Sunday, May 18, 2008

Technology Facilitators

Looking into the state legislative website, NC House Bill 156 passed the house on the first reading in 2007, and was sent to the appropriations committee. Unfortunately, it stopped there. It is still written for 2008, so maybe it will be revived automatically and have a chance this year. This bill will put one technology facilitator in place for every 2,500 students, with one at the administrative unit. My elementary school has approximately 675 students. That would be one tech fac for every 3-6 elementary schools. This is a start.

The difficulty in understanding the need is the tremendous variety of uses and applications in this area. In some schools, the full time tech fac helps the staff and students by working one-on-one; being the first line of problem solving before calling the "help desk"; sets up new computers and other technology equipment; packs-up and sends in computer and technology equipment for repair; prepares workshops for the staff; works with the administrative technology staff in solving computer problems; stays updated by attending monthly meetings with the administrative technology staff; joins listservs and tech groups to continually update knowledge and ideas; spends own money to attend workshops and conferences; searches for new sources for curriculum deployment using technology to engage students; applies for grants to gain new technology or training; maintains communications with the parents, students, staff, and extended world community by emails; sends photos to local newspapers to inform community of school events; maintains listserv for school families; writes articles for professional journals; cooperates with state agencies; works with staff on software programs; discovering answers for problems and sharing; spreadsheet report cards; school webmaster; daily, live in-house TV production produced and presented by a team of students; school blogs; school wiki; audio and video podcasts; and more.

In my school, I have the added pleasure of scheduling interactive videoconfernces for each classroom teacher, establishing relationships with partner schools for class to class projects and world projects. What does this mean?

Can you imagine your child having the opportunity to visit the state museums in NC several times a year? Normally it costs over $2000 for a grade level of students to drive to Raleigh on buses for a day's tour (we are about 100 miles away). Add in the cost of fuel, lunch, and lost teaching time on the bus, and you have an annual outing. Now, consider walking down the hall to a classroom (1-3 minutes walking time) and instantly connecting to the NC Museum of History, NC Museum of Natural Sciences, NC Wildlife Resources Distance Learning, and NC School of Science and Math. You have free instruction from the state's historians, science, math, and wildlife experts. These expert instructors send boxes of materials for students to explore, manipulate, discover, discuss with grouped students, ask, and teach their fellow classmates in an interactive discussion. This is powerful learning! -- Now, go back to class in 1-3 minutes and you have no wasted class time spent on riding a bus or using fuel down the highway. This can be done monthly instead of annually! Have you chatted with a child who got to hold, explore, and discuss dinosaur bones and scat? Exciting!

Engaged students - is that what we want? After almost six years of facilitating videoconferences (15 years of elementary classroom teaching and 5 years teaching a K-5 computer lab) I find students actively involved in activities, discussions, and thinking during and after videoconfernces with a little follow-up. Students who may have difficulties paying attention are attentive and focused on the lesson activities. These skilled expert teachers use a variety of short activities geared to age levels, invoke skilled techniques, extending vocabulary to students, who leave the experience with a heightened sense of learning and accomplishment. Success does breed success.

Any good classroom teacher has his/her students write about a field trip upon return to school. This allows the teacher to generate discussion of what occurred, with students giving details of the event. This basic activity allows the student to build the connections in the brain and make sense of this new knowledge. You can do this too, with a videoconference. Having the students discuss, then write about what they learned can be written on paper, blogged to share with their class, school, community, extended family members, etc.

We have completed projects on a state level with 4th graders, classroom to classroom projects, state to state projects, and national and international projects where our students meet face to face with others and share learning (topics, curriculum, experiences). This is powerful learning. This year a class of 4th graders worked with a class in Pennsylvania and Spain to study the drought in the southeast U.S. and it's effects such as flooding. They used a wiki and the culminating experience in Megaconference Jr. This is 21st century learning.

Our county, Forsyth, has fiber connections in schools and by July 1 we will have 100mb connections in all of our county schools. The infracture is there; the possibilities of expert teachers and activities are present, too with our great school staff and the wonderful instructors at state institutions. Combining these time and fuel savings would be a good way to spend educational dollars for our children. One of my basic premises in education has always been "Is is good enough for my child?" If not, then it must improve because everyone's child deserves the best educational opportunities. As a parent and tax payer, I want the best for our children. As an adult I want practical applications for results. When I look at these YouTube and TeacherTube video's, I realize that without the best for our students we are seriously challenging our potential futures. We must prepare our students to live and work in the 21st century, using collaborative tools and interaction among groups as they develop learning strategies and skills for success.

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