You’re a 6th-grade teacher. You love teaching. You love standing in front of the room and explaining things to students and answering their questions and collecting their homework papers. You love telling them what they need to know.
One day, someone comes to you and says, “We’d like to do things a little differently from now on. All your students will be given a laptop computer, which they can access anytime they need to. After we train you, you’ll be able to show them how to use the learning programs on the computer. Then you can assign homework, they can submit their homework, and you can grade their homework—all on the computer. When students have questions, you can have them ‘look it up.’ They can collaborate on projects, and they can even show their parents what they’re doing, because we’re letting them take their computers home. When are you available for training?”
Quite a jolt. But that’s similar to what many of the 1,500 teachers in Michigan—along with 500 administrators and technology personnel—have experienced during the past four years. The state of Michigan’s Freedom to Learn (FTL) program is an example of one-to-one learning—one student to one computer. The state’s FTL partner has been Hewlett Packard, which provided the following:
- wireless laptop computers
- online assessments
- a data center
- educational software
- professional development
- support and technical assistance
- an internet filter
- wireless security
I’ve written previously about FTL (Freedom to Learn Part 1—Hale to the Program, March 16, 2006, Freedom to Learn Part 2 — Students Taking Charge, March 23, 2006, and Freedom to Learn Part 3—The Missing Link, April 6, 2006). In this and two succeeding articles, I’ll focus on three specific areas: training, lessons learned, and the future.
So, how do you train teachers who are used to being the center of action, who may never before have laid fingers on a laptop or done anything on-line except E-mail relatives across the country, and who may be very uncomfortable about giving up control?
Leslie Wilson is FTL’s Director of Professional and Curriculum Development. She’s aware that training teachers and administrators is not the easiest part of the program. But, she says, “We have to find ways to do it. There’s no manna from heaven.” And she has found ways.
- Seven Demonstration Sites serve as models for Freedom to Learn participants.
- Special Advisors are being recruited to visit each FTL school building to assess needs and develop action plans.
- Lead teachers at each of the over 150 school buildings attend special “train-the-trainer” sessions and convey their knowledge to their colleagues.
- Supercoaches assist Michigan Virtual University and the Michigan Department of Education with providing professional development, sustained coaching, and mentoring to the lead teachers.
- A 12-person cohort for the 10-month Michigan Education Policy Fellowship Program concentrates on developing leadership skills in policy design and implementation at the local, state, and national levels.
- Seminars are available to address funding and sustainability questions.
- Grant-writing sessions help districts identify sources of prospective funds and maximize their efforts in applying for them.
Joe Tinsley is the Technology Integration Coordinator in Chelsea School District. He knows what it’s like to try to bring FTL into Michigan’s classrooms. Tinsley describes himself as “the guy between the curriculum department and the technology people”: He introduces new technologies, works with the curriculum developers, and helps teachers integrate both the technologies and the curricula into their classrooms. “I’m not a technology expert, and I’m not a curriculum expert. You’ve got to have those people working with you and supporting you.” Tinsley started out as an art teacher, but received training in educational technology during the past several years and has since earned an M.A. in Educational Technology.
His point is well taken. Tinsley meets teachers at their individual entry points. He gives them an initial two-day training and then follows up with individual support. He has teachers identify goals that they want to reach by the end of the year—everything from how to use the class server more effectively to how to manage the classroom.
Scott Wooster, Director of Technology at Chelsea, is the primary “techie” that Tinsley works with. He emphasizes flexibility: preparing for the unexpected. What happens when the teacher identifies a useful website, but it ends up not working? More specifically, what happens when you successfully test all your hardware and software, only to have the sixth grade move into another building with different wiring? “We had nothing but problems for the first three months of the program,” says Wooster. “Frustration levels were extremely high.” But the teachers were flexible; they stuck with it. And now they’re the biggest supporters of the program.
Shawn Massey and Derek Jones team up at Flint Schools in the same way. Massey is the director of technology; Jones is a supercoach and FTL specialist. Massey says that everyone involved has to be a problem solver. In order to get FTL buy-in from teachers, they came to the teachers, making presentations at their buildings. Only then did they offer training—an overview, basic computing skills, care of the hardware, classroom management, and software tutorials. For his part, Jones points out that classroom management is the number-one focus in his trainings—everything from the general (keeping discipline when students are doing small-group work) to the very, very specific (how to keep one battery of every pair charged at all times while the other one is in the laptops).
All these educators are believers in the one-to-one process. Several years ago, Wooster and Tinsley were traveling to an “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” conference; they were thinking that they’d never be able to afford any of the laptops. On their return trip, however, they were thinking, “How do we afford it? We’ve got to get the technology into the district any way we can.”
It’s not just the technology, of course; it’s the pedagogical, the conceptual, and for some teachers the ego shift that’s critical. It’s the perspective that changes for them. The laptops are the students’ tools, but it’s the teachers who often change the most.
The lessons that trainers have learned along the way will be the subject of the next one-to-one article.