Karl Fisch: Creating Lifelong Learners


Former teacher helps pioneer educational technology and theory at a Colorado high school

Many technology pioneers come from, well, technology backgrounds. Not Karl Fisch, a former math teacher whose role over time evolved into the director of technology at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, CO. Starting with three years of teaching middle school math in the early 1990s, Fisch noticed technology "inching its way" into the school administration and classrooms after years of seeing all recordkeeping handled at each institution's central office.

Fisch quickly found himself on the leading edge of a sea change in his school's recordkeeping process. "At the time, the central office was running reports for people at the individual building level," said Fisch. "My administration approached me and said they'd heard that I knew a bit about computers. At that point, I went to spending eight-tenths of my time teaching math and two-tenths of it on technology."

It didn't take long for that ratio to change to 50 percent teaching and 50 percent technology--a slow move that created challenges for Fisch, who was inundated by an onslaught of new technology options that started being developed in the mid- to late-'90s. By the latter, his school district decided that a full-time technology director was in order for the 2,100-student high school.

The payoff has been rewarding for Arapahoe High School, which has not only benefitted from Fisch's focus on introducing new instructional and technological tools, but also from his ability to successfully write technology grants. The largest of these grant awards funded a 1:1 laptop initiative that finds students creating blogs about Macbeth, producing podcasts on personal values, and writing interactive, Web-based textbooks for their science courses.

"The grant looked at 21st century education and the use of technology to foster more student-centered instruction and constructivism," said Fisch. "We were looking at the educational philosophy of the theory of constructivism, what it looks like in the classroom setting, and how technology tools can help us get closer to the holy grail of education: meeting kids' needs while still in a community setting."

A second grant was even more significant, according to Fisch, who added that round 2 funded the purchase of projectors and computers in all classrooms, thus allowing both teachers and students to utilize the Internet to do more than "just in time" learning. "The equipment is there when they need it, and doesn't have to be checked out, wheeled down a crowded hallway, and plugged in," said Fisch, who added that the grant also helped the school update its computer labs and set up three classrooms with wireless laptop computers.

Perhaps more important, both grants funded what Fisch referred to as "release time," pockets during which teachers get hands-on learning experiences with the latest technology tools. Already developing its staff on in-service days, the school was able to create an ongoing, sustained system of training teachers every two to three weeks. "They are released from their classes for three hours, during which time we pay for substitutes," said Fisch. "During that training we focus on the latest research associated with how children learn, how to translate that research into what happens in the classroom, and how we can use tech tools to help them learn."

Looking ahead Fisch said his focus will likely be similar to that of many other school technology directors who are discovering what it means to educate students in a world where all of the factual information they could possibly need is just a click away. Whereas in the past the teacher held most of the knowledge, and was complemented by the university library (for those lucky enough to reside near one), the information age has completely changed that dynamic.

"It doesn't mean the teacher isn't important because he or she possesses context and knowledge and ways to help kids think about the information," said Fisch. "But in a rapidly changing world the delivery of facts approach to education doesn't work. Instead, we must focus on how to integrate technology in a way that makes kids lifelong learners who don't let learning end at 2:15 p.m. every day ... or at the end of the school year or after that graduation ceremony."

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About the author: Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].