We now have a generation of kids who grew up with computers. But what of the teachers who are running the classrooms? How many of them have the skills they need to make the best use of technology in the classroom? Often they are totally lost, and many schools’ tech support people are too stretched to assist in a timely manner. Sometimes the children can help, though.
The importance of providing these skills has entered the radar screen of the government. Federal grants for teacher technology training have been given to many colleges and universities in the Washington, DC region. Trinity College, where I teach, has received such a PT3 grant. We provide workshops for faculty and staff in everything from Dreamweaver and HTML to iMovie and Photoshop. We have also devised a class that is now part of the standards for education department accreditation.
This semester I have been teaching a group of 14 graduate students in our Mac lab. Another instructor has been teaching 20 graduate students in a PC lab. (Next semester I will also teach a class for undergraduate education majors.) We had 14 weeks to take a whirlwind tour of Everything a Teacher Needs to Know to Master Technology. What is on every teacher’s list of must-have knowledge?
Here is the list on the syllabus:
Additionally, I gave an optional extra credit project for anyone who wanted to enhance their ePortfolio by including a resume to turn into a PDF in Mac OS X. Pictures from my digital camera, processed in Photoshop enhanced the resume.
If you think this is a lot to cover in 14 weeks, you are absolutely correct. It takes a very organized and focused plan to carry this out successfully. The complicating factor was that none of the students knew how to use a Mac, let alone Mac OS X. First up was a quick tutorial in the basics of navigating around the file system and an understanding of the multi-user system. “Why are there so many desktops?” the students lamented over and over.
Once everyone got reasonably comfortable in the Mac OS X environment, we moved on to software evaluations. The students had to pretend they were charged with purchasing software for their schools. What criterion is essential in making decisions? The most important, of course, is making the determination of whether the system is modern enough, and the computer robust enough, to run the software. If the software requires at least Mac OS 9.2, and the school computers are still running Mac OS 8.5, there is no point in investigating further unless the school plans to also upgrade the operating system as well. Further, checking RAM, required amounts of hard drive space, processing speeds, and other physical aspects of the computer are essential to ensure a worthwhile purchase.
Trinity College campus, Washington, DC.
The students are also taught to categorize software. Is it productivity? Administration management? Is it CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) software? Is it an authoring system like Dreamweaver, the Web design program? What are the standard and respected software packages in each category?
Next up we learned how to use a popular education program called Kidspirations, which is for elementary students. There is a companion program for grades 6 and above called Inspirations. Essentially an outlining and brainstorming program, it allows teachers to create activities for students. Montgomery County’s school system has bought unlimited licenses so that all of its teachers will have copies in their classrooms. Each student was required to create an activity in an academic subject such as science, writing, or social studies. The students collected images that are related to the topics, and learned to create their own image libraries to support their lessons.
PowerPoint is introduced as the second hands-on project. I demonstrated a PowerPoint lesson that introduces children to the school orchestra and its instrumental program. This allowed me to insert lots of bells and whistles into the PowerPoint lesson, such as movies, sound, and charts. The students then had to create their own lessons. Students created everything from “Rain Forest” presentations to “How to Develop Good Study Skills.”
What’s really hot in education right now is for every teacher to have his or her own Web site as a way to communicate with students and keep them up to date on assignments and announcements. My son’s middle school principal made having a Web site for each teacher a goal within the first few weeks of school. TeacherWeb is a famous provider of teacher Web sites, but they just started charging a nominal fee ($25 a year) for their service. Scholastic.com still provides free teacher Web sites, so that was our choice. Each student went through a wizard to easily put together a series of pages that gave students a way to find out about homework, class announcements, book lists, Internet resources, and other “must know” information. My students were most delighted when I showed them how to encode their email addresses so that spam bots couldn’t extract them from the new Web pages.
The big project of the semester, 25% of the semester grade, was a WebQuest. Created by Bernie Dodge of the University of San Diego, a WebQuest uses Web resources to take the children through an Internet resource enriched learning quest of some kind. Typically a quest is constructed as a “whodunit” and has an element of suspense about it. Here is one such quest called “Billy, the Builder.” (Example taken from the samples page at http://webquest.org/)
“ Billy the Builder wants to build a bookstore on I-35 between Austin and SanAntonio.
Ellen the Environmentalist sent some mail to Billy about the water cycle, erosion, and the Edwards Aquifer so Billy could make a good choice about… Should he build it? If so, where?”
The introduction is followed by the task (same example.)
“ Your teacher will decide if you will work with a partner or not. You will help Billy make a good choice by reviewing the mail that Ellen sent. Color and label your own picture of the water cycle. Describe what an aquifer is. Complete an experiment about erosion, take notes, and draw pictures. Give a presentation about pollution to your [subject matter] class. Then: You will write a letter to Billy telling him why you think he should or should not build his bookstore on the Edward’s aquifer.”
Next comes a section about the process the students should take; then an evaluation that includes a rubric of how the students will be graded on each step; a conclusion that summarizes results and what the students have learned; credits and resources used in creating the quest; and finally, a teacher page that has notes for other teachers who may want to use the quest in their own curriculum. The quest should also include lots of links to resources that will teach the students more about their topic, and also help them “solve” the quest along the way.
I prepared my students to create the best quests possible by teaching them the basics of HTML. We used standard WebQuest templates and brought them into a visual Web editor called Dreamweaver. Still, it made the entire process easier to understand exactly how the templates were constructed. The students were delighted that HTML is really not that hard.
I also prepared the students by teaching them how to conduct productive Internet searches. We spent a good part of one class learning about search engines, metasearch engines, directories, Boolean operators, wildcards, advanced searches, and other concepts that would help them find the best Web addresses to include in their WebQuests.
Seven classes into the semester we had the midterm. This was based on everything we had covered so far, as well as the class text. We used a class text that was mandated by the Education department administration, Teaching and Learning with Technology by Lever-Duffy, J., McDonald, J., and Mizel, A.P., (2003).
Line and bar charts in Excel formed the focus of a quick and dirty Excel tutorial. Teachers have to know how to make charts for everything from grades and attendance to charts that are actually part of a lesson. I was surprised to learn that most of my students had never used Excel, so we really had to start at the beginning by creating basic spreadsheets that we could easily turn into the required charts.
The real fun began with the video module of the course. The students had to get someone to video tape them while teaching in the classroom. I reminded them weekly that they had to discuss this with their host schools. Students were in schools from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as the District of Columbia. Of course the students in the Bethesda schools had a digital camcorder at their disposal, while the students who were teaching in the DC public schools had zip. And I don’t mean zip drives!
We had to arrange for students to at least have access to an old fashioned video camcorder. Fortunately, the PT3 grant money had bought us conversion equipment so that we could insert tapes and output digital formats.
Probably “the best time was had by all” during the iMovie tutorial lab. I gave the students some digital video footage and taught them to use all of the intuitive features of iMovie 3.03. Pretty soon students were adding titles, transitions, and effects as well as editing footage to remove unwanted sections.
The time had come to take all of these projects and burn them to a CD. The Trinity Mac Lab (also known as B-9) has a CD/DVD burner with Roxio Toast, so this was extremely easy. Students had been saving projects to Zip cartridges. Trinity’s LaCie external FireWire hard drives provided a portable means of bringing the video footage, now converted to 5-minute QuickTime videos over to the Power Mac G4 that runs the burner. The queue formed, and slowly we “cut” our media.
Class fourteen, sweat pouring from the brows of exhausted students, left us with one important task left. We had to use one of the Trinity SmartBoard rooms so each student could perform a 5-minute presentation of selected projects. It was party time, with popcorn and soda, and students enthusiastically encouraging each other.
I never thought it would happen, but we did it. We successfully got through all of the projects, and each child in these new teachers’ classes will get a curriculum that is a little more enriched and a little more exciting than it might have been had there not been such training on the Macs.
Kidspirations and Inspirations:
Free teacher Web sites:
Excel Charting Tutorials: