When students in Regina Hobbs' earth-science class learn about humidity and dew point, they don't use traditional tools such as barometers or thermometers.
Hobbs, a science teacher at River Hill High School, gives her ninth-graders handheld computers with temperature probes to collect and graph data.
"The kids are more motivated," she said. "It breaks up the lesson" to use technology.
It is not unusual for Hobbs to use the latest computer gadgets as a motivator. This spring, MICCA named her Howard County's 2003 Outstanding Technology Using Educator. The group's name originally stood for Maryland Instructional Computers Coordinators Association, but it now stands alone as an acronym and focuses on technology and education.
Hobbs' use of technology does not benefit only the students. She is can keep close track on their progress, even sending instant messages to their handheld computers during class if they seem to be losing focus on work.
Tyler Davila, 15, was in Hobbs' ninth-grade earth-science class. "She's always energetic, and I think she really knows what she's talking about," he said. "She's always got fun things for us to do."
Hobbs, 29, is a native of Southern Maryland and lives with her husband in Eldersburg. She studied natural science and earth science at Towson University and then went to the Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master's degree in education through the Technology for Educators program. Hobbs chose the program because, after a few years of teaching middle school, she realized that few teachers were using the resources available.
"The technology is out there, and I just see teachers who don't use it," she said. "I said, 'Let me learn how to use it.'"
She joined the staff of River Hill in 1999 and began teaching ninth-grade earth science and an introductory course in chemistry and physics. Hobbs said science is interesting because "the earth is always changing."
Students monitor those changes with iPAQS - minicomputers that look something like a Palm Pilot with a folding keyboard. The computers fit in a paperback book-sized folder.
During the lab on "Finding Dew Point and Finding the Relative Humidity," groups used iPAQs to collect data. Two attachments measured temperatures once a minute and stored findings in the computers.
The class also uses the iPAQs as a wireless Internet tool. "We all can find out information for our class work," Tyler said. "It gives us basic interaction with technology. Technology is so big in our lives right now."
Technology also has found its way into assessment. During a quiz, Hobbs followed students' progress through a program called Discourse while they worked on their iPAQs.
"This program lets Ms. Hobbs interact with us," said Santosh Sankar, 15, who was in her ninth-grade class. "We do review practices a lot. Her computer will grade it and tell her how the class is doing overall," as well as give her individual scores.
"I like it because I like working with computers," he said.
A downside of making technology integral to her teaching is the extra planning time. "It takes a lot of preparation, but when the kids enjoy it, it's worth it," Hobbs said.
River Hill Principal Scott Pfeifer nominated Hobbs for the MICCA award because "she is a technology leader in our school, and I really felt she deserved recognition for how she uses technology in her classroom."
"Good teaching is good teaching whether you have technology or not," Pfeifer said. But, he added, Hobbs "takes the resources the technology allows her to bring into the classroom," such as iPAQs, and uses them to build on "the level of individualization she has with the kids."
Hobbs is eligible to be named Maryland's Outstanding Technology Using Educator. She earned the Howard County title by working with adults as well as children. She often shares her technology tips with teachers.
She has taught a technology applications class to new science teachers in the county and participated in the "Intel Teach to the Future" program, training educators in classroom computer applications.
Hobbs said using technology benefits students because it "is more hands-on. It's more real life. You give them real problems that happen in the real world."