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The Final Frontier:
Integrating Technology into the Curriculum

February 2002

St. Louis, MO -- At the Midwest Education Technology Conference, teachers and administrators crowded into the Lewis Room (named after Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark exploration fame) for a conference session on "Staff Development: Technology Integration Made Easy." Technology Director Joyce Fitch shared her technique for making every teacher in the LaGrange School District 102 a technology user.

"We get buy-in, because everything we do promotes something that a teacher wants to do in their classroom," she says. "It's not application specific, it's activity specific."

What Makes a Difference
According to a 1999 study by Henry Jay Becker, the three most important factors in student use of technology are: connectivity in the classroom, computer expertise of the teacher, and the use of constructivist pedagogy. (See "Internet Use By Teachers," (http://www.crito.uci.edu/TLC/FINDINGS/internet-use/.) The easy part may be the connectivity. A school district can purchase computers and networks, have them installed and maintained. However, teaching skills and methodology must change one teacher at a time.

Constructivist Professional Development
Teachers in the LaGrange School District (www.dist102.k12.il.us/) have easy access to classroom access through wireless laptop carts and each teacher can request a laptop to bring home for lesson planning, research, and practice. Fitch's constructivist approach to professional development tackles technical expertise while modeling the desired practice.

A typical workshop begins with a question, "How would you reconfigure a classroom to promote group work, if you could have anything you needed?" The teachers self-select into small groups to brainstorm ideas during the organization phase of the process. They come back together to share the ideas and, as a group, determine their solution and assign research tasks. Small groups research and prepare a presentation of the results. While solving the problem and sharing the results, teachers practice many technology skills such as using outlines, databases, spreadsheets, charts and graphs, the Internet, CDs, and creating email, web pages, newsletters, videos, and reports.

Fitz will hold a class when a group of teachers or lead trainers have time -- afternoons, evenings, weekends, and even during spring break. Every teacher in her district now has clear expectations for what students should be learning, a clear understanding of project-based learning, and the basic skills and resources to get started.

Sharing What You Know
Shari Barnhart is the Learning Resources Coordinator for Saxe Middle School in New Canaan, Connecticut. She is also an active participant in the school district's technology integration team, a member of the K-12 professional development team, and the K-12 Library Media curriculum coordinator. She encourages teachers to start by asking what they want students to know and be able to do to see if technology is an appropriate tool. Her professional web site offers resources for "transforming information into understanding." http://204.60.133.98/proof/lrit/index.htm

"I've come to believe that the idea of having lots of available technology will, by itself, improve learning just isn't true," Barnhart says. "We have hundreds of computers in my school. But the most important element of using computers to improve student learning is in the thoughtful construction of learning experiences and being attentive to students as they participate in the process."

She created her personal web site, www.RainbowTech.org, to communicate with her Fairfield University undergraduate students in 1999. "Introduction to Educational Technology" (http://www.rainbowtech.org/workshops/MD300B/Overview.html) offers an online tutorial for implementing theory through practical classroom applications. Her site grew from that first page to a collection of workshop support materials where teachers can review lessons as they need the information.

Powerful Persuasion
Shelly Luke, Eyes on the Future, and Susan Reid, inResonance, work with hundreds of teachers each year on bringing technology into the curriculum. They both favor a constructivist teaching approach and play a role of coach to their students, giving them the confidence to practice teaching with technology.

"Teachers feel burdened and guilty and they shouldn't," says Reid. "At first technology seems like a big black box. They don't know what's appropriate. They don't know where to begin. We have to help people understand the whole process and give them a vocabulary to discuss it. There has to be a clearly articulated vision, leadership for the vision, technical support, and effective training at all levels."

"There is a range of people in every workshop from those who don't think technology works to teachers who lack the confidence to try it themselves," says Luke. "You can't wait to use technology until you know everything. It starts with baby steps. I start from the curriculum and then we add technology. I show them how to use help menus to find quick answers."

Pockets of Success
According to a Market Data Retrieval study, the use of technology by teachers is on the rise (see Education Week, May 10, 2001, p. 55). The number of schools where at least half of teachers use the Internet for instruction has grown steadily since 1998 from 33 percent of schools to 54 percent in 1999, and 63 percent in 2000. As teachers adopt technology to communicate with others, to create lesson plans, and for professional use, they develop the skills and confidence required to integrate these tools into their curriculum. Effective learning opportunities and personal access to technology will help teachers embrace these new tools in their professional practice.