Tech to help teach­ers, not re­place them at PSD

The Standard Journal - - FRONT PAGE - By TRICIA CAMBRON As­sis­tant Editor

For the past year and a half, Polk School Dis­trict Su­per­in­ten­dent Wil­liam Hunter and the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion have en­gaged in a full-on push to bring teach­ers and stu­dents on board for us­ing tech­nol­ogy as an ad­di­tional method of in­struc­tion in the class­room.

For teach­ers, that means ev­ery­thing from les­son plans to tests are pre­pared online. For stu­dents, it means they are down­load­ing and pre­par­ing their as­sign­ments on their in­di­vid­ual iPad.

For some teach­ers, Hunter’s vi­sion means learn­ing new ways to be more cre­ative in en­gag­ing stu­dents in learn­ing. It means ac­knowl­edg­ing the im­por­tance of pre­par­ing stu­dents to com­pete in a tech-cen­tric world.

As for stu­dents, us­ing in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy tools means lessons that can be de­signed to meet their in­di­vid­ual way of learn­ing.

While most teach­ers say they ap­pre­ci­ate the need to use more tech­nol­ogy in the class­room, some feel the move to tech­nol­ogy has been too much too soon. They feel they are be­ing asked to aban­don their tried and true ways of teach­ing and that their opin­ions about the process go­ing for­ward are not val­ued.

Hunter, who came to the dis­trict in March 2013, says he has al­ways been pas­sion­ate about in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy. He said one of the rea­sons he wanted to come to Polk was that the board had al­ready shown its sup­port for tech­nol­ogy by ap­prov­ing the pur­chase of nearly $400,000 in iPads un­der the lead­er­ship of for­mer su­per­in­ten­dent Marvin Wil­liams.

Hunter said when he saw the grad­u­a­tion rates in June of 2013 he felt im­me­di­ate ac­tion was called for to “bring these kids along, to not leave them be­hind.” To do that, he put a new em­pha­sis on in­ter­ven­tion and re­me­di­a­tion through a di­rected stud­ies pro­gram, added in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy in the class­room with a per­sonal iPad for ev­ery high school stu­dent, and in­tro­duced a suite of plan­ning and re­source sup­port to train teach­ers to use the iPads.

“Re­ally, Hunter said, “no one in the sys­tem was do­ing very much, even though they bought

all those iPads, they didn’t train any­body.”

The move has been ac­com­pa­nied by the pur­chase of iPads for ev­ery high school stu­dent (be­gin­ning in 2015-2016), the ad­di­tion of a “mo­bile mind spe­cial­ist” at each of the 10 schools, and a com­ple­ment of train­ing and sup­port pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on learn­ing and as­sess­ment ap­pli­ca­tions.

Si­mul­ta­ne­ous with the ar­rival of Hunter and the in­tro­duc­tion of more in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy, as well as other un­re­lated changes, has been the res­ig­na­tion of 52 Polk teach­ers, not count­ing those who re­tired, with dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers re­sign­ing from Cedartown Mid­dle School (10) and Rockmart High School (15).

The res­ig­na­tions and the flurry of ru­mors as to their causes, is the rea­son the SJ is pub­lish­ing a multi-part look at the Polk School Dis­trict in an ef­fort to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion as the new school year be­gins.

The first ar­ti­cle looks at tech­nol­ogy, its in­te­gra­tion into the class­room and plan­ning. In re­port­ing the story, we reached out to teach­ers who had re­signed or had com­plained about the tech­nol­ogy tran­si­tion, but we were un­able to find a teacher who would com­ment on the record.

How­ever, at the July 14, 2015, Polk Board of Ed­u­ca­tion meet­ing, Kristy Gober, par­ent of a Rockmart High School stu­dent, summed up her con­cerns, based on her own ob­ser­va­tions “as well as con­ver­sa­tions she has had with teach­ers.”

Gober is the sis­ter-in­law of DeAnna Wil­liams, the prin­ci­pal from Rockmart High School who re­signed her po­si­tion in April of 2015.

The con­cerns ex­pressed by Gober with com­ments from teach­ers and dis­trict of­fi­cials in re­sponse fol­low:

Blend­ing tech­nol­ogy with tra­di­tional in­struc­tion

“I want a pro­fes­sional cer­ti­fied teacher stand­ing up in front of my child and teach­ing a les­son.”

“Tech­nol­ogy should not be used to the ex­clu­sion of text­book, pen­cil and pa­per.”

Re­sponse

Robyn Teems, prin­ci­pal at Rockmart Mid­dle School, has been an ed­u­ca­tor for 25 years and has worked as a teacher or ad­min­is­tra­tor in grades K through 12. She said teach­ing is her pas­sion and it is her re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure her teach­ers have the flex­i­bil­ity to per­form at their high­est level in their class­rooms.

Teems says she has un­der­stood from her first con­ver­sa­tion with Hunter that the tech­nol­ogy was to be blended with tra­di­tional in­struc­tion.

She thinks con­cerns about teach­ers be­ing ex­pected to forego tra­di­tional learn­ing for tech­nol­ogy is a “misun­der­stand­ing.”

“There’s blended learn­ing go­ing on in my school. You’re go­ing to see teach­ers talk­ing to their kids; you’re go­ing to see teach­ers and stu­dents work­ing one on one. “

“I ex­pect kids to put pen­cil to pa­per ev­ery day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t ex­pect the teach­ers to em­brace tech­nol­ogy. If they don’t, they are go­ing to be left be­hind. My hus­band [ As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Greg Teems] built a boat by watch­ing YouTube. Ten years ago, he couldn’t have built a boat.”

Teems, who turns 50 soon, quit us­ing text­books years ago. In sub­jects like math and science, she said, “the state changes the cur­ricu­lum ev­ery year, which means a new text­book. We couldn’t af­ford to keep up with all the changes. I quit us­ing text­books a long time be­fore kids had iPads.”

Johna Tid­well, 44, has taught in spe­cial ed, coached girl’s bas­ket­ball, and will teach Cedartown High School stu­dents health and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion this fall.

Tid­well said at first the idea of in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy was a lit­tle scary.

“At first, I was very gun­shy, I’m an older teacher and I was in­tim­i­dated,” she ad­mit­ted, “but the train­ing we re­ceived has helped tremen­dously. It is just a new op­por­tu­nity and a new way of learn­ing. It’s not to­tally tak­ing the place of tra­di­tional in­struc­tion. The foun­da­tions that we were taught are al­ways go­ing to be there, just like teach­ers will be.”

Tid­well said she is happy to get away from some forms of “tra­di­tional in­struc­tion,” like the work sheet and the rote learn­ing of vo­cab­u­lary words.

“That’s not ef­fec­tive. Teach­ers have to look at that stan­dard and the stu­dents have to know the vo­cab­u­lary they are re­spon­si­ble for. With in­staGrok, they can look up the word, look at a video clip de­mon­strat­ing what it means, and click on an im­age as well read a text def­i­ni­tion.”

She likes in­staGrok, but va­ri­ety is the key to us­ing apps, she said. “And I do go back to the book and let them un­der­stand that they need to know how to search for in­for­ma­tion, they need to know how to use an in­dex or ta­ble of con­tents,” she said

Cre­ative Free­dom and Flex­i­b­lity

“I want the teacher to be able to be cre­ative and thought-pro­vok­ing and freely and ac­tively in­volved in how and when to use it.”

Re­sponse on cre­ativ­ity:

In mid-July, the Polk School Dis­trict put on its sec­ond an­nual Mo­bile Minds Univer­sity, a con­clave of demon­stra­tions by Polk teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors of ways to teach with tech­nol­ogy.

What the more than 500 par­tic­i­pants from around the state learned was that us­ing tech­nol­ogy in the class­room is not about a stu­dent cut­ting and past­ing text from Wikipedia while a teacher mon­i­tors the class rather than teaches it.

Hunter says he be­lieves tech­nol­ogy helps teach­ers be more cre­ative, not less so. Cre­ativ­ity in les­son plan­ning has no lim­its now that re­sources like a news clips of a civil rights march, or an au­dio file of Harry Tru­man speak­ing to the na­tion about drop­ping the first atomic bomb on Ja­pan, can be added to a les­son plan with the in­clu­sion of a url.

Teems said she sup­ports cre­ativ­ity in her teach­ers and she be­lieves work­ing with the in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy coaches helps them de­velop their ideas.

“They typ­i­cally come to the PLCs with an idea they’ve de­vel­oped but want help in un­der­stand­ing how best to im­ple­ment it with tech­nol­ogy,” Teems said.

Tanya Roscorla, man­ag­ing editor of the Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Ed­u­ca­tion mag­a­zine, says teach­ers need sup­port and train­ing to fully uti­lize in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy,

“In­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy is not an easy out for teach­ers. It re­quires more plan­ning and more co­or­di­na­tion than tra­di­tional in­struc­tion does,” she said. “You can’t just give a stu­dent an iPad and a teacher a Smart Board and call it learn­ing through tech­nol­ogy. A teacher has to have a plan.”

Roscorla did some re­search on the Polk School Dis­trict be­fore talk­ing to the SJ.

“I would say, just from what is de­scribed, that the dis­trict is fol­low­ing stan­dards you find in high per­form­ing dis­tricts.”

Re­sponse on flex­i­bil­ity:

Ev­ery­one in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle brought up the abil­ity of tech­nol­ogy to reach learn­ers of all lev­els. “I’m just amazed how stu­dents who have a very dif­fi­cult time learn­ing, they get it, and they aren’t in­tim­i­dated, they want to present their projects and they want to talk in class. It has al­lowed ev­ery­one to have a voice in class, which has been huge to me,” Tid­well said.

“And it’s not just the lower level learner. It’s not just the av­er­age learner. Lessons can be adapted for the higher level learn­ers that keeps them in­ter­ested and fo­cused in­stead of wait­ing for the rest of the class to catch up with them,” she said.

Not all teach­ers are sure of how much flex­i­bil­ity is ac­tu­ally al­lowed un­der di­rec­tives from the su­per­in­ten­dent as com­mu­ni­cated to them by their prin­ci­pals. Dr. Dorothy Welch has been teach­ing for 33 years and has taught math at Cedartown Mid­dle School with ex­cel­lent re­sults since the day the doors opened. She said one rea­son teach­ers are ap­pre­hen­sive at Cedartown Mid­dle School is that they don’t know how much con­trol, if any, they have over their in­struc­tion. “We hear blended ap­proach and then we hear at the end-of-year meet­ing, that next year there will be ‘no more than 10 min­utes of di­rect in­struc­tion.’ We are get­ting mixed mes­sages,” Welch, who is pres­i­dent of the Polk Ed­u­ca­tors As­so­ci­a­tion, said.

“We need to know what the ex­pec­ta­tions are of us­ing tech­nol­ogy all the time. As a math teacher, I may need more than 10 min­utes of di­rect in­struc­tion. I just want teach­ers to have lee­way to do what they think is best for their stu­dents in the class­room. It all comes around to teacher’s hav­ing in­put.”

Hunter said this is def­i­nitely a case of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“I would never say that. I would never limit in­struc­tion,” he said.

CMS prin­ci­pal Tamra Walker agreed.

“We will work to clar­ify this at CMS,” she said. “Di­rect in­struc­tion is es­sen­tial and there is no 10-minute limit at CMS. The teacher role is still the most crit­i­cal piece.”

iPads, toy or tool?

Stu­dents will be play­ing games and tex­ting in­stead of do­ing class­work.

Re­sponse

Tid­well said teach­ers are aware of the chal­lenges in giv­ing stu­dents, es­pe­cially teenagers and mid­dle school stu­dents whose lives re­volve around so­cial media, an iPad to use in the class­room and to take home. Mon­i­tor­ing is a big part of teach­ing with tech­nol­ogy, she said.

Ac­cord­ing to stu­dents, it’s easy to have two screens up on the iPad and just switch back and forth be­tween the les­son and so­cial media when the teacher comes around. But teach­ers say they are hip to this trick and that it’s pretty clear when the stu­dents are switch­ing screens.

“It can be a chal­lenge if you are not go­ing to be en­gaged with them, there has to be a con­stant mon­i­tor­ing and en­gage­ment of stu­dent and teacher,” Tid­well said.

Mov­ing For­ward

Becky Sweat, who worked as a speech pathol­o­gist in the dis­trict be­fore re­tir­ing at the end of last year, says all par­ties in­volved may be los­ing sight of just how big the change is and how many lay­ers of learn­ing are in play. “It’s not just the teach­ers or the stu­dents or the mo­bile minds peo­ple, it’s ev­ery­body. Ev­ery­body is still learn­ing their job.”

She said it is es­pe­cially hard for teach­ers right now, be­cause the state depart­ment of ed­u­ca­tion re­cently in­sti­tuted a new, tough teacher eval­u­a­tion sys­tem. “So teach­ers are learn­ing some­thing en­tirely new that they are go­ing to be eval­u­ated on while they’re learn­ing it, but the eval­u­a­tion won’t take that into ac­count.”

“Ev­ery­one is not go­ing to be com­fort­able overnight, ev­ery­thing is not go­ing to go smoothly from the be­gin­ning,” Sweat saud,

Tid­well agreed. “We have to be will­ing to try be­cause at the end of the day, it’s not about us, it’s about them. It’s about them learn­ing and pre­par­ing for the world.”

Rock­mart Mid­dle School stu­dents Me­gan Clan­ton, Me­gan John­son, Maryann Ear­wood, and An­bria Daniels work with Joann Fort at PSD’s 2nd an­nual Mo­bile Minds Univer­sity.

Teach­ers hold iPads to their faces as Robin Hunter teaches a class on us­ing ap­pli­ca­tions on iPad to en­gage stu­dents. Hunter is a foun­da­tions coach in in­struc­tional tech­nol­ogy for Polk School Dis­trict.

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