Snippets from a School

I spent the day at Bate Middle School in Danville, KY on Tuesday meeting with teachers who are using some of the new technologies from the Kentucky’s Striving Readers Consortium. I don’t usually talk about specific schools that I work with but my experience was worth sharing. The teachers were very receptive and incredibly well planned.

The school is in the process of implementing several literacy technology projects, including an iPod Touch pilot with three classrooms. The sixth grade students that I observed yesterday are already learning their way around the tool. As they were learning how to use their new Mercury Browsers to download saved pages, I just smiled as several of them were telling the teacher what to do next. Yes, they get it, yes, they have a lot to learn, but they have a lot to teach us also. Mr. Walker has a great vision and seems to be making huge strides forward.

In every class, students were using Smartboards to identify and categorize things, to write their notes, and to interact with the material. It was nice to see students who were familiar with the processes and moving around the classroom. I was very impressed with the student in Ms. Harrison’s class as she filled in the table of values using an airliner. For me the great thing wasn’t that she was using the airliner, but that Ms. Harrison had her using multiple representations. In one screen she had the graph, the table and the equation. Great stuff! The technology was cool, but was secondary to the ability of students to work fluently with those representations, use their notebooks to capture their explorations, and talk about it in class.

Another example of the technology providing better instruction was in science class. Students enjoyed using the Smart clickers, and you could tell they were into it. Ms. Mullins is a great example of a teacher who understands how to use the technology and isn’t intimidated to do so. In the span of 20 minutes she asked several questions using the clickers to get students thinking, used the board to show a short video clip about the water cycle, and had students at the board to label and identify different stages of the cycle. Very fast moving, engaging, and fun! Interestingly, what made the biggest impact on me was her revisiting the answers the students had given prior to the lesson to make sure students were able to clarify their thinking. Just good instruction; aided by good technology.

In Mr. Gulle’s classroom the technology was evident as he pulled up a map of Alexander the Great’s Empire, but again, it wasn’t center stage. He worked his students into a frenzy as they talked about the impact that Alexander had on Asia Minor, Persia, ancient Rome and Egypt through the Hellenistic Era (yes, I was listening Mr. Gulle). Students used several call and response strategies to reinforce his goals, and again the technology provided opportunity for Mr. Gulle to show the map, and capture notes in colors. Then, it was time for some real use of the technology.

For his final challenge Mr. Gulle used a game template he aptly named the Vortex of Doom! Students had to decide if the statements he provided them were before Alexander the Great or because of Alexander. If correct, the statements disappeared into the vortex,; if not, they bounced back to the screen. The game was pretty simple, but the statements were not. Every one of the statements required students to make some inferences based on the conversations they had during class. I was equally impressed with students who volunteered to go first, who intentionally chose the harder statements so students coming behind would have an easier time (some great game playing strategy as well as good inference making).

All of these snippets provide great examples of different ways to use technology to engage students, but are better examples of how good instruction is enhanced by technology. These teachers are working hard to integrate technology into their instruction and equally as (cut) hard to create classroom instruction that uses the technology to do that teachers know does make for good instruction;, using the learning cycle as a basis of lesson design, having students extend/generalize their learning, and having students working with multiple forms of information.

There were several other classrooms that I visited on Tuesday that also did great jobs. In a trip to visit a technology project one classroom stood out because they didn’t use any, stay tuned and find out what they did! See you on Tuesday…

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