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Tennessee: Westside School Celebrates the Successful Infusion of Technology into State Curriculum

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Westside School has just finished having a successful "Technology Celebration" that indicated how we are infusing technology into the Tennessee state curriculum by showcasing student demonstrations and projects. We invited our school administration, school board members, community leaders and other educators from the area to the celebration. We have talked all year about our EdTech Launch grant, but felt the people outside our building thought this grant was only about computers and technology. While our faculty knew what we had achieved with the first year of our two-and-a-half-year grant, the guests were amazed at what our students demonstrated.

That demonstration was curriculum modeled through technology, not just technology for technology's sake. No longer d'es the public think that Westside is just having fun playing around with computers; they now know curriculum is not only being taught, but that the students can demonstrate the knowledge firsthand. When an administrator or community leader was taught a mini-lesson on finding the area of a triangle from a student using a laptop, projector and interactive whiteboard, it hit home that these students had truly internalized the curriculum. It was also apparent that there were a variety of students taking part in these demonstrations - not just the best and brightest, but also the average students as well as those students with special learning needs.

Westside School is located in the small southeastern Tennessee town of Athens, which is a growing industrial area. The fourth through sixth grade school has a student body of 297 and a total teaching staff of 18, which includes special area teachers. Westside School, like so many other schools, had an adequate number of computers in its classrooms, and teachers were encouraged to attend professional development workshops throughout the year. However, as all classroom teachers know, attending workshops and having time to implement the ideas learned upon returning to school is very difficult. Teachers didn't have time to practice the skill needed to put what they learned into practice, so the skill wasn't used. Computers were being used for free-time computer play, as well as occasionally for "skill and drill" through game software. The EdTech grant has been instrumental in correcting this form of professional development.

Assessing Student Technology Literacy

How did we achieve this new approach to professional development? The answer lies with the requirements from the state department in writing the grants. Two of the goals of this grant are to have all students taught by teachers qualified to use technology for instruction and to have all students educated in a technology-rich learning environment that supports academic achievement. The first intervention of the grant is to have whole-school professional development under the guidance of the full-time technology coach. Our teachers spend one day a month with the coach in small groups covering technology training, with substitute pay provided by the grant. During this day, we work on how to use technology for curriculum integration. If the training for the month focuses on working with Microsoft Office programs for classroom use, teachers would bring in their own curriculum material and develop lessons for their students that require the use of that program to demonstrate knowledge of the subject matter.

The use of this small group-training model is proving to be highly effective. The teachers now feel that they have time to assimilate and implement the knowledge they gain, and the student projects reinforce this goal. Because of this success, the second intervention of the grant is being attained. This goal of establishing research-based instructional methods, which can be widely implemented as best practices, is posted on our school's Web site at www.athens-lea.mcminn.k12.tn.us/wse/tech.htm. These best practices must be tied to state curriculum standards as well as ISTE's National Educational Technology Standards for Students. Lessons are also required to have an assessment of student work focusing first on curriculum and then on technology use.

Westside, along with the other 12 schools receiving this EdTech grant, is working with the state's department of education to place lesson plans in this library, which is being developed by the teachers throughout the school year. This meets the third intervention of the grant - for the state to develop a library of portfolio instruments for assessing student technology literacy. The lesson plans are foremost curriculum-based, but the teachers are required to have technology integrated into these lesson plans in order to support and enhance the lesson. As teachers work on these lesson plans, they are encouraged to use curriculum that is already in place. Therefore, many of the teachers bring in existing successful lesson plans and then work on ways to integrate technology into those plans.

Expanding Learning Out of the Classroom

Along with the monthly professional development that takes place, the teachers are also given the opportunity to work with the technology coach before or after school. Mini-classes are offered to refresh skills needed to help students or to learn new components of programs the teacher wishes to use. The tech coach also works closely with teachers in their classrooms as needed to support instruction; however, the coach takes the backseat to the classroom teacher for instruction. In addition, the tech coach works with teachers to develop technology pieces to use with the students during planning time.

After this first year, the technology coach program for professional development concerning technology integration in the curriculum was determined to be a success at Westside School. Teachers are looking forward to some summer training to hone their technology skills and develop lessons for the upcoming school year. Since our "Technology Celebration," we have been contacted about setting up a global learning environment with a sister school in Japan and will continue to work with a school across the state in West Tennessee. This grant is opening doors for us to expand our learning out of our classroom, as well as to encourage and foster higher-order thinking and project-based learning internationally.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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