THE Journal's 2007 Innovators : 1
Challenger Middle School (AL)
Blogging. Wikis. Digital storytelling. Podcasting. How manymiddle school teachers have even heard of these web-basedtools, much less used them? At Huntsville, AL's, ChallengerMiddle School, Principal Edith Pickens can tell you howmany, both before and since she introduced the 21st-CenturyLearning program to the school's faculty. Before the in-servicetraining last January, only 11 percent of her teachers hadever written a blog. A week after the training, the number wasup to 22 percent, and by May it was 54 percent. In the sameperiod, use of wikis rose from 4 percent to 25 percent, anddigital storytelling from 7 percent to 32 percent.
Pickens and her trainers showed teachers how to use each of the tools for educational purposes. There was no obligation to do anything except watch, listen, and keep an open mind. The teachers, Pickens says, soon were impressed with how easy everything was to use.
Challenger teachers began not only using the technologies, but also passing on their enthusiasm to their students. An eighth-grade English teacher had her students analyze movie trailers, then create trailers for the novels they were reading and put them online. "It created a deeper way for students to express what their novels were about," says Pickens. This year, the students will incorporate digital photographs into their trailers.
A sixth-grade teacher's students developed a wiki to share what they learned about biographies they were studying. A math teacher uses a blog to share "challenge" problems: Students go online and work out the problems among themselves and with students from other schools. A social studies teacher has an ongoing podcast. For Black History Month, he interviewed a retired teacher who grew up in Montgomery, AL, during the civil rights movement and had met Martin Luther King Jr. Other teachers have blogs concerning math, learning strategies, English, and digital photography. (For examples of the teachers' efforts, go here.)
"This has taken our school further than I could ever have imagined," says Pickens. "It's the most energizing, motivating thing I've done in the past 20 years." And, she adds, almost incidentally, "it's been a lot of fun."
Carol Ann McGuire
Imperial Elementary School (CA)
Carol Ann McGuire
Three years ago, Carol Ann McGuire's blind and vision-impaired students at Imperial Elementary School in Anaheim, CA, expressed a desire to create their own digital videos. Despite their vision impairments, the students wrote, shot, and edited several videos. An Apple Distinguished Educator, McGuire decided to attend ADE summer camp to learn more about producing digital videos. On closing day, another camp participant mentioned that the members of this international group of educators ought to do something jointly to bring their students together.
"That was all it took," says McGuire. "Rock Our World was born at that moment." She enlisted Belgian ADE Lucas Van de Paer, and the internationally acclaimed after-school program launched in fall 2004. Now, two afternoons each week from September to December and March to June, McGuire leaves Imperial Elementary and drives to El Rancho Charter School in Anaheim Hills to coordinate the program.
ROW sponsors two themed projects annually, with each lasting approximately three months. McGuire posts a weekly activity—explained in a short video— designed to lead teams through the process of writing, editing, and shooting a digital video related to the designated theme (currently "Surf's Up!" which focuses on oceanography). Each project culminates in an international Family Night, when all 20 teams and their guests participate in a videoconference to share and discuss their completed videos, which they shoot using Apple's iLife suite.
"Apple provides a live feed for these events, which has become the highlight of every project," McGuire says. "Also, thanks to a Moodle site set up by Discovery Education, teachers who are not part of the 20 teams can replicate current and past projects with their students."
Students who participate in ROW learn a great deal about 21st-century global citizenship. "The Family Nights are a celebration of vanishing barriers," says McGuire. "Young people from every continent and of all grade levels who speak various languages and represent a variety of cultures come together to celebrate their commonalities. Ongoing global relationships are formed."
Alicia Cortez Elementary School (CA)
Paul Larson, sixth-grade teacher and technology coordinator at Alicia Cortez Elementary School in Chino, CA, outside Los Angeles, had a problem: He couldn't keep a lab tech aide. Two staffers left for other jobs, and a third got pregnant and then stayed home to care for her baby. Out of options and in a bind, Larson turned to his sixth-grade students, showing them all around the lab and even giving them lab coats.
That was three years ago. Today, Larson's sixth-grade students are all the aides he needs. A trained, skilled group, they even have a name: The Computer Company. Among their other responsibilities, they help younger students find their way around the machines.
The tech-savvy student crew is the payoff from a technology literacy program Larson introduced in 2004, which he began in response to Cortez Elementary's determination that it needed to teach its students technology skills through interactive lessons. Larson wanted the students to be able to take these skills and apply them to meaningful tasks and solve real-word problems. So he implemented EasyTech. EasyTech is a web-delivered K-8 program from Learning.com that integrates technology into math, science, language arts, and social studies curricula. The program is self-paced and teaches topics like using keyboards (grades K to 2), graphing in spreadsheets (3 to 5), and creating slide shows (6 to 8).
EasyTech was an immediate success. The school has seen an increase in its Adequate Yearly Progress scores every year since the program launched, especially among English language learners and low-income students. Larson, who taught, then got an advanced degree to be an administrator, then returned to teaching because he missed working with the kids, has supplemented EasyTech with other activities, such as a movie festival, a Family Tech Night, and teaching students Microsoft PowerPoint "to create everything from book reports to multimedia presentations on dolphins, volcanoes, and sports."
Recently he's been teaching his students about intellectual property. They made one-minute autobiographical videos and wanted to spruce them up with music. So Larson explained how to get permission to "borrow" the songs. That's real-life application, so students know how to use what they learned after they leave school. After all, says Larson, "the biggest focus is empowering the kids."
This article originally appeared in the 12/01/2007 issue of THE Journal.