Computer resource specialist Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach believes that her most important responsibility is to empower teachers to use technology to educate young minds. Find out how she does it -- and learn how you can do it too! Included: A comprehensive plan for staff technology training.
You cannot give away what you do not own. As a school computer resource specialist, I believe that my most important responsibility is to empower teachers. Only then can we begin together to educate young minds.
Because of my firm belief in technology's ability to level the playing field and open doors for all children, regardless of race, socio-economic background, or exceptionalities, I am driven to making sure that teachers (and parents) have the technology vision and skills they need to unleash the unlimited potential in their children. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, technology training in most schools is often hit or miss at best, and as effective as putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound.
We can't educate students who have been raised in a world of instant, interactive information by simply thinking up clever ways to use computers in the typical row-and-column classroom activities. Technology has to be more than just an additional subject that overburdened teachers must fit into their instructional days. The goal should be to move teachers along a staff development continuum, taking them from non-users of technology to creative appliers and integrators who seamlessly integrate technology into content area instruction.
When I arrived at W.T. Cooke Elementary School four years ago, I found a school at a solid two on a technology continuum of one-to-ten. Greg Anderson, the school's principal, immediately challenged me to put my philosophy and vision into action.
In surveying the school's technology use, I found that most classrooms had older Macintosh computers, which primarily were used as drill and game machines in student learning centers. A few classrooms also had a Pentium I, Windows 95 computers that the teachers used with limited productivity. Many of the teachers were intimidated by the computers; they saw them as just one more thing to try to fit into an already impossible day. It was obvious a paradigm shift would be needed to help those teachers see technology as a curriculum delivery tool that would enhance communication and collaboration in their lessons.
Because I'm a project-based constructivist at heart, I created a theme called Traveling the Techno Trail. At my first introduction to the staff, I came onto the stage dressed as a scoutmaster. I carried a backpack of scouting tools, which I used to reveal our school's new technology vision: a flashlight to light the path as we traveled the techno trail together; a compass to set our path as we used technology to teach content area objectives; and matches to send up smoke signals whenever we needed help! The humor immediately won the teachers over and made them much more accepting of the district's new computer program.
In keeping with the Techno Trail theme, students helped me create badges (just like Scout badges!) that students and teachers could earn by demonstrating proficiency in specific technology areas. The areas ranged from such end user activities as mousing, graphics, and printing to mastery of such technology applications as PowerPoint, Web Quests, and Scavenger Hunts. I broke the skills into eight strands and concentrated on integrating each of those strands into content area curriculum, so the technology skills never were taught in isolation. I also created certificates (decorated like badges), with detailed descriptions of each of the four stages on the continuum, that would move the computer users along the continuum from novice to power-user.
Before setting off on the trail, however, we need a map. So we formed a Technology Committee, which developed clear-cut measurable goals for achieving our technology vision and established a three-phase approach to technology integration -- an approach that required two years for full compliance.
Phase I of the plan lasted about six months. During that time, we migrated to a single computer platform, using grant monies and money provided by the district to purchase all Windows computers and transferring all the Macs to other schools. I didn't object to the Mac platform per se, but I was limited in my ability to provide Mac tech support. And, because the city outsourced its Mac support, repairs literally took months to complete. Teachers would throw up their hands in frustration at the undependable equipment. If you want your staff to actually use technology, then they have to be able to trust it to work!
During Phase I, I made an agreement with the teachers that I would teach their classes in the computer lab, but only if they agreed to remain in the lab and do the lessons on the computers with their kids. By presenting exemplary lessons that seamlessly integrated technology within the context of the standards-based curriculum, I was able to help the teachers learn not just how to use the machines, but also how to use them effectively for instruction. Admittedly, the lessons were basic during those first few months, but both students and teachers learned quickly.
In addition, using a reverse mentorship strategy, I assembled a group of techno-savvy third through fifth grade students, called TechAssistants, to teach advanced technical skills to the teachers who needed them. That was a win-win situation. The teachers, who were truly helping build their students self-esteem, walked away with valuable skills that help them empower even more students. The TechAssistants worked wonders with the reluctant teachers who were resistant to technology use. They also helped with troubleshooting and with the enormous amount of set-up and triage involved with the platform change.
During this phase, teachers kept journals on how their students were using technology to process the objectives and on how the technology affected mastery. To help the teachers move along developmentally, I wanted them to be reflective in the process.
I also offered additional teacher training before school, during planning time, and after school. The training was integration specific; I taught the skills of the actual technologies and applications within the context of the curriculum. Over time, the various developmental levels of the teachers began to emerge, and I was better able to address specific areas of need.
In Phase II of the technology plan, the teachers and I used a more collaborative model. We planned together and we taught together in the lab. Most of my novices had moved-up -- earning intermediate distinction. I always made a big deal out of any promotions or badges earned. It was heart warming to see a classroom full of kids break into applause as a badge was presented to their teacher. Our principal also congratulated those who had achieved the next distinction at faculty meetings, and additional recognition was provided in school publications.
The TechAssistant program continued to flourish; in this phase, the kids even started coming to in-service meetings to help teach. They could get so much more out of the teachers than I could -- and the students were growing tremendously as technology appliers, too.
During Phase II, I also organized a group of teachers who had moved quickly to Trail Blazer status to serve as trainers. Each trainer was assigned a smaller group of teachers to mentor. This "train the trainer" approach exponentially sped up the technology development. It was like cloning myself! School-wide, our test scores began to improve, as did our teaching ability overall. It was obvious we were all growing from the collaboration!
Year two saw the beginning of Phase III of the technology plan. By this time, each classroom had two to four Pentium III, Windows 98 (or better) machines, and all were networked with a T-1 connection. Each grade level also had a scanner and digital camera available for use. And 100 percent of the teachers were teaching and developing their own standards-based lessons in the lab; I was available on an "as needed" basis.
During this phase, I started to concentrate my efforts on student teams and computer-based lessons that could be taught in the classroom using only two computers. We wanted teachers to utilize the technology in their day-to-day instruction, not just in the lab. We started buying laptops and projectors for Computers On Wheels (COWS) and the teachers now were comfortable enough to use them.
Most of my training time during this phase was spent either introducing new Internet concepts or preparing our teachers for the test based on the Technology Standards for Instructional Personnel (TSIP). Passing the test is tied to job security, and we wanted our school to be the first to be 100 percent TSIP compliant! Our principal incorporated a mini-pep rally into each faculty meeting to encourage teachers to take the test. We ended up second in TSIP compliance in a district of 87 schools.
During Phase III, teachers began to become creative appliers and integrators of technology. We started developing integrated units of study that were totally project-based in their design. Our students were becoming producers, rather than consumers, in the way they approached learning.
During this phase, we put together a ThinkQuest team that placed for their Growing Up in Afghanistan Web site, and we took home several first place awards in district and state technology competitions! We also created ancient civilizations in our classrooms. The lab was transformed to ancient Egypt, complete with a mummy's tomb! The fifth grade developed an outstanding unit on the Civil War -- taught totally from a techno-constructivist perspective. Students worked in teams to create Web pages demonstrating mastery of all they had learned. When standardized tests were given in the spring, student scores in that area on the social studies section of the state curriculum test soared. The teachers were sold!
The newly empowered staff even developed a dream school approach to tutoring. The best classroom instruction was incorporated into our two-hour after school tutoring program for at-risk kids. Children started begging to get into the tutoring program and the kids in it never missed an afternoon.
During year three, the school technology program was on auto-pilot. I was selected Teacher of the Year for the second largest district in the state, but I had virtually trained myself out of a job! This year, I work in the central office as an electronic communications specialist, implementing innovations on a district level. Lately, I also have been serving on a committee to develop a virtual high school and working with a former national teacher of the year to design a virtual center for teacher leadership.
Technology in and of itself, however, will not bring about change. Tools alone do not create educational reform; teachers and policy makers create educational reform. Teachers need to see themselves as agents of change, advocating what is in the best interest of their children. Those of us who are responsible for helping teachers attain the skills they need to accomplish that task have our work cut out for us. But with concentrated effort, you too can achieve a techno savvy school population!
Article by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
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