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digital projectors

How our elementary school got a tech makeover

By keeping an open mind about how to solve a budget shortage, our school scored brand-new digital projectors and displays as part of a tech makeover.

Kids gravitate to technology in the classroom, so it makes sense for teachers to utilize digital projectors—that is, unless no one can see the lessons they display.

This was our situation a couple of years ago at Northwest Elementary School in Chatsworth, Ga., in the summer of 2014. We were having challenges with the technology in our learning environments: Our digital projectors were eight years old, so the projections weren’t very bright anymore, and it was difficult for our students to see the images on the screen. Worse still, sometimes the projectors wouldn’t boot up at all, or conked out midway through a class, which frustrated teachers who needed them for the day’s lesson.

We wanted to include funding for these upgrades in the budget, but after planning for essentials, there just wasn’t much money left over. We looked at replacing a few digital projectors at a time, but we have 29 classrooms–how would we prioritize which classrooms would get the new projectors first? What do you eliminate from the budget so the kids can have another computer? It was frustrating. We thought there was no way we were going to be able to get everything we needed.

But–as you might have guessed–this story has a happy ending.

Taking the Plunge

Then our curriculum coach, Kristy Campbell, told me about the opportunity that would change everything: NEC Display Solutions was sponsoring a contest that would give the winning school $25,000 toward digital display and projector technologies. Mrs. Campbell suggested we enter–and we decided to go for it.

Our school produced a video, “Oh, it Froze,” based on the song “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen,” featuring our students and teachers singing about our outdated computers freezing during class. And it wasn’t just a contest entry; it also was a fun way to improve morale. Teachers were dealing with curriculum changes with the implementation of Common Core, as well as the budget shortages that were affecting us all, and this contest really pulled our community together.

We sent the video off – and then, knowing that the manufacturer was choosing the winner based on the number of votes, we got to work: The district office emailed contacts throughout the state, and I handed out voting instructions as parents picked up kids after school. Even a local congressman helped drum up support.

Then we held our breath and waited.

(Next page: A digital projector ending; 3 tips to handle a budget shortage)

A Fairytale Ending

Out of nine finalists, our school won the top prize with 3,137 votes. We all were speechless with excitement!

With the $25,000 to be used toward those much-needed tech upgrades, we chose 29, 2,800-lumen high-brightness mobile projectors, which are designed for small spaces with a lot of ambient light, like most of our classrooms.

We also ordered 23 32-inch LED edge-lit commercial-grade displays for homeroom classrooms, which now play the lively morning announcement video that the older kids produce each day.

An extra boon came from receiving the contest money: Because we didn’t need to put our technology budget toward digital projectors, we instead bought eight new computers. The prize money funded eight 19-inch desktop monitors with built-in speakers to complement the computers. The new monitors show a clearer, crisper picture and take up much less space on the lab desks, giving our students more room to work.

As the final part of our prize, we also received an edge-lit commercial grade monitor, now stationed in the parents’ waiting area to share news and information – much more interesting to look at than the static roadway sign or paper notices on the walls.

The new technology has made a big difference in Northwest’s classrooms. Our teachers use the digital projectors daily, for everything from vocabulary lessons to social studies video clips, as well as software-based group lessons. They also provide an efficient way for teachers to give students directions, and students themselves use the projectors during presentations. It’s a great feeling to see the kids engage with the technology and use it to learn.

Three Tips for Dealing with Budget Shortages

1. Look for creative solutions to budget shortages. We thought we were in a bind because there wasn’t enough money to cover the necessary technology. Who would ever have thought that making a parody video–which was a fun community-building exercise for the school–would help us get what we needed?

2. Keep an open mind. We were lucky to have a curriculum coach with her ear to the ground. Don’t discount anyone’s idea–listen and ask questions to see if it’s feasible.

3. Consult the experts. After we won our prize money, NEC helped us choose exactly the right digital projectors and displays for our needs. As educators, we know teaching through and through and it’s important to remember that our vendors know their stuff just as comprehensively. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions or recommendations when shopping for new educational products.

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