Elementary Schools : Kansas : Transforming the Classroom

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Laura Niederee

ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT Science
teacher Laura Niederee works with
two of her students.

WHEN PRINCIPAL DAVID HAMMER consideredhis wish list for a new intermediate school (grades 5 and 6) inWinfield, KS, comprehensive technology integration was at thetop. To his good fortune, the school's opening coincided with itsreceipt of a grant from the Kansas State Department of Education'sTechnology Rich Classrooms (TRC)initiative. Hammer saw an opportunity to support cooperativelearning while achieving greater integration of instructional technologies.He and Winfield Public Schools' director of curriculumand assessment, KayLynn Smith, were on the same page.

"We knew the TRC program would offer us a great blend of technology and vital training and support that is required to successfully incorporate new technologies into instruction," says Smith. "The technology allows strong teachers to do things in new ways—ways that can be more engaging to today's students." The TRC initiative aims to create 21st-century learning environments in classrooms in grades 3 to 6. Beyond providing access to technology, the project offers ongoing professional development and classroom-level support for participating teachers.

As a participant in the TRC project, Winfield Intermediate School sixth-grade science teacher Laura Niederee received 12 laptops, a projector, an interactive whiteboard, a student response system, online science textbooks, and science probes. "The best part of TRC is having the confidence to tackle many aspects of using technology that I was reluctant to try," she says. "It has enabled me to see how technology can be used in so many different ways."

Niederee's willingness to try new instructional methods was put to the test when her textbook-driven unit on cells was not capturing her students' attention. She knew they were most successful when working in small groups, solving real-world problems and engaged with technology. She decided to create a standards-based list of the content her students needed to know, and then ask them how they would like to learn it.

The students chose to showcase their learning by producing skits, songs, videos, interactive whiteboard lessons, games, and class competitions. "They created some amazing activities," Niederee says. "They learned the content and enjoyed themselves while doing it."

Positive feedback from Niederee's students supports the advantages of a project-based method over the traditional textbookcentered approach. One student, Stevie, whose group developed an interactive whiteboard lesson requiring classmates to compare organisms by describing cell properties, says the project "gave us a chance to teach ourselves." Another student, Lauren, says, "It was more fun to design something than to fill out a worksheet."

Principal Hammer knows the importance of having students actively participate and collaborate. "Students aren't sitting in rows being lectured the entire class period," he says. "It's nice to see them working together to accomplish the task at hand."

"Our TRC classrooms have a whole different look and feel," Smith says. "I see students taking a more active role in their education, not simply being passive recipients who let the teacher do all the work."

Behind the success of every TRC classroom is a TRC facilitator dedicated to providing teachers with training, resources, and support. "Our district has seen the difference hands-on learning can make for teachers," says Stacy Smith, Niederee's program facilitator. "It allows them to teach in a way that motivates students. Many times throughout the grant, teachers were heard saying they have no idea how they would teach if the technology were taken away. They are now technology leaders in their buildings and within the district."

Amber Rowland is the Technology Rich Classrooms projectcoordinator at the Advanced Learning Technologies in EducationConsortia. Melinda Stanley is the educationtechnology coordinator for the Kansas StateDepartment of Education.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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