Professional Development :: North Carolina

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PUTTING THEIR HEADS TOGETHER

A North Carolina school reform model relies on collaborative brainstorming sessionsto inspire teachers to create engaging learning opportunites for their students.

NORTH CAROLINA'S IMPACT model, the core ofthe North Carolina Educational Technology Plan as outlined in“IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and TechnologyPrograms,” isa school reform model of technology immersion enabled andsustained through collaborative planning. IMPACT schools relyheavily upon the expertise of their school library media coordinatorand technology facilitator, and the ability of the people inthose positions to provide small-group and one-on-one professionaldevelopment and modeling as more and more technologyis used in instructional units.

When the IMPACT schools were first funded through an Enhancing Education Through Technology competitive grant process in 2003, all of the schools were required to implement a collaborative planning process that included their media coordinator and technology facilitator. The format— length and frequency of the meetings, configuration, and so on—was left up to the individual schools to decide. Over time, it has become apparent that one model is the most effective: longer blocks of time, every month to six weeks, by grade level. For example, the second-grade team might plan together with its media coordinator and technology facilitator on the fourth Wednesday of every month from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

During these collaborative sessions, myriad activities generally take place. Teachers chat about past units and analyze what has worked and what needs revamping before being tried again. The majority of the time is spent on planning upcoming lessons and units, working together to choose a variety of resources and teaching strategies so that all students in their classes have an opportunity to be successful. As ideas flow, new hardware or software might be suggested to enhance the unit. Often the new tool is demonstrated or even taught during the meeting, or a special training date is determined for additional professional development.

For instance, a third-grade social studies standard on maps directs students to create a map of the school. The technology facilitator might suggest that teachers introduce PDAs to the students during this unit, giving them the opportunity to learn map-reading skills through “geocaching,” a treasure-hunting game that makes use of global positioning system technology. Through a series of activities, students would disseminate their learning among the physical school grounds, a paper map (the original activity), and the latitude and longitude coordinates on the GPS. Since using a GPS and geocaching would entail new skills and teaching concepts for most of the teachers, the technology facilitator might schedule after-school training for the third-grade teachers and any other interested faculty.

As the brainstorming continues, one of the teachers might offer a way to integrate some of the students’ current math skills into the unit, while the media coordinator could suggest a classroom read-aloud of Searching for Oliver K. Woodman by Darcy Pattison (Harcourt, 2005), or a visit to the How Stuff Works website so students could learn the ins and outs of a GPS device. By the end of the afternoon an entire unit could be envisioned, culminating in a student- made PowerPoint slideshow to introduce incoming kindergartners to the school. Suddenly a standard mapping lesson has been reinvented as an opportunity for authentic, real-world learning. The key here is not the technology, although it is certainly a vehicle for differentiation and authenticity.

The key is the collaborative planning, a 21st-century skill that teachers must model before they can expect it of their students. Technology immersion is the catalyst, collaborative planning the enabler. Exciting, real-world teaching and learning that ultimately impacts student achievement is the outcome.

-Frances Bradburn is the director of instructional technology with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.

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