Technology Immersion Turns Around Texas Middle School
- By Linda L. Briggs
Texas' Technology Immersion Project
TIP launched in Texas back in the spring of 2004 with the aim of taking education technology way beyond 1:1 laptop programs, immersing faculty and students in technology and professional development. It's a public-private partnership between the Texas Education Agency and several vendors, including Apple, Dell, Microsoft, netTrekker, Discovery, eChalk, and others. The project is in place in 23 Texas districts and an additional 22 middle schools that will be used for evaluation of the program. Funding is provided through EETT.
Take a Title I urban school with fewer than 50 computers for some 850 students and a staff that wasn't strong in technology. Add an ambitious plan to roll out a new technology program that gave a laptop to every teacher and student. Sound like a recipe for problems? Actually, it wasn't.
The school, Marvin Baker Middle School, part of the Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas, faces challenges familiar to many urban schools. The student population is diverse; the mobility rate is rising; and 80 percent of students receive a free lunch. However, Baker also houses the district's Athena Program for gifted and talented students; about a third of the school's students are part of that program.
Technology Immersion Pilot
Despite its challenges, thanks to a grant received three years ago, every Baker student and teacher today has a laptop that they use daily as a classroom resource. Not surprisingly, student performance scores have risen every year, and Baker this year was chosen a Texas state-recognized campus, among other recognitions.
Thanks to a heavy emphasis on staff development right from the beginning, the school managed its technology turnaround with flying colors.
It all began in early 2005 when administrators, realizing that the school lagged in technology, applied for and received a grant to participate in a Texas Technology Immersion Project (TIP) pilot, a statewide initiative that aims to immerse faculty and students in technology. Baker is one of two technology immersed middle schools in the Corpus Christi district participating in TIP.
Through the grant, all Baker students and teachers received laptops. To bring teachers into the technology fold quickly, the district contracted with Pearson Education to use Pearson Achievement Solutions, a professional learning program that focuses on expanding district and school improvement efforts, optimizing decision-making, enhancing instruction and maximizing personal growth.
According to Principal Darla Reid, Pearson instructors and the Baker staff developer worked together to develop and conduct professional development workshops for teachers. Workshop topics focused on a wide range of technology skills, including notebook computers, productivity tools, e-mail, online instructional resources, academic search engines, and online assessment tools. The workshops were specifically geared to build teachers' skills gradually as their comfort with technology increased.
Because the school had so little technology in place before the grant, according to Sally Lewis, a staff developer and Title I program instructional facilitator at Baker at the time, "the use of technology was new to many teachers.... Teachers were excited when they heard about the TIP grant, but there was anxiety, too." On top of that, Lewis herself wasn't a technology powerhouse in any sense. But instead of a minus, that ended up being a plus. Because she learned right along with teachers, Lewis said, she was a good model for teachers. Lewis, who is no longer with Baker, said that teachers appreciated working with someone who clearly understood their challenges and concerns with technology.
Teachers have learned how to integrate their new technology tools into daily teaching and learning and to address the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), state-mandated curriculum guidelines that established what every Texas student at any level should know.
For example, classes can use an academic search engine to located resources that support the school's curriculum. Teachers post homework assignments, projects and events online, and communicate with both students and parents via e-mail. In United States history classes, students access teacher notes and resources online. In math, teachers post a "problem of the day" and a "problem solving strategy of the week" on Baker's home page.
A big part of what made the program a quick and thorough success, Reid said, was the staff development element, which, she stressed, is essential. Part of the teachers' success points back to the contribution of the Pearson consultant, Reid noted. "She was very collaborative, knowledgeable. She understood the TEKs, and she was very teacher-friendly." That last element was important; the consultant moved slowly when needed and differentiated between teachers at different levels of learning. The Pearson trainer also coordinated closely with Baker's staff developer.
Looking back, the teacher training element was--and continues to be--essential to Baker's success, Reid stressed. "That's why we were able to integrate [the technology] as quickly as we did. Teachers felt comfortable and successful.... Now, they wouldn't know what to do without it."
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About the author: Linda L. Briggs is a freelance writer based in San Diego, CA.
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