Saturday, December 29, 2012

Unleashing Talent

I have always considered my Lower School Colleagues to be creative and intelligent educators. In a recent Lower School faculty meeting many teachers shared new and exciting examples of successful integration of technology into existing curricula. Successful because each example demonstrated enhanced learning by their students; integrated because each example showed technology supporting the learning rather than being a flashy add-on. Two years ago, this same faculty held technology at an arm’s length. Computers had been removed from primary rooms, Smartboards were nuisances taking up valuable white board space, and concerns for on-line safety trumped interests in the possibilities for connecting students to people and information beyond our school walls. So what changed?

During our summer vacation in 2011, our third grade teachers received professional development funds to attend the annual ISTE conference. Along with lots of wonderful and overwhelming information, they came back with one concrete idea for a shift in a current project. They decided to replace their students’ usual African Animal Project Posters with Glogster. As a part of the third grade’s term long exploration of African Culture, Geography, Fauna and Flora, each student researches an animal. Previously each student created a poster about their animal; in 2011-12 each student created a glog! (The added bonuses were greater longevity in projects' life span and trees saved!!)  That same year, the second grade teachers experimented with creating class blogs and asked to have the computers returned! Two other teachers provided leadership for using an on-line discussion tool to help collect information for writing student comments. From these first adopters the rest of the faculty was interested but not ready to make a huge leap in their own technology experiments.

Over the past summer, the Lower School gained a new principal committed to technology innovation, and a new librarian with a job description shaped to combine media literacy and technology skills. We also hired a three division, dedicated technology integrationist. The librarian and tech integrationist have created a wonderful tag team meeting with each Lower School teacher to explore current curricula and look for opportunities to create shifts. While the first adopters were able to make the leap from an ISTE presentation to implementations, others needed help to find the right place to use a new tool, explore a different information gathering means, extend learning using an ISTE Net, or adding a new creative dimension. This is the gentle lifting our new teachers provided. Having been supported and successful with a first adaptation, faculty find themselves looking for other intelligent places to shift learning.

Some of these shifts were on display in the aforementioned faculty meeting. Besides the third grade glogs, our fifth grade teachers have modified the final product of their Peacemaker Biography project from research papers to individual web pages using Weebly. Everyone involved from students, to teachers, to parents loved this new media for communicating learning. Research and writing still mattered but now the audience for student work was much broader than the single teacher reading the paper--classmates, parents and others were able to read and react with student work! Next year the plan is to teach students enough html to do their own website programming! Our science teacher showed us the Lego Robot students were learning to program. Finally, one of our art teachers showed us student created stop animation films using iPads and the clay figures each student created for their films. We ran out of faculty meeting before we had run out of examples of experiments and successes folks had brought to share.