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Two computer screens benefit teachers and students

Meghan Flynn
Garden City Telegram

Teaching remotely is difficult, especially with only a small computer screen of about 13 inches to both see students and share learning materials.

Ember Dortch, a computer studies teacher at Garden City High School, said she didn't realize how much difference a second computer screen could make until she got one.

"I had to have Zoom open in one window and then my attendance in another window and I had to view several different things and they were really tiny, and my eyes are getting old, so it was difficult for me to see everything I needed to see," she said. "The difference has been amazing."

Dortch and all other teachers within Garden City USD 457 now have a second computer monitor.

The idea to give USD 457 teachers a second screen comes from the national Two Screens for Teachers program, which was brought to the attention of USD 457 staff by Steve Lerner, a psychologist from Lawrence. 

Steve Lerner's son, Matt Lerner, founded the program, with the goal of making teaching remotely easier. Matt Lerner works in computer software in Seattle.

"A friend of his and neighbor was talking to him about how his mother, who's been a teacher for 27 years, was just overwhelmed with how difficult it is to teach this year with online teaching," he said. "His neighbor has just decided to buy his mom a second screen and it suddenly occurred to Matt that that could be a game changer for online teachers."

Teachers weren't trained to teach over the internet, they were trained to teach in the classroom, Steve Lerner said. The problem with teaching in online situation is often times teachers only have one computer screen, typically a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop.

Screens that size don't allow teachers the space to see their students and to show learning materials or references at the same time.

Matt Lerner said that after speaking with his neighbor he got together with "a group of Seattle techies, many of the people from my last startup Walk Score, and we launched twoscreensforteachers.org to let anyone donate a second monitor to a teacher," he said. "One hundred days later, we've delivered over 20,000 monitors to teachers and have had 185,000 teachers request monitors."

Steve Lerner took his son's initiative and brought it to Kansas — specifically Garden City, because he made a film here a few years ago, "Strangers in Town," about the history of Garden City and its welcoming attitude toward immigrants, and knew the district was "outstanding."

"I contacted the Western Kansas Community Foundation to gauge their interest, they seemed interested, and they suggested it would be great if the school district itself would apply for a grant, so I talked to the school district people, they thought it was a great idea and they applied for a grant and they got an urgent funds grant very quickly," he said. "That's not enough to fund the whole project, but it gets it started."

In addition to funds from the Western Kansas Community Foundation, funds from Finney County's portion of the Kansas SPARK Grant Program, which comes from the CARES Act, the national COVID-19 stimulus bill, was used to purchase monitors.

In excess of $1 million was provided to USD 457 as part of the SPARK program, Finney County Administrator Robert Reece reported.

Steve Karlin, USD 457 superintendent, thought it was a wonderful idea and something that would be beneficial to their staff.

In total, 580 staff members have been effected by remote learning and now have a second computer monitor.

Glenda LaBarbers, USD 457 deputy superintendent, said teachers have been appreciative of the effort.

"The first batch went out to all of our remote teachers, so they had been making do with one screen up until that point, so it was a huge help for them to be able to monitor the students as well as maintain the pace of their lesson," she said.

Rebecca Burnfin, a sixth-grade remote learning teacher, agrees that it's been beneficial, helping her be more engaged with her students, which is a huge factor in student success.

"Getting the second screen has been really beneficial to kind of being able to observe students and see their feedback such as comment bombs or trickle down comments," she said.

It was really hard at first getting used to teaching over Zoom with only one screen to both see your students and the learning materials, Burnfin said.

In the district they're pushing this thing called "total participation", Burnfin said, where everyone participates at the same time rather than calling on one student to deliver one answer. The second screen has helped with that because they can see where everyone is if they're ready to go or not.

"Now we can all have the conversation as opposed to I'm not sure because they're on mute and silent and if you un-mute them then you can't figure out who's what," she said. "It really gives us visual cues as teachers to help students respond and answer as well as being able to ... We can just better monitor students and their participation in a classroom, which we want to expect, we want to mimic that classroom."

Dortch agrees, saying that before her second screen came everything felt jumpy because she would have to pause. Now there is a better flow to teaching.

"I don't have to pause and go looking for the window that I needed to reference in order to get them answers that they needed or things like that," she said. "It's created a smoother interaction with the students."

Steve Lerner said the extra screen real estate is crucial, and there are studies that show productivity goes up by at least 20% when there is a second screen.

Garden City has done a great job at implementing the second screens, he said. One of the reasons he reached out to USD 457 is because it is known as a place that gets things done — when the district decides to go for something, it does it immediately.

"Some larger school districts have a much harder time doing that, but when they see a need for something they go for it," he said. "I'm just so impressed with the administration of the school, the high school, some of the elementary schools I spent time in."

Karlin is thankful Steve Lerner reached out and thinks Two Screens for Teachers is a great idea.

"I think that's something that will benefit teachers and students all across the country as we're having to deal with how we meet kids' needs during a pandemic," he said.

Rebecca Burnfin is a USD 457 sixth grade remote learning teacher who is part of the two screens program. Burnfin sees the second screen as a way to be more engaged with her students.
Steve Lerner
Matt Lerner