Teacher Training: Helping to Construct the Information Highway

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The future is overtaking the present at a breath-taking pace, creating chaos for the education community. Educators have been making decisions in frustration and confusion rather than careful calculation. Looming daily is the awareness of the great need to prepare children and young adults for the changing technological global community at our doorstep. Great leaps are needed to catch-up with a world that will continue to move at breakneck speed. Crucial to catch-up is the leap into technology. The urgent need for integrating technologies is emphasized and delineated by research reported by the National Science Foundation. These data led to the following goals at both the state and national levels:

  • "By the year 2010 we will need more than 700,000 additional scientists and engineers;"[1]
  • "Educate U.S. students to be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement by the year 2000."[2]

The thrust was to infuse technologies into the classrooms by providing teachers with skills, confidence, training, materials, access to information, a network and practice in applying these skills with children.

Addressing the Gaps

In the midst of this explosive information age, far too many computers are out of reach of children and teachers. And far too many computers are placed in labs for students to use and not on the teachers' desks. This configuration separates student from teacher and students become proficient while teachers fall further behind.

Teachers who entered the profession more than a decade ago preceded the advent of the personal computer, thus their training on this potent learning/teaching tool is non-existent. Obviously, teachers cannot just magically utilize technologies' many facets without training, guidance and models.

For example, the 30-minute per day planning period is not conducive to teachers learning Netscape Navigator or designing multimedia curriculum. Without easy access to computers and qualified instructions, teachers are in no position to grow and explore. Other factors that have delayed the meaningful infusion of technologies include support, leadership, funding and research priorities.

Thus, computers sit idle at the back of the classroom, sometimes used for games during "free time," or for drill and practice. A great number of teachers just do not have the skills to utilize computers in other ways.

If technologies are to actually be infused into the curriculum, daily classes and the teaching and learning process, relevant and meaningful training is critical. This is much different than training teachers to simply operate a computer. Additionally, to make a lasting change in the classroom, a practical application "hands-on" phase must immediately follow the training sessions.

TREK Teacher Training Model

In light of these factors, an urgent need exists for a good teacher training model to help teachers become proficient in the process of infusing technology into their classrooms. One such training model has been piloted, analyzed, replicated and refined at the TREK Institute (Technology Research Exploration for Kids) at Dana College in Nebraska. The TREK Teacher Training Model evolved out of a number of summer institutes for children, which are now in an eighth year of operation.

The TREK Teacher Training Model (TTTM) was designed to train teachers during the first week of the summer institute using nationally recognized award-winning master teachers as scholar/facilitators. These master teachers were teachers first, and technology experts second. They received a majority of their training at NASA Centers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Geophysical Atmospheric Station.

Classroom teachers were selected for training by a specific set of criteria, plus recommendations from supervisors and colleagues. During the institutes, they were immersed in hands-on manipulative activities and a variety of technologies, working with teaching materials that they would own at the closing of the institute.

Pilot TREK institutes in 1991 and 1992 provided insights to crucial components needed in the program. After participating in the two one-week institutes, evaluations from teachers indicated enthusiasm about incorporating their newly acquired technology skills and integrating mathematics and science activities into their classrooms. However, follow-up data analysis indicated a large majority of teachers did not utilize their new knowledge and skills because:

  • They were afraid to try the new technologies in their schools;
  • They forgot how to use the technologies;
  • They feared rebuttal from other teachers for trying something new and different.

GROUP A/GROUP B
Enhance 3.74/3.73
Use 2.83/3.48
Confidence 2.68/3.57*
* indicates significance (p.0025)
Figure 1: Overall Comparison Effects of TREK Experience

Assessment

Assessment of the two pilot TREK institutes indicated that the one-week format was not preparing teachers to use their new knowledge and skills in their classrooms. Thus the TTTM model was redesigned to expand and refine the shortcomings as indicated through the data analysis.

At this point, in the third year of the pilot project, a powerful component was added -- children. Out of the group of 49 teachers, 14 were randomly selected and designated as "Group B." They worked directly with 100 children for one week after their initial training week.

This combination of trained teachers and children resulted in significant levels of change in the way teachers taught their students throughout the school year (see Figure 1).

It was hypothesized that through active participation in manipulative materials, teachers would gain the skills and confidence to replicate the activities in their classrooms. Also hypothesized were that the Group B teachers would: 1) develop more positive attitudes toward technologies; and 2) Initiate more technology-related activities in their classrooms because of the greater in-depth experiences gained in the additional week of training and working with the 100 children. Thus, it was hypothesized that the mean score of Groups A and B would be significantly different.

The following data gathering included a survey with responses based on a five-point Likert scale, daily journals, and pre- and post assessments. Twenty different t-tests were completed to compare Groups A and B on 20 different dependent variables. The alpha level of .05 was therefore adjusted using the Bonferroni correction; an alpha level of .01/20 = .0025 was used with each t-test to evaluate the difference between Group A and Group B on each dependent variable.[3]

Findings

The 14 teachers who were randomly selected from the 49 to remain for the second week, along with five master teachers, all worked with the 100 children in a sophisticated, integrated, technology-infused, hands-on curriculum. Excitement was high as teachers and children worked side by side, engaged in online research, telecommunications, micro-based lab construction and experiments, programming robots, eco-chemistry, remote-sensing imagery, Netscape and the World Wide Web, HyperStudio multimedia authoring, NASA satellite images and more.

Significant differences were found between the two groups in the:

  • Range of TREK activities transferred for use in the classroom since the inception of the Institute;
  • Degree to which TREK Institute has enhanced classroom teaching due to confidence instilled by the Institute;
  • Difference in confidence between Group A and Group B was found to be statistically significant (p.0025);[3] and
  • Data analysis revealed that the second week of TREK classes made a significant difference in the overall confidence of technology application in mathematics and science.

As indicated by Bhola at the close of the first week of the Institute, teachers indicated a high level of enthusiasm and reported dramatic positive impact from the experience, plus a high expectation of classroom applicability.[4,5] However, Group A, the group without the practical application of Phase 2, did not implement the technologies in the classroom to the extent of Group B, who worked with children. This study provides factors that need to be considered to further intervene for long-term change in science and mathematics teaching with technologies and integrated approaches.[6]

In the third year of the pilot project, a powerful component was added -- children.

Next Steps

Our eight years of experience with TREK Institutes has provided insights into viable procedures and designs to integrate sophisticated technologies into classroom instruction. As a result, the Dana Institutes -- which were basically summer projects -- are now being projected into year-long interactive programs with both public and private school districts.

Teachers from districts are collaborating with the Institute master teachers and are designing the following projects:

  • A simulated shuttle mission in an "almost real" space shuttle and Mission Control center;
  • The accompanying curriculum integrates mathematics, science, language arts and sophisticated technologies;
  • Kids and teachers are cooperatively developing multimedia projects in this integrated curriculum format; and
  • Telecommunication projects are augmented by the aid of scientists and researchers.

Based upon carefully evaluated program outcomes of the past eight summers, the Dana College TTTM model can assist by providing an effective model for genuine infusion of technology into the classrooms of this nation. n

Kay Ferguson is a professor of education and psychology at Blair College. For the past seven years, she has directed the Dana College Space TREK (Technology Resources Exciting Kids) Summer Institute, where teachers are trained to work with children and pre-service teachers.
E-mail: kferguson@acad2.dana.edu

O. W. Kopp is a Professor Emeritus and former director of the Center for Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

References:
1. American Association of University Women (1992), Shortchanging Girls, Shortchanging America, A Call to Action, Washington, DC: author, p. 17.
2. National Governor's Association meeting (February, 1990), America 2000 Goals.
3. Thomas, Julie (1994), Analysis of the Dana College Teacher Training Model, 1992-1993, September, 1994, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
4. Bhola, Dennison (July, 1992), Trainees' Expectations of a One-Week Summer Camp, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
5. Bhola, D. (July, 1992), Trainees' Expectations of a Summer Camp for Teachers, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.
6. Pasanelli, David (1993), "The Plug-In School," in Fred Schultz (Ed.) Annual Editions, Education, CT: Dushkin Publishing Group, pp. 269-272. (Reprinted from The Futurists, Sept./Oct. 1993, pp. 29-32.) Products or companies mentioned:
Netscape Navigator, Netscape Communications Corp., Mountain View, CA, (800) NET-SITE, home.netscape.com
HyperStudio; Roger Wagner Publishing, Inc., El Cajon, CA, (800) HYPERSTUDIO, www.hyperstudio.com

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.

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