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Screen enlarges computer images in Hillcrest class

Computers are a valuable teaching tool in schools.

But even the largest computer screens can be difficult for every student to see in an average-sized class. Kindergarten Teacher Maggie Jungmann at Hillcrest Elementary School in Ellsworth, who's a computer enthusiast, knows the problem firsthand. Her typical class numbers around 15 youngsters.

"The kids all used to have to gather around my desk," Jungmann said Wednesday about the traditional machine still stationed there, only now used for input to a new 66-inch interactive white board in the front of the classroom.

This "SMARTBoard" and its accompanying projector sufficiently enlarge the computer's images so the kindergarteners can view them while in a normal seating arrangement. Moreover, the board features touch-screen capability, allowing the teacher as well as the students to operate the computer's functions with their fingers.

The board, with its big screen atop a stand mounted on wheels for portability, costs $2,098, Jungmann said. Since watching it be demonstrated during a technology day for teachers at UW-River Falls, she's worked to get the necessary funds to buy it. Over a school year, she first secured a 30 percent discount from the SMARTer Kids Foundation (set up by the manufacturer), then obtained a $500 grant from Andersen Windows in Bayport, Minn., and a $400 grant from the Anne Marie Foundation.

Finally, the Ellsworth Community School District Foundation made her goal reality by contributing $968, she said. Foundation members, along with parents and fellow teachers, were invited to a special unveiling Wednesday evening.

The board arrived two weeks before the end of the last school term, the kindergarten teacher said. She used it to teach a computer class this summer and found it "amazing." There are many applications for her all-day kindergarten class this term, too, she added.

Jungmann said the board can display appropriate photos from the computer while the students sing songs. It projected an online video for the class to watch about butterflies emerging from cocoons. Last week, the children were doing "patterning" on it, as a series of alternating squares and circles were shown lined up, for example, and they had to identify the proper object to come next in the row.

Jungmann's a believer in acquainting students with computers at a young age, she said, having brought several of her own from home to her classroom. She remembered one of her first years in teaching when a student who was trying to play a computer game used the mouse incorrectly, holding it up and having it dangle from his hand. It's important for youngsters to familiarize themselves with equipment they'll likely encounter all of their lives, she agreed, saying her students today "love" the computer and especially the huge board.

"They call it my 'magic' board," she said.

She expressed appreciation to the Ellsworth Community School Foundation and the others for making it possible.