Kennedy Middle School Stimulates Learning with Multimedia, Computing Power
Middle school students in Germantown, WI who are eager to learn about the latest technology have a fervent ally in their principal, Steve Bold. As principal of the 890-student Kennedy Middle School there for the last 11 years, he has been a passionate proponent of implementing computer training, presentation technology, and video production into the curriculum whenever he can. The result is more engaged, interested and involved students. We talked to him at his bustling middle school about how he uses tech to teach, experiments with new tools, and how he envisions the use of this technology in the future.
T.H.E. Journal: This is a really big school. How do you use technology to teach all these students and keep them engaged?
Steve Bold: When I was hired as principal 11 years ago, we tried to determine what students were going to need 10 years down the road. After two or three years of exploration, we ultimately created a curriculum that was implemented here at the school. When I originally presented it to the Board of Education, it was based on my going to the job ads in the newspaper and looking for every entry level position that was listed. I highlighted each one, and asked what were the technical skills they wanted for their employees if they were going into this entry-level position?
From that point, I developed the notion that if this is the only class these children will have between now and when they enter into an entry-level position at that most basic level, we can say with confidence that all of the students would have had access and exposure to those skills. The key things that we looked at were keyboarding skills, so that kids can type at a rate of 25 to 30 words per minute with accuracy. We also implemented word processing skills [and] some multimedia capabilities, and we integrated safe use of the Internet. That seems obvious now, but if you think back to 1996, that may not have seemed as important back then. As we've seen what's happening with technology and the Internet and potential harmful effects of the Internet, educating kids early was critical.
T.H.E. Journal: Let's talk about the technology you're using in classrooms, aside from teaching of computers and technical applications. What about in "everyday classrooms" What sort of presentation equipment were you using when you first came here, and what are you using now?
Steve Bold: It was very limited when I first got here as the principal. We had some computer labs, and they were more Mac-based. That was the extent of it. It was very limited. There was more demand than the ability to meet the demand. There were more teachers in classrooms that wanted to use a computer lab, and we only had one lab. That's something that's evolved tremendously. We now have five or six labs that we can actually access.
T.H.E. Journal: How many kids per computer did you have then compared to now?
Steve Bold: Statistically breaking it down, there are at least, for sure, five times as many computers now as there were then. During that time, even with a progressive board of education with technology, few teachers had access to technology in order to develop instructional programming to use with students. A couple of years ago, there was a big push to get teachers access to laptops so that we could increase training opportunities for platforms of technology usage. At least they have the tools as teachers to be able to do those things, and then we incorporated them into the classroom.
T.H.E. Journal: What kinds of laptops are they using?
Steve Bold: They are HP laptops, and the deal was done with a three-year lease program.
T.H.E. Journal: So they're still using that group of laptops today. How many laptops did you have to get?
Steve Bold: Every teacher got one laptop, so when I think about how many teachers are in the district, meaning the whole Germantown School District, the high school staff, the middle school staff, and the elementary school staff, every teacher was equipped with a laptop computer.
T.H.E. Journal: What do they do with them?
Steve Bold: In the middle school here, they are doing a lot of PowerPoint presentations. But there's a lot more. We have one teacher right now who has been field testing a system called the Renaissance Classroom Response System http://www.renlearn.com/2know/. It has a receiver that sits by the teacher's computer, and we can go through a series of questions, such as, "How many people think that the War of 1812 was in, a) 1812, b) 1912, c) et cetera....." And then kids can act like they're on a game show and enter their answers on this remote control. [See graphic]. Within seconds, you can see, for example, 90 percent of the class got it right.
And, it helps to erase that fear that a student may have that he doesn't want to give an answer for fear of being wrong, and no one has to know which students picked the wrong answer. That, to me, has always been my most solid platform when it comes to education and technology: The purest purpose of technology within an educational setting is to increase the amount of feedback in the shortest possible amount of time. The sooner I know where students may be in their level of understanding, the sooner I can do something about that. The thing about traditional education, if we did a paper/pencil assessment, it might take a week to grade all of them. When you think about a middle school, as a teacher I have a hundred students that need to be graded, and then from that point, once I grade it, I have to try to analyze it.
T.H.E. Journal: And that, compared to this Renaissance system, is just like a horse and buggy next to a Ferrari?
Steve Bold: Exactly. And you can hook up the computer to the projector so that you can see all the questions. I thought about how I can apply it in my role as an instructional leader. For example, a week from today, as a matter of fact, I have the parents of 275 incoming sixth-graders coming in for an orientation. I'd love to be able to equip every parent with that same remote control, and ask them questions and say, for example, "Are there any of you who are nervous? How many of you have already had a child who's experienced middle school?" And within a second I can find out a lot.
T.H.E. Journal: And you're testing this right now?
Steve Bold: We're field testing now. One of my teachers worked with Renaissance, and I've used another one with a colleague of mine at Concordia University, a similar system called eInstruction http://www.einstruction.com/.
T.H.E. Journal: What's the fastest-growing tech trend here?
Steve Bold: The biggest growth we've had here at the middle school is the ability to utilize media presentations like PowerPoint. Beyond that, there's a lot more digital-type instructional delivery--using a digital camera, for example. In a Tech Ed class, if they were doing a unit on aerodynamics, they would first create a car using balsa wood. Then they can actually enter its dimensions into a computer, launch that car and calculate its speed, and then use that to compare two different students' cars based on how the students designed them. Then they can ask why: Why did this car go faster than that one? To me, that's far more wide-ranging thinking than just what you might be thinking about at Tech Ed class using aerodynamics. Now you're talking about using physics from science class, calculations from math class, the historical perspective of the evolution of automobiles and industry in the world or in the United States, and the impact the Industrial Revolution had. They'd be studying social studies, too. It integrates all of that together, and it's because of technology we can do that.
T.H.E. Journal: How else do you use computers and multimedia in the classroom?
Steve Bold: One of the things we use is video technology, creating movies. A number of the teachers have kids doing videotaping, creating their own commercials, and then they actually digitize the footage using digital video equipment, and then they're rendering that using a computer, and then using that to generate a final video product. They're using Apple iMovie to do this. I think shooting and editing video serves as a very motivating factor, but when I think about it for education, no matter how progressively we may be going out there and finding the best software package to help the kids create their own multimedia presentation, I can guarantee you that by the time that student is out and working with the software that's the latest and greatest, that one they learned on is no longer even around.
T.H.E. Journal: But moving video footage from a camera to a recorder will still be a basic concept.
Steve Bold: The same steps will be there. Conceptually, the steps are the same. Many of the students and teachers use iMovie. I use Pinnacle Studio Plus 8. I need to capture my images, moving them from camera to computer; I need to integrate transitions or music; I have to be able to capture it, put it in, space it and get a flow. So the concept of those procedures is what we teach within that process.
T.H.E. Journal: What technology do you have in mind for the school in the future?
Steve Bold: The more interactive technology, the better. I think it's out there. I think what education will be forced to do is wait until it's out there long enough until the cost of it becomes a little more approachable for what we can do. For example, one of the things I'd love to see more of in this school is the use of smart boards, which is an electronic chalkboard. It's like a light board, but it's linked technologically. I see so many wonderful applications for that, but they're probably a good $1,700 or $1,800 apiece. For example, I'm a teacher, and we're writing notes on the board of something we're learning about. I'd save those notes on the computer, and then, if a student was sick, I can print the notes that we had on the board the day before. Or if we solve a problem on the white board, we can refer back to that problem solving at the end of the unit.
T.H.E. Journal: When it's time for you to retire, say, 30 years from now, what are the classrooms going to be like here at Kennedy Middle School?
Steve Bold: I think it's going to be paperless and bookless. Desks won't be wooden platforms--they may still be wooden, but they'll have a pop-up computer screen, and the teacher's going to say, "Okay, we're going to work on page 52, and the kids are going to go to page 52 electronically. If you look at it like a traditional worksheet a student might be doing, instead of being a piece of paper and using a pen or pencil to do it, it's going to be on the computer, and it's going to be immediately submitted to the teacher electronically. It's going to already be assessed for accuracy, so the teacher can look and say, "Okay, 90 percent of the students in his class got question number one wrong. We got to work on that."
T.H.E. Journal: It's immediate testing, continual evaluation?
Steve Bold: Assessment of what they're learning at the time, and it's going to be immediate, and it's going to balance efficiency so that the teacher is going to get that information almost instantaneously and by the next day is going to have corrective action to put into place versus what might now take a week, three weeks, or I might not even know until I get to the end of the unit when we take a paper-and-pencil assessment. I think textbooks are going to be more interactive. What I envision--and this has been a platform of mine for the past five or six years--is that what a library looks like today will be obsolete. A school library should look more like a Kinko's because what kids need more than anything is not only to be able to access information, to process that information, to figure out how to apply that information, but they need to be able to use presentation skills to show what they've learned and teach others.
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About the author: Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning television producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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