East Harlem’s Winning School Technology Formula

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Tech-Hungry Students, Generous Corporate Partners, Central Support and the Determination to Succeed

Ten years ago, when I taught in East Harlem, there was hardly a computer to be found anywhere in my school. True, the issue was being addressed, as it was in New York City’s other 31 community school districts, but in a way that would probably offer too little too late to make much of a difference to youngsters living in a world growing more dependent on technology every day. Now, however, all of this changed. East Harlem has since evolved a unique Instructional Technology program that could serve as a model for the rest of the city.

In 1997, the Board of Education started Project Smart Schools, a program that would begin reversing the problem of insufficient computers available to teachers and students. It would also address the inequity of computer access among the many different populations of students in the city. Surmounting a host of logistical problems, the program placed clusters of four state-of-the-art personal computers, networked simply to a printer, in the vast majority of the system’s many thousands of middle school subject-classrooms. School libraries also received computers, as well as Internet access. This infusion of hardware was exactly the “shot in the arm” East Harlem needed to take its technology program to the next level.

Even more significant, however, was the handful of full-time staff developer positions that came with the computers. Community school districts were directed to hire staff from among their own ranks, sharing their knowledge of local culture and relationships with members of the learning community. The cadre of professionals that East Harlem recruited would visit the district’s schools, encouraging the use of computers as support for the teaching of Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and other subjects.

Developing an Effective Program

Over the next couple of years, the Project Smart Schools group was busy making discoveries. Despite some spotty experimentation with computers throughout the city prior to the project, a comprehensive program to make computers an integral part of the everyday work of subject classrooms had never been tried before. There was so much to be done. Teachers were intrigued and fearful about using the computers that now sat in their classrooms. They needed to learn basic tech skills and how to use the computers to teach their lessons; new computer-supported curriculum had to be written; radical new approaches to classroom management had to be developed; and on and on.

After a whirlwind period of hard work at stirring up change in the district’s classrooms, technology coordinator John Ferro and fellow staff developers Ben Sender, Richard Carlton, Yolanda Rivera Hernandez, and Susannah Moran stopped to evaluate their progress. Many teachers had begun to adopt the computers as an instructional resource, and many others were willing to experiment with them from time to time. A large body of curriculum, software alignments, and instructional practice had been developed. Students had produced much wonderful work. Still, despite what looked like significant achievement and success, the staff developers had to concede that running though all of it was a struggle.

It was at the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Conference in Seattle, a conference devoted to promoting the use of personal laptop computers for students, that John and Ben began to see alternatives. It began to be clear that there were aspects of the district’s problems that might be addressed by supplementing the number of computers available in the classrooms, as well as the manner in which they were deployed. Unfortunately, the cost of providing laptops across the board to every student was breathtakingly prohibitive. It was time to dig in and get creative.

While the district didn’t have the mountain of cash it needed, it did have some other marketable commodities. It had highly competent personnel, a history of cutting-edge innovation and a willingness to form partnerships that would get it to where it wanted to go. The district began to reach out to vendors, offering not money, but the opportunity to perfect their wares and demonstrate their value in a corner of the huge but largely untapped market represented by New York City public schools. Over a period of several years, the East Harlem district formed many such partnerships, vastly increasing its base of resources for servicing its students.

The district has been insistent that the private sector partnerships into which they enter are not simply donations. In addition to the very significant number of laptops, printers, online services, professional development, consulting services, software and other tools the district has received, the relationships with companies and the individuals who work for them are perhaps equally important. The presence of partners, not just their products or services, in the schools has made a great difference in the human quality of the instructional technology program the district offers. Because of this, a ready-made set of important role models interacts with students and teachers. Youngsters who have their sights set on moving beyond their inner-city circumstances have access, through the program, to a great many new friends who are living and working the life to which many kids aspire.

In many ways, this aspect of the program is one of the clearest examples of good ideas picking up their own momentum. The influx of technology has enabled schools to expand beyond their own walls, in a virtual sense, and put students in touch with an ever-widening circle of significant individuals to interact with and learn from. Utilizing computers and the Internet, the district has partnered with Community School District 20, a sister district in Brooklyn, to establish a number of online collaborative study projects. One of them, Project Justice, has students researching, collaboratively sharing data and reflections, and reporting to one another on important social-justice issues such as youth violence, gun control and capital punishment. The sizzling excitement around the project has carried it into the offices of prestigious New York law firms, enabling youngsters to ask questions of practicing attorneys and of a sitting judge.

The district has been selective about whom it has embraced as a partner, as it has been about what it has accepted from them. The result has been a carefully crafted program composed of customized, interlocking components that add to the mix synergistically. Some of the prominent players are Lexmark, Youthline USA, AlphaSmart, Steck Vaughn, McGraw-Hill, Classroom Connect, and NoteSys.

 

Procuring Hardware and Software

One of the district’s major challenges was obtaining the necessary equipment. AlphaSmart, a manufacturer of light, portable, battery-powered laptop appliances, donated classroom sets of these. The melding of the Alpha Smart laptops, which can perform word-processing, calculating, and simple file management, and the more powerful full-blown Project Smart PCs was perfect. Kids could create their text portions on their own machines without being slowed down by the need to share, and then download these files to one of the four communal computers in the class to do more sophisticated work with desktop publishing, slide presentation, or Web authoring software.

Youthline USA, a rich online instructional resource involving students in the use and creation of newspapers, donated many class sets of powerful laptop computers. These classes inherited the best possible scenario, with each student receiving a state of the art notebook computer to use in school and at home. Lexmark completed the picture by giving each youngster a printer to use at home, providing the vital opportunity to print out his or her work.

With the hardware issue handled, software was needed as well. Steck Vaughn donated quantities of software outright and allowed the district to purchase quantities at a reduced price. The company also wrote curriculum guides tailored to the very specific needs of New York City’s four-computer classroom model. This proved to be a highly valuable addition to the program. Classroom Connect also gave their curriculum materials to the district. This leader in the area of virtual experiences and online expeditions has generated custom content for the district.

Staff Development

Professional Development is the third indispensable component of the program. The district’s technology team spent countless hours researching and evaluating various staff development models. They critically examined their own efforts and came to realize that the typical after-school workshop model did not translate into effective use of technology in the classroom. However, the teachers who were involved in the standards-driven, interdisciplinary projects were not only integrating technology into their curricula, they were excited about what was happening in their classrooms. Their students were excited and motivated to do exceptional work. What was different?

One change was that teachers were not learning in a vacuum. Rather, they were learning what they needed to know when they needed to know it, with the support of staff development that emanated from the district’s instructional projects. Staff developers worked side by side with teachers and students toward a common goal. The superintendent of each participating district allowed for monthly staff development days related to the projects. The district’s own very impressive efforts have been greatly extended by the many additional hours of training given by Youthline USA, Alpha Smart, Classroom Connect and others.

To round out the picture, other partners have provided still other items that are essential to the unique program that has evolved in East Harlem. NoteSys Inc., for instance, donated grant-writing services, which have made the acquisition of additional resources possible.

Now that sufficient technology has been acquired, the district plans on expanding its portfolio of collaborative, thematic projects. In addition to Project Justice and the Endangered Species Project, others have been added as the natural curiosity of students and their teachers has taken them in new directions. At a share fair hosted by the school system’s Office of Instructional Technology this past spring, a dozen other school districts signed on as partners in the projects.

I suspect that as the district continues to develop content and deepen its unique relationships with the instructional technology business community, eventually a remarkable reversal of roles will evolve. Instead of being purely a consumer, as has always been the case, the school district will begin to market its programs to a world that is hungry for them.

Mark Gura
Director, Office of Instructional Technology
New York City Board of Education
Mark_L._Gura@fc1.nycenet.eduX@XOpenTag000

Tech-Hungry Students, Generous Corporate Partners, Central Support and the Determination to SucceedX@XCloseTag000

Ten years ago, when I taught in East Harlem, there was hardly a computer to be found anywhere in my school. True, the issue was being addressed, as it was in New York City’s other 31 community school districts, but in a way that would probably offer too little too late to make much of a difference to youngsters living in a world growing more dependent on technology every day. Now, however, all of this changed. East Harlem has since evolved a unique Instructional Technology program that could serve as a model for the rest of the city.

In 1997, the Board of Education started Project Smart Schools, a program that would begin reversing the problem of insufficient computers available to teachers and students. It would also address the inequity of computer access among the many different populations of students in the city. Surmounting a host of logistical problems, the program placed clusters of four state-of-the-art personal computers, networked simply to a printer, in the vast majority of the system’s many thousands of middle school subject-classrooms. School libraries also received computers, as well as Internet access. This infusion of hardware was exactly the “shot in the arm” East Harlem needed to take its technology program to the next level.

Even more significant, however, was the handful of full-time staff developer positions that came with the computers. Community school districts were directed to hire staff from among their own ranks, sharing their knowledge of local culture and relationships with members of the learning community. The cadre of professionals that East Harlem recruited would visit the district’s schools, encouraging the use of computers as support for the teaching of Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and other subjects.

X@XOpenTag001

Developing an Effective Program

X@XCloseTag001Over the next couple of years, the Project Smart Schools group was busy making discoveries. Despite some spotty experimentation with computers throughout the city prior to the project, a comprehensive program to make computers an integral part of the everyday work of subject classrooms had never been tried before. There was so much to be done. Teachers were intrigued and fearful about using the computers that now sat in their classrooms. They needed to learn basic tech skills and how to use the computers to teach their lessons; new computer-supported curriculum had to be written; radical new approaches to classroom management had to be developed; and on and on.

After a whirlwind period of hard work at stirring up change in the district’s classrooms, technology coordinator John Ferro and fellow staff developers Ben Sender, Richard Carlton, Yolanda Rivera Hernandez, and Susannah Moran stopped to evaluate their progress. Many teachers had begun to adopt the computers as an instructional resource, and many others were willing to experiment with them from time to time. A large body of curriculum, software alignments, and instructional practice had been developed. Students had produced much wonderful work. Still, despite what looked like significant achievement and success, the staff developers had to concede that running though all of it was a struggle.

It was at the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Conference in Seattle, a conference devoted to promoting the use of personal laptop computers for students, that John and Ben began to see alternatives. It began to be clear that there were aspects of the district’s problems that might be addressed by supplementing the number of computers available in the classrooms, as well as the manner in which they were deployed. Unfortunately, the cost of providing laptops across the board to every student was breathtakingly prohibitive. It was time to dig in and get creative.

While the district didn’t have the mountain of cash it needed, it did have some other marketable commodities. It had highly competent personnel, a history of cutting-edge innovation and a willingness to form partnerships that would get it to where it wanted to go. The district began to reach out to vendors, offering not money, but the opportunity to perfect their wares and demonstrate their value in a corner of the huge but largely untapped market represented by New York City public schools. Over a period of several years, the East Harlem district formed many such partnerships, vastly increasing its base of resources for servicing its students.

The district has been insistent that the private sector partnerships into which they enter are not simply donations. In addition to the very significant number of laptops, printers, online services, professional development, consulting services, software and other tools the district has received, the relationships with companies and the individuals who work for them are perhaps equally important. The presence of partners, not just their products or services, in the schools has made a great difference in the human quality of the instructional technology program the district offers. Because of this, a ready-made set of important role models interacts with students and teachers. Youngsters who have their sights set on moving beyond their inner-city circumstances have access, through the program, to a great many new friends who are living and working the life to which many kids aspire.

In many ways, this aspect of the program is one of the clearest examples of good ideas picking up their own momentum. The influx of technology has enabled schools to expand beyond their own walls, in a virtual sense, and put students in touch with an ever-widening circle of significant individuals to interact with and learn from. Utilizing computers and the Internet, the district has partnered with Community School District 20, a sister district in Brooklyn, to establish a number of online collaborative study projects. One of them, Project Justice, has students researching, collaboratively sharing data and reflections, and reporting to one another on important social-justice issues such as youth violence, gun control and capital punishment. The sizzling excitement around the project has carried it into the offices of prestigious New York law firms, enabling youngsters to ask questions of practicing attorneys and of a sitting judge.

The district has been selective about whom it has embraced as a partner, as it has been about what it has accepted from them. The result has been a carefully crafted program composed of customized, interlocking components that add to the mix synergistically. Some of the prominent players are Lexmark, Youthline USA, AlphaSmart, Steck Vaughn, McGraw-Hill, Classroom Connect, and NoteSys.

 

X@XOpenTag002Procuring Hardware and Software

X@XCloseTag002One of the district’s major challenges was obtaining the necessary equipment. AlphaSmart, a manufacturer of light, portable, battery-powered laptop appliances, donated classroom sets of these. The melding of the Alpha Smart laptops, which can perform word-processing, calculating, and simple file management, and the more powerful full-blown Project Smart PCs was perfect. Kids could create their text portions on their own machines without being slowed down by the need to share, and then download these files to one of the four communal computers in the class to do more sophisticated work with desktop publishing, slide presentation, or Web authoring software.

Youthline USA, a rich online instructional resource involving students in the use and creation of newspapers, donated many class sets of powerful laptop computers. These classes inherited the best possible scenario, with each student receiving a state of the art notebook computer to use in school and at home. Lexmark completed the picture by giving each youngster a printer to use at home, providing the vital opportunity to print out his or her work.

With the hardware issue handled, software was needed as well. Steck Vaughn donated quantities of software outright and allowed the district to purchase quantities at a reduced price. The company also wrote curriculum guides tailored to the very specific needs of New York City’s four-computer classroom model. This proved to be a highly valuable addition to the program. Classroom Connect also gave their curriculum materials to the district. This leader in the area of virtual experiences and online expeditions has generated custom content for the district.

X@XOpenTag003Staff Development

X@XCloseTag003Professional Development is the third indispensable component of the program. The district’s technology team spent countless hours researching and evaluating various staff development models. They critically examined their own efforts and came to realize that the typical after-school workshop model did not translate into effective use of technology in the classroom. However, the teachers who were involved in the standards-driven, interdisciplinary projects were not only integrating technology into their curricula, they were excited about what was happening in their classrooms. Their students were excited and motivated to do exceptional work. What was different?

One change was that teachers were not learning in a vacuum. Rather, they were learning what they needed to know when they needed to know it, with the support of staff development that emanated from the district’s instructional projects. Staff developers worked side by side with teachers and students toward a common goal. The superintendent of each participating district allowed for monthly staff development days related to the projects. The district’s own very impressive efforts have been greatly extended by the many additional hours of training given by Youthline USA, Alpha Smart, Classroom Connect and others.

To round out the picture, other partners have provided still other items that are essential to the unique program that has evolved in East Harlem. NoteSys Inc., for instance, donated grant-writing services, which have made the acquisition of additional resources possible.

Now that sufficient technology has been acquired, the district plans on expanding its portfolio of collaborative, thematic projects. In addition to Project Justice and the Endangered Species Project, others have been added as the natural curiosity of students and their teachers has taken them in new directions. At a share fair hosted by the school system’s Office of Instructional Technology this past spring, a dozen other school districts signed on as partners in the projects.

I suspect that as the district continues to develop content and deepen its unique relationships with the instructional technology business community, eventually a remarkable reversal of roles will evolve. Instead of being purely a consumer, as has always been the case, the school district will begin to market its programs to a world that is hungry for them.

Mark Gura
Director, Office of Instructional Technology
New York City Board of Education
Mark_L._Gura@fc1.nycenet.edu

X@XOpenTag000

Tech-Hungry Students, Generous Corporate Partners, Central Support and the Determination to SucceedX@XCloseTag000

Ten years ago, when I taught in East Harlem, there was hardly a computer to be found anywhere in my school. True, the issue was being addressed, as it was in New York City’s other 31 community school districts, but in a way that would probably offer too little too late to make much of a difference to youngsters living in a world growing more dependent on technology every day. Now, however, all of this changed. East Harlem has since evolved a unique Instructional Technology program that could serve as a model for the rest of the city.

In 1997, the Board of Education started Project Smart Schools, a program that would begin reversing the problem of insufficient computers available to teachers and students. It would also address the inequity of computer access among the many different populations of students in the city. Surmounting a host of logistical problems, the program placed clusters of four state-of-the-art personal computers, networked simply to a printer, in the vast majority of the system’s many thousands of middle school subject-classrooms. School libraries also received computers, as well as Internet access. This infusion of hardware was exactly the “shot in the arm” East Harlem needed to take its technology program to the next level.

Even more significant, however, was the handful of full-time staff developer positions that came with the computers. Community school districts were directed to hire staff from among their own ranks, sharing their knowledge of local culture and relationships with members of the learning community. The cadre of professionals that East Harlem recruited would visit the district’s schools, encouraging the use of computers as support for the teaching of Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and other subjects.

X@XOpenTag001

Developing an Effective Program

X@XCloseTag001Over the next couple of years, the Project Smart Schools group was busy making discoveries. Despite some spotty experimentation with computers throughout the city prior to the project, a comprehensive program to make computers an integral part of the everyday work of subject classrooms had never been tried before. There was so much to be done. Teachers were intrigued and fearful about using the computers that now sat in their classrooms. They needed to learn basic tech skills and how to use the computers to teach their lessons; new computer-supported curriculum had to be written; radical new approaches to classroom management had to be developed; and on and on.

After a whirlwind period of hard work at stirring up change in the district’s classrooms, technology coordinator John Ferro and fellow staff developers Ben Sender, Richard Carlton, Yolanda Rivera Hernandez, and Susannah Moran stopped to evaluate their progress. Many teachers had begun to adopt the computers as an instructional resource, and many others were willing to experiment with them from time to time. A large body of curriculum, software alignments, and instructional practice had been developed. Students had produced much wonderful work. Still, despite what looked like significant achievement and success, the staff developers had to concede that running though all of it was a struggle.

It was at the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Conference in Seattle, a conference devoted to promoting the use of personal laptop computers for students, that John and Ben began to see alternatives. It began to be clear that there were aspects of the district’s problems that might be addressed by supplementing the number of computers available in the classrooms, as well as the manner in which they were deployed. Unfortunately, the cost of providing laptops across the board to every student was breathtakingly prohibitive. It was time to dig in and get creative.

While the district didn’t have the mountain of cash it needed, it did have some other marketable commodities. It had highly competent personnel, a history of cutting-edge innovation and a willingness to form partnerships that would get it to where it wanted to go. The district began to reach out to vendors, offering not money, but the opportunity to perfect their wares and demonstrate their value in a corner of the huge but largely untapped market represented by New York City public schools. Over a period of several years, the East Harlem district formed many such partnerships, vastly increasing its base of resources for servicing its students.

The district has been insistent that the private sector partnerships into which they enter are not simply donations. In addition to the very significant number of laptops, printers, online services, professional development, consulting services, software and other tools the district has received, the relationships with companies and the individuals who work for them are perhaps equally important. The presence of partners, not just their products or services, in the schools has made a great difference in the human quality of the instructional technology program the district offers. Because of this, a ready-made set of important role models interacts with students and teachers. Youngsters who have their sights set on moving beyond their inner-city circumstances have access, through the program, to a great many new friends who are living and working the life to which many kids aspire.

In many ways, this aspect of the program is one of the clearest examples of good ideas picking up their own momentum. The influx of technology has enabled schools to expand beyond their own walls, in a virtual sense, and put students in touch with an ever-widening circle of significant individuals to interact with and learn from. Utilizing computers and the Internet, the district has partnered with Community School District 20, a sister district in Brooklyn, to establish a number of online collaborative study projects. One of them, Project Justice, has students researching, collaboratively sharing data and reflections, and reporting to one another on important social-justice issues such as youth violence, gun control and capital punishment. The sizzling excitement around the project has carried it into the offices of prestigious New York law firms, enabling youngsters to ask questions of practicing attorneys and of a sitting judge.

The district has been selective about whom it has embraced as a partner, as it has been about what it has accepted from them. The result has been a carefully crafted program composed of customized, interlocking components that add to the mix synergistically. Some of the prominent players are Lexmark, Youthline USA, AlphaSmart, Steck Vaughn, McGraw-Hill, Classroom Connect, and NoteSys.

 

X@XOpenTag002Procuring Hardware and Software

X@XCloseTag002One of the district’s major challenges was obtaining the necessary equipment. AlphaSmart, a manufacturer of light, portable, battery-powered laptop appliances, donated classroom sets of these. The melding of the Alpha Smart laptops, which can perform word-processing, calculating, and simple file management, and the more powerful full-blown Project Smart PCs was perfect. Kids could create their text portions on their own machines without being slowed down by the need to share, and then download these files to one of the four communal computers in the class to do more sophisticated work with desktop publishing, slide presentation, or Web authoring software.

Youthline USA, a rich online instructional resource involving students in the use and creation of newspapers, donated many class sets of powerful laptop computers. These classes inherited the best possible scenario, with each student receiving a state of the art notebook computer to use in school and at home. Lexmark completed the picture by giving each youngster a printer to use at home, providing the vital opportunity to print out his or her work.

With the hardware issue handled, software was needed as well. Steck Vaughn donated quantities of software outright and allowed the district to purchase quantities at a reduced price. The company also wrote curriculum guides tailored to the very specific needs of New York City’s four-computer classroom model. This proved to be a highly valuable addition to the program. Classroom Connect also gave their curriculum materials to the district. This leader in the area of virtual experiences and online expeditions has generated custom content for the district.

X@XOpenTag003Staff Development

X@XCloseTag003Professional Development is the third indispensable component of the program. The district’s technology team spent countless hours researching and evaluating various staff development models. They critically examined their own efforts and came to realize that the typical after-school workshop model did not translate into effective use of technology in the classroom. However, the teachers who were involved in the standards-driven, interdisciplinary projects were not only integrating technology into their curricula, they were excited about what was happening in their classrooms. Their students were excited and motivated to do exceptional work. What was different?

One change was that teachers were not learning in a vacuum. Rather, they were learning what they needed to know when they needed to know it, with the support of staff development that emanated from the district’s instructional projects. Staff developers worked side by side with teachers and students toward a common goal. The superintendent of each participating district allowed for monthly staff development days related to the projects. The district’s own very impressive efforts have been greatly extended by the many additional hours of training given by Youthline USA, Alpha Smart, Classroom Connect and others.

To round out the picture, other partners have provided still other items that are essential to the unique program that has evolved in East Harlem. NoteSys Inc., for instance, donated grant-writing services, which have made the acquisition of additional resources possible.

Now that sufficient technology has been acquired, the district plans on expanding its portfolio of collaborative, thematic projects. In addition to Project Justice and the Endangered Species Project, others have been added as the natural curiosity of students and their teachers has taken them in new directions. At a share fair hosted by the school system’s Office of Instructional Technology this past spring, a dozen other school districts signed on as partners in the projects.

I suspect that as the district continues to develop content and deepen its unique relationships with the instructional technology business community, eventually a remarkable reversal of roles will evolve. Instead of being purely a consumer, as has always been the case, the school district will begin to market its programs to a world that is hungry for them.

Mark Gura
Director, Office of Instructional Technology
New York City Board of Education
Mark_L._Gura@fc1.nycenet.eduX@XOpenTag004X@XOpenTag000

Tech-Hungry Students, Generous Corporate Partners, Central Support and the Determination to SucceedX@XCloseTag000

Ten years ago, when I taught in East Harlem, there was hardly a computer to be found anywhere in my school. True, the issue was being addressed, as it was in New York City’s other 31 community school districts, but in a way that would probably offer too little too late to make much of a difference to youngsters living in a world growing more dependent on technology every day. Now, however, all of this changed. East Harlem has since evolved a unique Instructional Technology program that could serve as a model for the rest of the city.

In 1997, the Board of Education started Project Smart Schools, a program that would begin reversing the problem of insufficient computers available to teachers and students. It would also address the inequity of computer access among the many different populations of students in the city. Surmounting a host of logistical problems, the program placed clusters of four state-of-the-art personal computers, networked simply to a printer, in the vast majority of the system’s many thousands of middle school subject-classrooms. School libraries also received computers, as well as Internet access. This infusion of hardware was exactly the “shot in the arm” East Harlem needed to take its technology program to the next level.

Even more significant, however, was the handful of full-time staff developer positions that came with the computers. Community school districts were directed to hire staff from among their own ranks, sharing their knowledge of local culture and relationships with members of the learning community. The cadre of professionals that East Harlem recruited would visit the district’s schools, encouraging the use of computers as support for the teaching of Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies and other subjects.

X@XOpenTag001

Developing an Effective Program

X@XCloseTag001Over the next couple of years, the Project Smart Schools group was busy making discoveries. Despite some spotty experimentation with computers throughout the city prior to the project, a comprehensive program to make computers an integral part of the everyday work of subject classrooms had never been tried before. There was so much to be done. Teachers were intrigued and fearful about using the computers that now sat in their classrooms. They needed to learn basic tech skills and how to use the computers to teach their lessons; new computer-supported curriculum had to be written; radical new approaches to classroom management had to be developed; and on and on.

After a whirlwind period of hard work at stirring up change in the district’s classrooms, technology coordinator John Ferro and fellow staff developers Ben Sender, Richard Carlton, Yolanda Rivera Hernandez, and Susannah Moran stopped to evaluate their progress. Many teachers had begun to adopt the computers as an instructional resource, and many others were willing to experiment with them from time to time. A large body of curriculum, software alignments, and instructional practice had been developed. Students had produced much wonderful work. Still, despite what looked like significant achievement and success, the staff developers had to concede that running though all of it was a struggle.

It was at the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Conference in Seattle, a conference devoted to promoting the use of personal laptop computers for students, that John and Ben began to see alternatives. It began to be clear that there were aspects of the district’s problems that might be addressed by supplementing the number of computers available in the classrooms, as well as the manner in which they were deployed. Unfortunately, the cost of providing laptops across the board to every student was breathtakingly prohibitive. It was time to dig in and get creative.

While the district didn’t have the mountain of cash it needed, it did have some other marketable commodities. It had highly competent personnel, a history of cutting-edge innovation and a willingness to form partnerships that would get it to where it wanted to go. The district began to reach out to vendors, offering not money, but the opportunity to perfect their wares and demonstrate their value in a corner of the huge but largely untapped market represented by New York City public schools. Over a period of several years, the East Harlem district formed many such partnerships, vastly increasing its base of resources for servicing its students.

The district has been insistent that the private sector partnerships into which they enter are not simply donations. In addition to the very significant number of laptops, printers, online services, professional development, consulting services, software and other tools the district has received, the relationships with companies and the individuals who work for them are perhaps equally important. The presence of partners, not just their products or services, in the schools has made a great difference in the human quality of the instructional technology program the district offers. Because of this, a ready-made set of important role models interacts with students and teachers. Youngsters who have their sights set on moving beyond their inner-city circumstances have access, through the program, to a great many new friends who are living and working the life to which many kids aspire.

In many ways, this aspect of the program is one of the clearest examples of good ideas picking up their own momentum. The influx of technology has enabled schools to expand beyond their own walls, in a virtual sense, and put students in touch with an ever-widening circle of significant individuals to interact with and learn from. Utilizing computers and the Internet, the district has partnered with Community School District 20, a sister district in Brooklyn, to establish a number of online collaborative study projects. One of them, Project Justice, has students researching, collaboratively sharing data and reflections, and reporting to one another on important social-justice issues such as youth violence, gun control and capital punishment. The sizzling excitement around the project has carried it into the offices of prestigious New York law firms, enabling youngsters to ask questions of practicing attorneys and of a sitting judge.

The district has been selective about whom it has embraced as a partner, as it has been about what it has accepted from them. The result has been a carefully crafted program composed of customized, interlocking components that add to the mix synergistically. Some of the prominent players are Lexmark, Youthline USA, AlphaSmart, Steck Vaughn, McGraw-Hill, Classroom Connect, and NoteSys.

 

X@XOpenTag002Procuring Hardware and Software

X@XCloseTag002One of the district’s major challenges was obtaining the necessary equipment. AlphaSmart, a manufacturer of light, portable, battery-powered laptop appliances, donated classroom sets of these. The melding of the Alpha Smart laptops, which can perform word-processing, calculating, and simple file management, and the more powerful full-blown Project Smart PCs was perfect. Kids could create their text portions on their own machines without being slowed down by the need to share, and then download these files to one of the four communal computers in the class to do more sophisticated work with desktop publishing, slide presentation, or Web authoring software.

Youthline USA, a rich online instructional resource involving students in the use and creation of newspapers, donated many class sets of powerful laptop computers. These classes inherited the best possible scenario, with each student receiving a state of the art notebook computer to use in school and at home. Lexmark completed the picture by giving each youngster a printer to use at home, providing the vital opportunity to print out his or her work.

With the hardware issue handled, software was needed as well. Steck Vaughn donated quantities of software outright and allowed the district to purchase quantities at a reduced price. The company also wrote curriculum guides tailored to the very specific needs of New York City’s four-computer classroom model. This proved to be a highly valuable addition to the program. Classroom Connect also gave their curriculum materials to the district. This leader in the area of virtual experiences and online expeditions has generated custom content for the district.

X@XOpenTag003Staff Development

X@XCloseTag003Professional Development is the third indispensable component of the program. The district’s technology team spent countless hours researching and evaluating various staff development models. They critically examined their own efforts and came to realize that the typical after-school workshop model did not translate into effective use of technology in the classroom. However, the teachers who were involved in the standards-driven, interdisciplinary projects were not only integrating technology into their curricula, they were excited about what was happening in their classrooms. Their students were excited and motivated to do exceptional work. What was different?

One change was that teachers were not learning in a vacuum. Rather, they were learning what they needed to know when they needed to know it, with the support of staff development that emanated from the district’s instructional projects. Staff developers worked side by side with teachers and students toward a common goal. The superintendent of each participating district allowed for monthly staff development days related to the projects. The district’s own very impressive efforts have been greatly extended by the many additional hours of training given by Youthline USA, Alpha Smart, Classroom Connect and others.

To round out the picture, other partners have provided still other items that are essential to the unique program that has evolved in East Harlem. NoteSys Inc., for instance, donated grant-writing services, which have made the acquisition of additional resources possible.

Now that sufficient technology has been acquired, the district plans on expanding its portfolio of collaborative, thematic projects. In addition to Project Justice and the Endangered Species Project, others have been added as the natural curiosity of students and their teachers has taken them in new directions. At a share fair hosted by the school system’s Office of Instructional Technology this past spring, a dozen other school districts signed on as partners in the projects.

I suspect that as the district continues to develop content and deepen its unique relationships with the instructional technology business community, eventually a remarkable reversal of roles will evolve. Instead of being purely a consumer, as has always been the case, the school district will begin to market its programs to a world that is hungry for them.

Mark Gura
Director, Office of Instructional Technology
New York City Board of Education
Mark_L._Gura@fc1.nycenet.eduX@XCloseTag004

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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