Profile :: Carla Wade

Whether working at the classroom or state level, the former science teacher has shown a passion for teaching educators the most effective ways to integrate technology.

Carla Wade

A TRANSFORMING EXPERIENCE Her use of a video microscope during a classroom science lesson revealed to Wade how technology can awaken students' interest in learning.

CARLA WADE DISCOVERED YEARS AGO how to talk teachers out of their fears of their own inabilities: You could say she would make them an argument they couldn't refute. Then the curriculum instruction manager at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Wade would have none of the naysaying she heard from the teachers she hired to conduct science classes at the museum each summer, who were sure they didn't know the first thing about chemistry.

"I'd look at them and laugh," she recalls, "and I'd say, 'Excuse me, do you cook at home?'"

She would then ask them for an example of something they cooked and the recipe they used to make it. Combining sugar, flour, and butter to make cookies would be their response. "I'd say, 'So you put these dry ingredients together with some liquid ingredients, you added heat, and you got something different. That's chemistry, guys.' They'd say, 'Oh! I can do chemistry.'

"It was fun to help them understand they had the ability to do something that they had a fear of doing. I like putting people together and watching them discover, and watching them smile when they figure something out that they didn't believe they could do."

Wade, now a technology education specialist at the Oregon Department of Education, has turned her enjoyment of dispelling teachers' fears into a career-making passion for professional development. She sees effective teacher training as indispensable to the goals of 21st-century education. "You can put all the computers you want in front of students," she says, "but if you haven't done the professional development for teachers, using that technology in a productive and meaningful way becomes far more difficult."

Much of her work is bent on easing that effort. A key platform for Wade is the Oregon Ed Tech Professional Development Cadre, which she helped develop in 2002, two years after joining the department, as a means to disseminate best practices for technology integration. The cadre brings in a range of educators, from curriculum specialists and district technology coaches to superintendents-- anyone who provides professional development to teachers. "Because you know how to use technology," she says, "doesn't mean you know how to teach other people to use technology."

Participants attend three face-to-face workshops a year, in addition to a virtual fourth meeting, where they acquire the knowledge and skills to integrate technology into instruction. Annual participation has grown from 35 to 40 people when the cadre began to about 100. The cadre hopes members pass on the strategies they learn for technology integration to the teachers in their districts or education service districts, who will then implement them in the classroom. In one Oregon district, a cadre member has established "mini-cadres" based on teachers' interests, including podcasting, mapping, and Google applications. "We have teachers who make their lectures available as video podcasts," Wade says. "Imagine kids viewing a math teacher's lecture on an iPod."

The educators are not always learning from each other, Wade says, noting one example when high school students were invited to the cadre to explain how to make videos to tell a story or use as an advocacy tool. The activity allowed the members to connect with one of the principles of 21st-century education: the decentralization of the classroom.

"They learned that you as a teacher don't have to be the one imparting all the knowledge," she says. "You can sit back and have the kids do some of the driving."

Wade was introduced to 21st-century learning before anyone had even thought to call it that. In the late 1970s, her graduate program in parks and recreation at Indiana University- Bloomington, where she went as an undergraduate as well, included an emphasis in outdoor education. She would take elementary school students on walks through the acreage of the university's outdoor center, Bradford Woods, and have them write about the pine trees or streams they encountered. Wade says it was a "hands-on, real-world, teachable-moment way to learn about doing education."

After completing her graduate work, Wade came to Oregon on vacation in the spring of 1980. A friend worked for the Multnomah Education Service District Outdoor School in Portland. In no time, she landed a job with the school and saw her career take root. "I never left Portland," she says.

Wade entered the classroom full-time in 1992, when she accepted a science teacher position at Portland's Centennial Middle School, where she had done some substitute teaching while gaining her teaching certificate several years earlier. It was there that Wade began to purposefully integrate technology into her science instruction. "The exciting thing for me was to learn how different types of technologies could augment what you were doing in the classroom," she says.

She recalls one particular experience that showed her the power of classroom technology to transform a lesson. She received a grant to obtain a video microscope that displayed images on a classroom TV monitor. Prior to that, students peered through microscope eyepieces in an often vain attempt to focus on a preserved specimen slide of a stained onion skin. The video microscope allowed students to see much more, such as watching blood corpuscles coursing through the capillaries of a live goldfish in real time.

Meanwhile, Wade was seeing something else: technology being used as an educational pathway. "What I heard was, 'Oh, that's what it's supposed to look like!'" she says. "It was a revelation for them-- and for me. This was a way to make science come alive, much better than any textbook."

Wade began turning other teachers on to the use of technology. Along with two other colleagues, she received training at Portland's Lewis & Clark College on best practices for science education. The three of them then turned around and provided the same training to other teachers in their district, holding summer workshops for 30 educators. The workshops focused on hands-on strategies to get kids excited about learning science, math, and technology. "We had one male teacher amongst all females one summer, and he was known to be real hard-nosed," she says. "He expected a lot out of things. When he told us that it was the best professional development he'd ever attended, we knew we had struck gold."

"We're really looking at how we do schools differently so that when the kids walk in the door they're excited to be there because they're stepping into and building their personal futures."

While still at Centennial, she began doing professional development for science teachers across Oregon as part of the state's teacher leader program. Through that work, in addition to her work for the state's science content and assessment panel, where she helped create questions for Oregon's year-end science assessment, Wade got to know the folks at the state education department, eventually resulting in her being hired by the department in 2000.

Her influence in the ed tech world extends beyond Oregon. She has presented at the annual National Title I Conference and at National Association of State Title I Directors meetings on the connection between technology and school improvement. She is a former board member of both the State Educational Technology Directors Association and the International Society for Technology in Education. In 2006, ISTE honored Wade with its Making IT Happen award in recognition of the impact she has made in the field.

Within the state, she has one foot in Title I and another in Title II-D. She says that in many states, the two federal programs are run by separate offices that never talk to each other. The crossover in her job allows her to share information and strategies from both camps, particularly in working with Title I schools to close the achievement gap. "I'm able to help Title I schools by saying, 'Have you considered that you might be able to use technology to do this?'" she says. "We have the research that says the effective integration of technology-- more importantly, the professional development for teachers that goes along with the technology-- has had an impact on increasing student academic achievement.

"We're really looking at how we do schools differently, how we do schools so that when the kids walk in the door they're excited to be there because they're stepping into and building their personal futures, and they're engaged in being a part of learning instead of having learning done to them."

Wade says her efforts to train educators to make that environment a reality have recently taken a big stride forward. She got a call from the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators, which wants to partner with the state in providing professional development for leadership. "That's critical," she says. "That's the next step I want to take, and they called me to say let's do this together. It's huge. Just huge."

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.