell with her video did the trick.
"I was surprised when I showed the video I made to my kids at school," said Riddle. "I really knew the 'light bulb' in one student's head came on when he started staying after school to work on his project."
"Most of us had used a computer, but just for fun," said student Ashley Bilbrey. "We had played games and e-mailed friends, but learning how to use a computer for school was new to us."
Now, in a basic computer class that begins with learning the keyboard, Monterey students create their own video presentations including photos, music and graphics.
"Since our high schools and elementary schools are equipped with computers, it's our charge to help teachers evaluate what software is effective, even fun," said Smith. "We teach teachers to use technology and put the good programs to work for themselves and their students."
Looking at their videos, it's obvious the students took a personal interest in their projects. There's a hunting and fishing photo montage dedicated to a dad, a project capsuling feelings for a group of friends, even a tribute to a country music legend.
"When I saw their finished projects, I realized what I'd been learning at Tech had paid off not only for me, but for so many students," said Riddle.
"Teaching from a book leaves students with the question, 'What's in it for me?' Teaching with this technology gives them a way to inject their personalities into what they learn."
As a teacher preparing Riddle and dozens of other area teachers, Smith relies on computers, CD-ROMs, camcorders, laser discs, VCRs and microphones more than books in the university's model 21st Century Classrooms.
"Students now graduate who are thoroughly prepared to use all of the twenty-first century classrooms established in schools throughout the state," said Smith. "Teachers like Penny can take a lead in these schools, making sure that students benefit fully from available technology."
According to Ms. Riddle's class, the plan is working."The best part was learning something our teacher had just learned and working as a group to figure out what we could do on a computer," said Bilbrey.