Speak Out: What's the best tech investment you can make?
“We’re building 21st-century classrooms,”
says Jana Hoggle, coordinator of Federal Programs and Technology at Marengo County Schools in Alabama. “These classrooms will include an LCD projector, a wireless slate, a document camera, and an integrated sound system. Of course, the projector makes whole-class instruction possible and each document camera alone saves the district hundreds of dollars in copying costs, but the wireless slate and the integrated sound system truly change the dynamic of the classroom. The slate enables teachers to move from being the ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side,’ and teaching becomes more interactive and customized.
“But no amount of equipment can be effective without the professional development piece. To prepare students for today’s workforce, teachers must assume new roles and change the way they currently teach. This can only be accomplished with sustained professional development that includes the modeling of effective instruction as it relates to curriculum. Long after ARRA funds are gone, the change in the classroom environment and the change in instruction will remain.”
“Use tech to meet kids halfway,”
says Steve Moscowitz, director of Information Systems and Educational Technology at Brewster Central School District in New York. “Kids are using wikis, blogs, and social networks. They expect broadband like they expect electricity and running water. We don’t have to use Facebook to teach kids, but we have to meet them in their world. Everything they do is online. We need to tie that mindset to schoolwork.
“My first priority is to create a wireless district. In my opinion the hottest trend right now is netbooks, small computers that cost around $300. Because of them, I can envision 1:1 computing in our district for the first time. My sense is that kids will want to bring their netbooks to school. So we have to get wireless in to all areas.
“To use the stimulus funds that are tied to Title I and IDEA, we’re looking for a good RTI solution. But just because this money is available doesn’t mean we want to change our plan. We have to incorporate these funds into what we’ve been working on, such as putting SMART Boards in all our classrooms. We must stick with our philosophy, which is to use tools that get kids ready for their futures. Schools used to prepare kids to be able to work in an office job for 30 years and then get a gold watch. Kids today will work in fields that haven’t been invented yet.”
“We need help with technology instruction,”
says Jeanne Biddle, director of technology at Scott County Schools in Kentucky. “In Kentucky, we have Technology Integration Specialists, or TIS. They hold teachers’ hands at first. Then they back off and allow the teacher to take control so that replication is created. So the TIS might step into the classroom and plant the seed, and then the teacher says, ‘This is great! I can do this! You can go away.’ And that’s fun, to watch teachers say, ‘Wow, that’s all I have to do.’
“We have to create a scenario in which teachers want to teach with technology that excites our students, covers the content, and yet meets the teacher’s comfort zone. Often our students surpass our teachers in their knowledge and proficiency, so we have to ask teachers what is relevant to them. Start at the personal level: ‘Do you Skype?’ or ‘Do you want to try mind-mapping software?’ It’s not new, but for some people it is, so we have to check our judgment at the door.
“We also must leverage the tools students use on a daily basis. We know they’re using cell phones, camcorders, and digital cameras, so we have to find ways of integrating those tools into instruction. How can we use text messaging in school? We have to ask, what excites our students? Then we must use those tools to engage them in learning.”
“We don’t have a tech plan; we have a school-improvement plan,”
says Sheryl Abshire, chief technology officer at Calcasieu Parish School System in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “When the stimulus was announced, all of our departments came together to discuss how to best serve our students. No one made a decision in a silo. We had done needs assessments in all our schools, so we knew what everyone had and what everyone needed. We also had a plan in the works for years. Now that the funding has come in, we can finally connect all the pieces.
“One part of the plan is to build connected classrooms—with interactive whiteboards, projectors, Internet connectivity—and place highly qualified teachers with 21st-century skills in each of them. To do so, we have job-imbedded professional development, so that technology is used seamlessly during lessons, helping our students learn how to problem solve and collaborate.
“As well as capacity, we want to build sustainability. That’s why we’re aiming for a 2:1 ratio of kids to computers. I applaud districts that can afford 1:1, but even with an infusion of new dollars, we wouldn’t be able support that program. We need solutions that we can sustain.”
“We want to teardown the walls of the classroom”
says Wesley Watts, chief information officer for Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland. “We’re looking to invest in online learning management systems—both open source, like Moodle, and other major corporations, like Blackboard. Many states have an online or virtual high school, and we’d like to use a similar system to offer additional courses or advanced courses we don’t offer in the district. But we’re also looking into what we can provide our students when they aren’t in school. We want to give them a way to better communicate with their classmates and teachers beyond the classroom walls.
“We had a scare this year with the swine flu. We had to shut down three of our schools for several days. Had we had a robust online learning management system, we may have been able to provide a way for children to log in and access lessons.
“Currently we are implementing a student information system that will provide an online portal for parents and students to log on and check grades, attendance, and report cards. We’re also building a data warehouse that we’re funding through grants. Through Title I funds, we’re putting interactive whiteboards and mounting projectors into all Title I classrooms.”