Texas: Klein ISD Moves From Learning to Use Technology to Using Technology to Learn
More than 35,000 K-12 students on 31 campuses constitute the Klein Independent School District, a rapidly growing suburban district in northwest Harris County, Texas (just north of Houston), which employs more than 2,500 teachers. Two new elementary schools are scheduled to open in the district this fall.
When the Texas Education Agency announced the Technology Applications Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA TEKS) as a required curriculum for students in grades K-12, Klein ISD faced the challenge of assuring that all students in the district would have the opportunity to master the TA TEKS.
The district recognized that the TA TEKS were basic literacy skills for the digital, information-driven society that is taking over the world. As such, the district decided the TA TEKS should be taught by regular classroom teachers as an integrated component of core content instruction and not by instructional technology specialists. The challenges were to assure that all teachers would receive the training and expertise to master the technology skills themselves, that they would use technology as a tool for improving instruction, and that all students would ultimately master the TA TEKS.
True Digital Literacy
In 1997, Klein ISD established the expectation that, at a minimum, teachers would be required to have the same technology skills that were required of eighth-grade students in the TA TEKS. With that goal in mind, the district established a plan for technology professional development for all teachers and administrators. The core of Klein's professional development plan was the creation of a community of learners among the district's teachers and administrators that would result in teachers' mastery of technology skills at a level that would make them capable of teaching those skills to their students. At the center of that learning community were teachers from each campus known as Technology Integration Mentors (TIMs) - full-time teachers who received an additional stipend for their efforts to learn about technology and share that knowledge with others. The TIM program created a network of teachers from each grade level and core content area who joined together to focus on how best to integrate the TA TEKS into core content teaching and learning. As the TIMs learned new skills, they shared those skills with their colleagues. TIMs' classrooms served as learning labs for all teachers at each campus. The mantra for the district became: "Moving from learning to use technology … to using technology to learn."
True digital literacy is exemplified when students create their own content using a variety of software applications. Toward that end, Klein ISD established a districtwide standard software package for all teacher and student workstations. The standard software load includes tools for word processing, spreadsheets, databases, draw and paint applications, electronic presentations, Web page creation, as well as tools for concept mapping and critical thinking.
Klein ISD's success in integrating technology tools into teaching and learning for all students is based on a strategic combination of:
- The TA TEKS as the standard;
- Common software applications as the tools; and
- The establishment of a community of learners among the teachers, with the TIMs as the leaders in the community.
Every year, all Klein ISD employees complete a technology competencies self- assessment based on standards established in 2001 by the Texas State Board for Educator Certification. (These standards are the same as the eighth-grade TA TEKS for students.) Based on the results of the self-assessment, teachers choose to participate in technology classes offered year-round by the instructional technology staff. Campus administrators use the results of the self-assessment to plan for campus-based technology professional development, often taught by fellow teachers on the campus. In addition to district and campus classes, TIMs for teachers on their home campuses presented one-to-one training to meet teacher needs. As teachers completed their training, hardware and software were installed in their classrooms. Klein ISD was awarded two technology challenge grants for its work in educator preparation and development in the area of technology integration.
In 1998, working in grade-level and content-area teams, district teachers assigned specific technology TA TEKS to content areas. This created both a vertical and horizontal alignment of the TA TEKS, and assured that all students would be taught the TA TEKS in the manner defined by the Texas Education Agency. Today, Klein ISD is in the process of creating a fully aligned curriculum document for all teachers. By summer, the TA TEKS will be fully embedded within the core content TEKS at all grade levels.
Initially the distribution of hardware and software to teacher's classrooms was based on the completion of training or demonstration of proficiency. However, today, a majority of Klein ISD teachers are at the emergent or competent level in most categories of the technology competencies self-assessment. With a technologically proficient teacher corps, the district is now beginning a process of establishing a baseline standard of technology tools for all classrooms, which includes a minimum of four student workstations. The district's long-range plan for technology includes a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio by 2010.
'Using Technology to Learn'
In keeping with the technology literacy requirement of No Child Left Behind which states that "all students must be technology literate by the eighth grade," K-8 teachers of core content subjects in Klein ISD are required to submit a status report to their principals every six weeks that indicates how well each student is doing in mastering the TA TEKS. Ultimately, the district will include a grade for technology applications on all K-8 students' report cards. High school teachers build upon the basic level of mastery and assure that students can continue to use 21st century tools for learning as they continue into grades 9- 12. In addition, each student is required to complete one highly specialized technology applications course as a requirement in order to graduate.
Though grades on a report card can tell part of the story, the real proof is in the digital products and academic success of Klein ISD students. Today in Klein, it is not unusual to see students in the primary grades using presentation and spreadsheet software to learn math concepts, such as the example prepared by a first-grade bilingual student (see Figure 1 below). The district's fifth-grade students use databases and word processing tools to build a library of book reports. In addition, students in the eighth grade combine Internet research, word processing and spreadsheet tools to learn about presidential elections (see Figure 2 below). These are just a few examples of how Klein students are "using technology to learn."
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.