Filling a void that they found in information that is available online, Vickie Banks Gaynor, Ph.D., and other members of the staff of SupportNet Online designed a resource for educators who want to establish school Web clubs. The growing site, called School Web Clubs, offers advice to assist in founding, implementing, and organizing such groups. It even highlights active clubs and shares their latest successes.
"Club members often become technology leaders in their regular classes," added Gaynor, "helping other students learn more about how to properly use the Internet."
Gaynor and the SupportNet team began with the awareness that there is great interest in having students publish on the Web. Although numerous Web clubs allow students to work on their school sites, said Gaynor, "there was little material available on how to create and manage a club."
The School Web Clubs site offers background notes on how to create a club, legal and permissions issues, and good materials to use with a club site. It also offers
Few educators would agree more with Gaynor's view of the importance of the school Web club than Marcia Cousins, a reading and computer teacher at Ballard Elementary School in Niles, Michigan. Her 30 years of experience as an educator, with five years specifically as a technology educator, tell her that her computer club, Ballard's tech team, is a valuable activity for its members and the school as a whole. The team has been a "featured Web club" on the School Web Clubs site.
Combining their desire for an extracurricular computer activity students would enjoy and the need to alleviate some of the demand for their technological assistance, Cousins and Terry McNitt, another technology educator in the building, hit on the idea of a "tech team." The club surpassed any expectations they had.
"As the tech people in our building, we were becoming more and more overtaxed and overwhelmed with trying to teach and also be the 'techies,'" Cousins elaborated. "As we added more and more computers, the task increased. Hence, the idea for a tech team evolved. We had the opportunity to see a presentation on tech teams and had the resource of a book -- Teams, Student Technology Assistants in the Elementary and Middle School, published by Linworth Publishing [ISBN 0-938865-60-9]. This book is geared just towards a tech team and not a Web club. Ours has developed into both."
Joining Ballard's tech team was not easy. Cousins and McNitt set up an interview process that would weed out less-committed students and help find the best members for this unique organization.
"We had the students write job applications and get references, and then they had an oral interview with two community leaders," Cousins said. Tech team members also had to keep their grades and behavior at an acceptable level, she added. Cousins and McNitt tried very hard to pick students who would benefit from the experience and not just those who were "always chosen."
"We included some with behavior problems and other special needs," Cousins added. "Those with behavior problems and special needs really benefited from the experience. They knew that if they deviated from the acceptable level, they were off the team."
After the oral interviews, the tech teachers appointed 37 students from grades 4 to 6 to Ballard's tech team. Each student was assigned to a classroom. Members of the team worked in pairs. The students were expected to maintain the computers in their assigned classroom and aid the teacher in any technology problem or matter that came up. The whole team met for one hour before school on Fridays.
Ballard's tech team didn't just maintain the status quo in the school's technology program; the students also worked to expand the program. Members had their ups and downs with new software, but they kept trying. Although a representative from the school district came in for an afternoon session on Kid Pix, the students did not find the program easy to use. PowerPoint proved to be a much better match.
"The tech team from our high school came in and did an afternoon session on PowerPoint," recalled Cousins. "This was a great success. The kids really took off on this. They all produced 'technical wonders' with graphics, sounds, and animations and, with the digital camera, some great photos. This program is easier to use than Kid Pix for this age."
The team purchased a CD burner with money from a fund-raiser, and members saved their presentations on CDs. They also took their PowerPoint presentations "on the road," performing for the Niles School Board and the Niles Rotary Club. Cousins reports that her students had a ball. They also helped her with the Ballard AR Program Web page, publishing research, doing interviews, writing book reports, and more. They even published links related to science units for the classroom teachers.
"I cannot begin to describe the benefits of a program like this," Cousins said. "Along with acquiring skills and additional knowledge and refining social skills, being a tech team member can be a self-esteem builder for the participants. It keeps them interested and involved in school. Students serve both the teacher and the student in the classroom. Not only do they work with software with the student and teacher but they also help maintain the computers in the classroom."
Another plus according to Cousins is that tech team members were excellent role models for the rest of the school community. Students were able to receive help from someone in their peer group rather than from a teacher. Younger students were inspired to join the tech team. As students became increasingly knowledgeable, they took on more responsibility. Cousins hopes that eventually "student experts" will be able to assume the additional task of troubleshooting.
A last benefit that Cousins foresees is one for the entire community. "For many of the kids in our tech team, the computer at school is the only one they have access to," she observed. "Being a member gave them an opportunity for hands-on experience, which their families were not able to provide. The community benefits [because] more students are ready to meet the challenges of the future. Our students are the workforces of the future. The tech team provides students with the technological skills and social skills needed to work effectively with others."
Article by Cara Bafile
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