A Program With Impact
A suitably named North Carolina technology integration modelis enriching teaching and learning in schools that need it most.
IF YOU HAD A CHOICE between a method for professional development that was effective less than 10 percent of the time versus a method that was effective 88percent of the time, which would you choose?
Not so fast. If you’re like me, you would first want a little more information. You can find it in research done more than 25 years ago by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, authors of the book Student Achievement Through Staff Development (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002), showing that a teacher’s effort to transfer a newly learned skill into actual practice in the classroom will have varying degrees of success depending upon the extent to which the teacher “interacts” with the skill. If the teacher only hears about the theory behind the skill, there is a mere 5 to 10 percent chance the teacher will actually use that skill in the classroom. But if the teacher not only learns the theory but also sees a demonstration of the skill in action, practices it, and receives follow-up coaching and support from a respected peer, the chance of its being implemented increases to nearly 90 percent.
Naturally, the preferable approach is the one that succeeds more often, but it’s also the one that requires more work. The most difficult part of the latter method is having the follow-up help available when the teacher needs it. North Carolina, as well as a number of other states, has put in place a model to provide that help and is testing to see what effect it is having.
The IMPACT model, as it is called, is outlined in the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s “IMPACT: Guidelines for North Carolina Media and Technology Programs.” It provides for a broad base of support for teachers. The plan calls for each school to employ a full-time school library media coordinator, a full-time media assistant, a full-time technology facilitator, and a full-time technician. This team is responsible for helping to create a technologyrich, resource-rich teaching and learning environment. It collaborates with teams of teachers to plan lessons and units of instruction that emphasize authentic, project-based activities which foster higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.
In creating its media and technology guidelines, the department drew from educational research and best practices from schools across North Carolina, many of which had components of what became the IMPACT model already in place. Yet few had the full complement of staffing, hardware and software, connectivity, and professional development/collaborative planning necessary to change the building-level culture and practice into a 21st-century teaching and learning environment. In 2003, the state decided to launch the IMPACT model and test its effects using federal research dollars and grant money for school districts available through Title II-D of the No Child Left Behind Act and the US Department of Education’s Evaluating State Educational Technology Programs grant. The Title II-D competitive money paid for the technology positions; the state was already funding the media coordinator; local or state dollars picked up the cost of the media assistant. The grant money also paid for the hardware, software, connectivity, and professional development that were aligned to the North Carolina Educational Technology Plan.
Teachers were leaving the school as quickly as they could. It was acommunity that many considered hopeless—that considered itself hopeless. —Sandra Farmer, Williford Elementary School, on the conditionsat her campus before the IMPACT program was implemented
Eleven North Carolina schools were selected to implement the model through a competitive grant process, and each had its own unique problems to solve. How are things working so far? With their teachers trained in all of the new technologies the project has provided, and prepared to integrate those technologies into their lessons, students are more engaged in their work, their performance is improving, and, in parts of the state that needed it, there is hope for a better life that only education can provide. All told, there’s no mistaking the benefits of providing professional development that shows, rather than merely tells, teachers how a technology is used, and backs it up with ongoing support from a team of professionals. As seen in these case histories from across the state, IMPACT is living up to its name.
Setting an Example
Perquimans County Schools in rural northeast North Carolina numbers 1,716 students across four schools that serve, respectively, grades preK-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The district has virtually no industry and one of the lowest average household incomes in the state, yet parents, administrators, and teachers place a high priority on using technology to overcome the barriers of isolation and poverty. Because of the minimal tax base, little local money is available for technology. Through grants, donations, and state and federal funding, the district has managed to build a program and infrastructure that is an example for larger, more affluent districts across the state.
At preK-2 Perquimans Central School, school administrators had a vision of a 21st-century campus but lacked funding to bring it to life. Through the IMPACT grant, all classrooms at Perquimans Central were equipped with digital cameras, document cameras, interactive whiteboards, video projectors, computers, computer speakers, and digital microphones. Teachers were given professional development that helped them create authentic, technology-supported learning experiences for their students. Perquimans Central students now have broad access to a world well beyond their small, remoteschool district, expanding their knowledge and experiences.
Superintendent Kenneth Wells and Perquimans Central administrators became concerned, however, that as these preK-2 students moved into upper grades, this investment in early learning with technology-rich, innovative instruction would be lost. An assessment was conducted to determine what was needed to replicate the IMPACT model at the three other district schools, including bringing in the full range of equipment, software, personnel, and staff development.
Together, Wells, the assistant superintendent, the technology director, and the school principals developed a plan to phase these learning tools into every classroom in the district. Per the plan, teachers at the upper-elementary Hertford Grammar School join with Perquimans Central teachers for professional development when appropriate. Wells agreed to match the funds that the Hertford principal committed for expediting the program. Meanwhile, the middle school is moving toward acquiring the necessary hardware and has already addressed the model’s recommendations for staff development, personnel, and common planning time. Perquimans County HighSchool has not yet been incorporated into the plan.
All Perquimans district administrators, school-library media staff, and technology personnel, as well as a large number of teachers, have been trained in the IMPACT model, and all classrooms in the district, grades pre-K through 5, are equipped with presentation tools. By taking the professional development guidelines and model classroom configurations devised by the plan and leveraging them over an entire school system, Perquimans is making inroads against the embedded limitations of isolation and high poverty.
MAKING INROADS: The benefits of a new model
for technology programsare being felt in schools and
districts throughout North Carolina.
A World Opened Up
Clearmont Elementary School is a small campus (126 students) in the mountains of Yancey County. Although nearly 80 percent of the students were performing at or above grade level as measured by end-of-grade test scores, Principal Pete Peterson and his staff had higher aspirations: They wanted to connect the school community to the world through technology. The first step was to make laptops available for use at school and for weekend checkout.
With access to computers, the students were introduced to the world through an array of new projects. They used e-mail to correspond with pen pals in Canada, and they created digital picture books they shared with a partner school on North Carolina’s Harkers Island.
As these and other projects took shape, teachers also broke down artificial subject delineations and expanded the curriculum. Science, literature, math, and social studies content was taught during integrated units of study. Language arts, communications, and technology skills were incorporated into learning about the similarities and differences between rural Clearmont students and kids at Harkers Island Elementary School. As a result of this effort, Clearmont’s end-of-grade test scores have increased nearly 20 percent in the three years since IMPACT was implemented.
Perhaps the most potentially intractable problem was at Williford Elementary School in the Nash-Rocky Mount school system, about 60 miles east of Raleigh, the state capital. Principal Sandra Farmer describes it: “Williford was a school in crisis: 98 percent of our children are eligible for the federal free- or reduced-lunch program; 33 percent of our children are homeless as defined by the US Department of Education. Teachers were leaving the school as quickly as they could. It was a community that many considered hopeless— that considered itself hopeless.”
The infusion of hope that the IMPACT grant brought the school has slowly helped a more stable, dedicated staff create opportunities for children and their parents for a better future. The computers placed in the school’s Family Learning Center have helped 60 parents pass the General Educational Development (GED) test. Classes in the use of technology and productivity tools for business have furnished parents with necessary job skills. The school’s small, student-operated television studio has given students a vision of what life might hold beyond their community. Last May, Farmer told the state Board of Education, “For our children—for our community— technology offers hope where there is none.”
The number of Clearmont Elementary School students performing at or above grade level has risen from 79.9 percent to 97.7 percent since IMPACT was implemented.
The IMPACT model is gaining acceptance across North Carolina. (For more case histories, click here.) While having the technology is important to implementing the plan, the key is providing professional support in the form of media specialists, technology facilitators, and technicians, so teachers can receive coaching from respected peers and engage in collaborative planning that results in more authentic approaches to instruction.
State Board of Education members and legislators have visited some of the schools where the model is in effect and are gaining an understanding of what 21st-century learning looks like. In the words of Wilson County Schools Superintendent Larry Price, testifying to the transformation in his school system,“It has totally changed the way teachers teach and studentslearn.”
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the director of instructional technologyfor the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.