Little Kids. Big Tech.
How strong leadership and seamless technology integration is creating 21st-century learners.
The list of technology within the four walls of Carmody Hills Elementary School is indeed impressive. It stretches to include tablets, netbooks, laptops, Interwrite Boards, personal response devices, Lexmark multifunction printer/scanners, and interactive software such as Classroom Jeopardy! But more impressive than the laundry list of products is the way the staff at this preK-6 school in Prince George's County, Maryland, uses all these tools to drive learning and student engagement.
The technology and its daily use "keeps students motivated," says Principal Rolaetta Alford. "They're eager to learn. They're like, ‘OK, what are we going to do today. What's next?' It helps with attendance, parent involvement. It just helps our plan all the way around."
The technology has increased parent participation by giving parents timely information about their children; in turn, parents are more apt to work with their children, vastly increasing the percentage of homework assignments that are completed.
That's part of the reason that Carmody, which had been on the federal government's failing list since 2007, made adequate yearly progress this year-and will be off the dreaded list when school starts this fall.
The engagement shows in attendance, too. At almost 95 percent, it is a significant increase from 2008. Coupling that with an engaged teacher group makes this a destination school within the 130,000-student district.
"There's just a wealth of technology that we try to use to bridge that achievement gap among our students," Alford says.
1. Technology for all
With tablets for teachers, laptop carts, about five PCs per classroom, and a computer lab, students are never far from technology at Carmody. But the school's biggest achievement so far has been putting Acer netbooks in the hands of all its fourth and fifth graders.
"I think [letting students take netbooks home every day] is a very positive way to introduce them to changes that are going on in society," says sixth-grade teacher Kamilah Thorne. "Everything is technologically done these days. It prepares them for middle school, it prepares them for when they become adults. It allows them to be comfortable and creative with technology."
Thorne says she pores over the technology the way she would a lesson plan, making sure it works and she understands how students will view her directions. "A lot of times, students end up stumbling across something I don't know about and I have to quickly learn about it so I can guide them on how to use it."
As expected, students love how the machines can impart both freedom and a sense of responsibility at the same time. "It's like we're in college. We're doing stuff with technology instead of having to write a paper," says one sixth grader.
2. Learning is hands-on
students finding information online, downloading video, and creating PowerPoint documents. Just another typical day in Thomasina Bland's sixth-grade class, where students are putting the finishing touches on their animal adaptation webquests. Students also use real microscopes, and polish their skills through Web-based games such as Classroom Jeopardy!
"We use technology all day long," Bland says. "Students are exposed to Google Docs, Excel, and PowerPoint."
3. Going back to help the future
In the late 1980s, Evelyn Adams worked as a senior project executive in IBM's hardware division. When she started trying to hire minority engineers, she quickly realized there were none to be found. She asked some engineering professors about this, and they told her, "The kids don't major in math. They don't have the math skills."
From there, she determined these students didn't do well in high school or middle school. "So I said, The root cause of the problem is not getting good math skills [instilled] early in kids. That's why I decided I wanted to teach elementary school."
She's in her fifth year of teaching fourth graders. "I'm an out-of-the-box teacher. I understand I'm teaching kids for the 21st century. I'm not going to spend a lot of time teaching cursive writing. Kids need to know how to sign their names, and in another 10 years they probably won't need to do that. But they do have to have good keyboard skills." Because of her instant feedback and student engagement, Adams's students finish about 80 percent of their homework, while most teachers say students only turn in half the work they are given.
4. Technology drives learning
By using her visualizer and lcd projector daily, Adams allows her students to do collaborative work and present it to the class. "It's not me at the front of the room; it's them explaining how they solved the problem, and getting critiqued by their classmates. It also allows me to use clickers for quizzes. The big fight becomes, Did our class beat the afternoon class? There's a big competition between the classes."
To see video of Carmody's teachers and students in action, click here.