Last week’s conversation concerned Gen Y, a program that trains students to guide teachers in technology implementation. This week we offer a teacher’s perspective – from Marilyn Piper, a member of the Board of the International Society for Technology in Education.
What do you teach?
Throughout my career I’ve taught special ed. I’ve also taught exploratory foreign language programs. As I have become more interested in technology, I’ve been teaching technology networking classes for 7th and 8th graders.
In the networking classes, students learn how to use our network, how to use email and do Internet research. They do multimedia publishing – Power Point, Hyperstudio, Web pages – that sort of thing. We address all of our state content standards through this work.
The other thing I teach is a class that uses technology to address issues that are important to adolescent girls. Through the years, we’ve found that we had a ratio of two-thirds boys to one-third girls signing up for elective technology programs. The class was designed to ensure that girls leave our schools with the same technology schools as the boys.
For the last four years I have also taught the Generation Y class. I’m also the tech coordinator here at Washington Middle School — I oversee technical operations and work on curriculum integration.
The Gen Y program trains students to help teachers implement technology. How do you use the students in your school?
We have a team of Gen Y graduates who work with me, and with the technical support specialist, on all of the support work — keeping the network running, handling the email accounts. We call them “Tech TA’s.” They’re available all the time when projects are going on or whenever somebody needs help.
This provides such a strong safety net for technology that nobody is reluctant to use it. It’s been just amazing to see the growth and the camaraderie that’s developed around the use of technology. We’ve truly changed the culture in our school.
In what ways?
It’s been a bridge between generations. The reason I became a teacher is because I wanted to connect in meaningful ways with young people. Since we’ve begun working together to figure out how to bring in the technology, I have had the best relationships with students that I have ever had.
Our connections are so strong, we’re finding that behavior problems disappear. We just don’t have behavior problems in classes where we’ve designed the lessons to include and infuse technology.
Through the use of technology, we’re doing all those things that we’ve been trying so hard to do as educators – critical thinking, cooperative learning, project based learning, working in groups, learning how to communicate.
How do you get teachers involved?
A lot of it is that we have not focused on saying, “By gosh, these teachers have got to learn this new stuff.” There’s no coercion about using technology in this building, even from the administrators.
If anything, there’s subtle pressure, because parents want to see their kids use technology, and colleagues and team members are using it. But it’s all done in an atmosphere of support. Every intervention, every growth or change in curriculum, has been done in an atmosphere of cordiality, with everybody saying, “Yes, this is what I really want to do.”
What is an example of the lessons and activities that have been created?
Our web page has many examples. The 8th graders in one of our classes did a project on heroes and heroines.
The teacher is not very skilled with technology, doesn’t know how to use Hyperstudio, which is the product they use. But he is a wonderful teacher, very popular, very knowledgeable in this content area.
He designed the types of questions the students need to go out and research on the Internet. The Gen Y students help the other students learn how to use search engines, how to form queries, that kind of thing.
They gathered up all their information and were graded on that part. For the report, they all created Hyperstudio presentations. They also made papier mache models of their characters. So if they chose Martin Luther King as their hero, they had their presentation at the computer and a model of him sitting at the chair in the computer room.
There was a quiz at the end of each Hyperstudio presentation, so it was a very interactive project. They invited all of the 6th and 7th grade classes to come in and go through the presentations and experience the whole thing. Then we did the parent night.
What kind of professional development gets teachers using technology?
My experience shows that the best thing that we can do is to include students in the process. That’s a simplistic way of saying it, but once we really embraced that idea, the rest of it just fell into place.
You can attend the most wonderful workshop and learn something new and exciting – how to design a web page, wonderful links to other web pages, how to teach kids how to search meaningfully. But if you return to the same old situation, you can feel really frustrated. Everything just gets filed away.
We’re finding that if we bring students along, as we go to the workshop we’re saying, “How can we really make this work?” You have a critical mass of people who understand what’s going on. They go back to their schools, and it’s not just one person.
What can administrators do to support what you’re doing?
Understand and support the cultural change. Our former principal took the Gen Y class — he came at 7 in the morning because he wanted to learn the tech skills and be part of the whole experience.
He made sure that support for technology is considered in designing the schedule. As a tech coordinator, I have a period or two where I’m not responsible for kids in a classroom. I’m still involved with kids all the time, but I’m there to support technology. I also manage the tech TA’s, who filter in through the day and get a grade from me.
We have also changed to a modular schedule, where we have blocks of time. Rather than the bell ringing every 50 minutes, we have almost an hour and a half or an hour and forty minutes for classes, which is much more conducive to working with technology.
In designing staff development, even if we do have our traditional three-hour staff development, we have kids involved.
How do you see your programs moving into the future?
Through these last seven or eight years, we feel that we have developed a total support package for technology in schools. It all revolves around that idea of working in partnership with students.
It’s not like we can just sit back, put our feet up and have a cup of coffee. We are working hard to make all this work, and it requires a whole lot of energy and a whole lot of courage to try new things. But it also keeps our brain cells rejuvenating.
I feel that this is such an exciting time to be a teacher. It’s kept me renewed. It’s kept me feeling connected to the world. And really busy.