Tennessee: EdTech Launch Grant Enhances East Lincoln Elementary School's Learning Environment With Technology Resources

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Today teachers at East Lincoln Elementary School, which serves grades K-5 in a low soci'economic neighborhood in Tullahoma, Tenn., see students motivated and engaged in technology-integrated projects. Yesterday, these same students struggled in nearly every aspect of school. Today teachers pull each other aside to proudly show off the projects in their students' electronic portfolios. Yesterday, these same teachers had very little computer experience. Today, families browse the school's new Web page, volunteer technical support and search the Internet during technology exploration nights. Yesterday, our families had limited access to computers. The litany could go on, for the changes at our school grew out of the belief that people with a vision create success when they have the opportunity and resources to achieve shared goals.

Our 2003 EdTech Launch grant provided the resources necessary to make a technology-enhanced learning environment flourish, but the physical resources were only the beginning. To arrive at a point where children are enthused and in wonder over the possibilities of technology took a tremendous amount of work on the part of every teacher in our school. And the excitement we now feel has brought about a new sense of hope for a brighter future.

Components for Success

Our rapid transformation began immediately upon the award notification of a Tennessee Department of Education EdTech Launch grant. With the active support of Ronny Murray, Tullahoma City Technology Coordinator, we quickly cleared the initial hurdle of purchasing and installing thousands of dollars of computer equipment. Our purchases were based on our plan to provide greater technology access to the students and families we serve. The overall design of our program took its shape from the outline designed by the Tennessee Department of Education. The program director included all of the necessary components for the successful development of an effective technology-integrated program into the state's plan for schools:

  • An emphasis on professional development;
  • The technology coach position;
  • Training workshops for new coaches;
  • A reflective journaling process;
  • A provision of technical support; and
  • Mentoring services.

Even the fact that the design calls on schools to individualize the project to accommodate for the needs of individual facilities is evidence of the plan's design quality. We received the framework and all of the necessary tools to achieve the desired result.

Job-Embedded Professional Development

In my role as East Lincoln's technology coach, I facilitate the design and implementation of the school's technology plan. This frees the teachers and administrators to focus completely on fulfilling their independent roles in developing a technology-enhanced learning environment. The coach training that I received through workshops provided by Jerry Bates and the Appalachian Technology in Education Consortium provided a strong foundation for how we implement our own professional development program.

Most of our professional development is job-embedded. We analyze previous instructional results and, based on those insights, modify what we do. Using released time, grade-level teacher groups meet to regularly design project-based lessons from content and technology standards. The teachers collaborate in groups to create plans promoting realistic learning environments that give children opportunities to engage in meaningful, authentic tasks requiring higher-order thinking skills. We also create accompanying assessments to provide authentic performance-based information congruent with the instructional goals. The teachers return to their classrooms, teach the new lessons and reconvene to reflect on the results of the instructional process. These scheduled reflection periods give teachers time to evaluate newly attempted instructional behaviors, discuss lesson components, and determine the degree of success. Through this experience, our teachers develop expertise in applying exemplary instructional strategies, reflecting on the results, and making modifications based on the outcomes.

Meeting Individual Needs

Teachers everywhere feel overwhelmed by the daily necessities of truly meeting each student's needs. Our program allows teachers to devote additional time to planning and generating high-quality products. It takes time to use new knowledge to transform teaching practices, especially since other duties do not go away. Time g'es a long way in supporting teachers' positive attitudes toward the technology integration process. The teachers look forward to the collaborative planning process and welcome the necessary preparation time to complete the desired projects. The teachers' appreciation of this time is equal to their gratefulness for the new equipment that was purchased through the grant.

Through discussion, observation, and project documentation review, my job demands that I constantly reflect on our progress and plan to modify as needed. For example, the teachers initially struggled with selecting appropriate software when lesson planning. The resulting frustration demanded that changes be made to the professional development plan. The problem appeared to be a lack of knowledge and experience with the productivity software, so I offered additional software training at various levels during times that were convenient for teachers. The teachers were pleased to have varied opportunities to "fill the holes" in their knowledge and develop the necessary prerequisite skills to successfully write technology-integrated lesson plans.

Just like in the elementary classroom, daily planning decisions are based on observation and assessment. To successfully meet our goal, we continually make modifications that tailor the plan to meet the individual needs of all staff members and the students they serve. This is how we reduce the stress of change - by constantly accommodating to meet the needs of individuals at all levels and allowing all participants to focus only on their role of becoming proficient at providing students with authentic, meaningful learning situations.

School programs prosper in environments that expect excellence while considering the needs of individuals. Our grant implementation process has empowered teachers, promoted shared leadership, demanded attentive listening, and emphasized teamwork. The project is not really about adding computers to our school. It is about changing instructional strategies to effectively meet the needs of students in today's world. It is about providing authentic situations that help students understand how to locate information and manipulate data. It is about showing students how to apply skills and why they need to know information. For us, EdTech is about enhancing the educational experiences of children by motivating and engaging them in meaningful learning experiences. The view looks good from the road we are taking.

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

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