SPRINGDALE -- Chromebooks for every student and extensive training have transformed Sara Kennedy's classroom at Monitor Elementary School into an interactive learning environment powered by technology.
Kennedy's class of 27 fourth-graders recently started an animal research project to learn about expository writing, nonfiction reading and how to conduct research, but the lesson has a twist.
Search engines for children
Safe Search Kids, www.safesearchkids.com
Photos for Class, www.photosforclass.com
"We could just be reading research articles and answering comprehension questions," Kennedy said. "We're trying to make it as engaging as possible so they want to learn. They want to read nonfiction text to complete this project."
For the project, the fourth-graders are "biologists" who will propose animals from regions of the United States for a fictitious exhibit at the Little Rock Zoo. The proposal requires students to research animals, write a report discussing the animals' diet and habitat, then prepare a digital presentation with a picture of the animal and a few key facts. At the end of the project, the class will vote on their three favorite animals for the zoo, Kennedy said.
In class just before the Thanksgiving break, students sat at their desks, each with a Chromebook. They used Internet search engines and websites geared toward children to find information about creatures that live in the United States, including ocelots, moose, black bears and copperhead snakes.
The use of technology in Springdale classrooms is expanding rapidly after a $25.88 million Race to the Top grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to the Springdale School District in December 2013. The grant is set to expire in December 2017, but district officials have requested an extension into 2018 to spend all of the grant money.
A majority of the grant is allocated to a technology project. The district has spent $12.7 million on technology, including $8.7 million on Chromebooks, iPad minis and cabinets to hold the devices, said Marsha Jones, the district's Race to the Top grant coordinator. The technology project also has paid for infrastructure necessary to boost wireless connectivity and for teacher training.
Eric Hatch, the district's director of technology, told the School Board this month the district has bought 16,061 Chromebooks for students in the third through 12th grade and 5,161 iPad minis for children in kindergarten through second grade, more than enough for every child to have access to a device.
The technology portion of the grant also provided training for teachers in the use of technology, with the district spending $845,000 for two years of work with the eMINTS National Center, a nonprofit provider of comprehensive, research-based training in the University of Missouri College of Education. The name stands for enhancing Missouri's Instructional Networked Teaching Strategies.
Just one component of the eMINTS model involves technology, according to the organization's website. Classrooms following the eMINTS model emphasize learning through projects that relate to the real world, such as having students propose animals for the Little Rock Zoo. The model also stresses high quality lesson design and classrooms that operate as a community of learners.
"Technology is this underlying guide," Kennedy said. "It's engaging all of [the students]. The kids will want to do these high quality lessons. It really is an underlying factor."
Technology also makes some components of a high quality lesson possible, Kennedy said. Students use a Google application on their computers to comment on electronic documents created by their peers.
Nicolas Chagoya, 9, chose the Great Horned Owl as his animal. He used websites Kennedy highlighted through a classroom website. He found out the owls can live in deserts, wetlands, grasslands and backyards.
"I like owls a lot," Nicolas said. "I like them because they can twist their head all the way around. They have big eyes. When they can see their prey, they mostly catch them with their sharp claws. They fly fast."
The Eastern cougar interested Leala Sharp, 9, who hunted for facts on what they eat, where they live and how they've adapted to their environment on a variety of websites, including Pebble Go. She liked thinking of herself as a biologist.
"It feels like you're really smart and you know about a lot of animals," she said.
The training makes teachers think about what student need to know to finish their projects, Kennedy said. Kennedy spent two weeks prior to beginning the animal research project teaching her students research strategies and exposing them to components of nonfiction texts to help them sift through information they would be confronted with during their research.
The technology also enables Kennedy to give additional support to some of her lower level readers, she said. Online programs allow teachers to adjust the difficulty and vocabulary of articles.
"This goes back to high quality lesson design -- knowing ahead of time what certain students will need to be successful," Kennedy said.
Comfort with technology
Small groups of teachers received eMINTS training prior to the Race to the Top grant, said Shawna Polk, one of four educators who focus on assisting teachers with integrating technology. The grant increased the number of teachers who could be trained. Since 2010, 51 teachers, including Kennedy, have completed the two-year eMINTS program, which includes 154 hours of training on integrating technology.
The most recent Springdale class of eMINTS trainees consists of 98 teachers from the third through 12th grades in training, Polk said. The grant also pays for training for leaders of teachers and administrators, allows district staff to attend eMINTS conferences, gives access to online courses for staff and for some materials.
Before the training, Kennedy did not know about safe search engines for children. She liked feeling a sense of control over her students' work. The technology and training have made her more comfortable with taking risks and giving her students more freedom, responsibility and a greater sense of creativity.
"The research that they're doing is their own," she said. "They're going to be the ones standing up in front of the other 'biologists.' I'm here to facilitate. I'm here to support."
Polk said she sees a greater sense of ownership and leadership among students, more creativity and learning that applies to the real world, she said. Even though all teachers will not be trained through eMINTS, those who have been trained are sharing what they learn.
In addition to the eMINTS training, the district has given teachers across the district opportunities to learn about integrating technology in their classrooms, Polk said. The district adopted a model for evaluating how technology is used that was developed by Ruben Puentedura, founder and president of Hippasus, a consulting firm in Massachusetts focused on applying information technology to education.
A basic level of technology use replaces a paper-and-pencil activity, such as giving a quiz with an online form, Polk said. A step up uses technology to enhance learning, such as a program giving students assistance with spelling and grammar. When teachers want to transform learning with technology, they learn to develop activities that allow students to interact, such as create and sharing a video with peers in their class or with peers in another part of the country, Polk said.
"It really just enhances teacher instruction all together," Polk said.
NW News on 11/27/2015
Print Headline: Springdale teachers gain experience instructing with technology