District 65 teacher Patti Tzortiz uses a Promethean Board at a virtual learning project in March

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School District 65 is moving ahead with bold plans to transform instruction in the classroom by using technology. Some teachers who have embraced technology are changing the way they educate children. Where technology is being used, students “are responding with deeper engagement and enthusiasm for what they are learning,” says the District’s Technology Study Committee Stewardship Report (“TSCS Report”) that was presented to the Board on April 20.

Many other teachers, however, are at the beginning stages of learning how to use technology in the classroom or are skilled in using some types of technology and less skilled in others. “We have teachers at all stages,” said Jason Ewing, coordinator for instructional technology and a former teacher in the District.

Getting teachers to the point where they can use technology in an effective and creative way in educating children “depends on a well-designed and consistently implemented professional development plan to meet the diverse needs of teachers and staff,” says the TSCS Report.

The District is pushing technology into the classroom at the same time it is asking teachers to implement other major initiatives, including the Tomlinson model of differentiated instruction and Response to Intervention, which themselves require substantial professional development. The TSCS Report says teachers may use technology to support differentiated instruction in the classroom.

Technology-Mediated Instruction

Some teachers are using computers, Promethean interactive whiteboards, wiki pages, student-response systems, document cameras, and projection systems to instruct students.

Promethean boards are interactive white boards on which teachers may display a page from a book or the web, display a video, or use as a computer screen. “It’s really nice when you’re displaying something, to have it right on the board,” said Marcia Kareotes, a math teacher at Nichols Middle School in a video presentation. “The kids can go right up there and write.

“Another thing I love about it,” she said, “is kids are interactive with it. They can come up easily and quickly show how they did a problem. Another student can come up and add to the problem or say, ‘I disagree with this.'”

Some teachers are also using student response systems, such as ActivVotes and ActivExpressions, which are hand held devices that work in conjunction with Promethean boards. Students respond to questions by typing an answer on the device, and the responses are instantaneously collated on a Promethean board. Teachers say the systems improve student engagement. In addition, teachers can use the responses to determine whether students are grasping a lesson, and make adjustments.

“I can see where my kids are struggling or where my kids are successful,” said Dave Demuth, a math teacher at Nichols. Referring to the response system, he added, “A lot of students are real excited when new technology comes into the classroom.”

About two dozen teachers began exploring the use of online collaborative editing tools, such as wikis, according to the TSCS Report. Sarah Nichols, a seventh-grade teacher at Bessie Rhodes Magnet School, told the RoundTable her students post their work, evaluate what other students have written, and express their opinions through online conversations with each other.

Students naturally created a collaborative community.

“Students who might have been reluctant to share their writing publicly in the past have shared their writing easily on wiki pages and have gotten positive feedback from classmates,” said Ms. Nichols. “The students naturally created a collaborative community where they all were able to receive authentic feedback from their peers and celebrate their hard work.”

At Chute Middle School students in a media class can share their work by uploading images onto a classroom wiki, and then other students may comment on the work and provide valuable feedback. One teacher said as students become more comfortable sharing their work, “the classroom becomes a learning community.”

Marlene Grossman, principal at Park School, said in introducing a video presentation demonstrating how technology is used at the school, “What is so exciting about the technology that District 65 is using at Park School is the quality of instruction that teachers are now doing and the excitement.” In order to use technology, she said teachers have to plan much further ahead, and they are collaborating together in getting kids to use and access the technology. “This is a whole new frontier for them [teachers],” she said.

Professional Development is the Key

Paul Brinson, chief information officer for the District, said, “When you’re dealing with technology and you’re dealing with changing practices, you’re asking people to go right to the edge of their comfort level and to step off that edge and trust that it can be made to happen.

“We are trying to move at a very fast evolutionary pace. Sometimes teachers say it is revolutionary,” he continued. “But we are trying to do this in a transformative way … It is asking teachers in many cases to change practices that they didn’t grow up learning.” He estimates that it takes up to three years for a teacher to incorporate new learning into instructional practice.

Mr. Ewing said, “Professional development topics this year have focused on skills, procedures assessment, instructional practices and strategies.” He said there are four phases that a teacher moves through from early adoption to competent and creative use of technology in instruction.

“The first thing that folks do with new technology is they substitute one thing for another thing,” Mr. Ewing said. “Instead of writing on a chalk board they write on a Promethean board.”

“Next, they move up to augmentation,” he said. In this phase, technology is not only a direct substitute, but it provides some “functional improvement.” As an example, Mr. Ewing said teachers can highlight things on the Promethean board, save things written on the board and send it to students who were absent.

The third phase is “modification,” said Mr. Ewing. “The technology begins to allow for some significant task redesign. It changes how teachers are thinking about delivering their lessons. … You actually begin to modify your adult behavior and practice as a teacher.”

The final phase is “redefinition,” said Mr. Ewing. “It allows for the creation of new tasks that we haven’t thought of before.” As an example, he said, social science teachers could use the Promethean board to zoom in on and track ducklings using Google Earth.

The TSCS report says, “As the technologies and strategies become familiar, and as teachers and students become more capable of using the technology, they begin individualizing their use of the equipment to rethink their ideas and how to express what they wanted students to learn or, in the case of students, what they have learned. Thus, students may develop dynamic, multimedia presentations of what they have learned.

“At the point of redefinition, teachers and students will use tools and resources in completely new ways, like blogging, creating videos, or using student response systems to gather information about student progress on an ongoing basis while the teacher is constantly adjusting and differentiating the lesson to meet the need of every child in the classroom.”

Mr. Ewing said all teachers are currently using some technology in the classroom, but the amount depends on the individual teacher. Teachers may be skilled in using one form of technology and be a novice in others, he said. A higher percentage of teachers are at higher end of the scale than a year ago, he told the RoundTable.

“We worked hard to develop lessons and course offerings for teachers all across the spectrum depending upon what their needs are,” Mr. Ewing said.

Last year the District offered 110 workshops, between August and February, at which there were 1,400 attendees, said Mr. Ewing. On average, about 13 persons attended each seminar; teachers attended an average of about 2.2 seminars each.

Overall, teachers are accepting techology. For some it is “a paradigm shift,” Mr. Ewing said, but “they know it’s going to be around, and the District will support their use of it.” He said principals are also supporting it. “Definitely, there’s been great support this year.”

This summer there will be 70 unique technology workshops offered, many of them repeated numerous times to enable teachers to attend them around vacation schedules, Mr. Ewing said. There will be six to 12 workshops a day, with a total of 300 workshops offered during the summer. Mr. Ewing said many of the workshops are already filled, even though attendance is voluntary.

He said he is working with principals to schedule technology workshops during the school year. Eighty percent of the technology workshops will occur during voluntary teacher time including planning periods, after school, before school, and on evenings and Saturdays.

When asked if there was sufficient time for staff development, he said, “We are moving in the right direction.” He added, “We are using time more effectively.”

In presenting the District’s Professional Development report to the Board on April 20, Assistant Superintendent Susan Schultz said, “Professional development should be intensive, ongoing and connected to priorities. By intensive we mean 50 plus hours over a school year on a topic.” In addition to technology, the District is providing professional development on differentiated instruction, co-teaching, Response to Intervention, and other initiatives.

Technology Systems in the Classrooms

School District 65’s six-year plan, extending from spring 2008 to spring 2013, budgeted $8.9 million for technology. At the April 20 School Board meeting, Paul Brinson, chief information officer, said the District has “”stayed within our budget.”” The TSCS report says the purchases (replacements) in 2008-09 include:

  • 764 computers, including 300 laptops and 454 desktops
  • 140 Promethean interactive white boards
  • 206 wall-mounted projectors
  • 265 document cameras
  • software

 

The TSCS report says the District has 1,940 student computers or one computer for every 3.2 students. All regular classrooms at the 4-8 grade levels have interactive white boards, document cameras and projectors. All regular classrooms at the K-3 grade levels have projection whiteboards, document cameras and projectors. Some fine arts, libraries and special education classrooms have interactive whiteboards and projection systems and document cameras, while others have projection whiteboards, projection systems, and document cameras.