Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cranston teachers become students with technology-based professional development

Cranston Herald
August 11, 2010
All text and photos by Jen Cowart

TEACHERS BECOME STUDENTS: Teachers fill the computer lab at Glen Hills elementary school, using technology to enhance their students’ learning.

When people think of teachers at this time of year, immediately their summer schedule comes to mind: two months of sleeping in and days at the beach.

What many people don’t realize is how many teachers use the summer as a chance to take advantage of professional development opportunities that directly benefit classroom instruction.

For the second summer in a row, many Cranston teachers were accepted to the Rhode Island Teachers and Technical Training Initiative (RITTI) through the Model Classroom Grant, part of a federal program called E2T2, which took place at Glen Hills Elementary School for two weeks in July.

“This program gives teachers two weeks of full-day training using technical tools in relevant ways to go along with the standards. They are trained in how to connect English/Language Arts with Science and Reading and Writing with Science through the use of technology,” said Fritz Benz, one of the program trainers from North Smithfield High School.

Initially, the teachers spend time delving into the state elementary science standards, learning exactly what needs to be taught at each grade level. They discuss ways of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of every student, and they are trained how to connect the most relevant technology tools to each unit of study at each grade level.

“We expose them to a whole variety of technology, and we get them to utilize that technology in ways that are relevant and meaningful for students,” said Benz.

During the second week, each teacher had to develop a unit or portion of a unit, centered on the state science standards, using technology.

Each unit will be entered into a database that all teachers who participate in the training will have access to, encouraging the sharing strategies across Rhode Island.

“The caveat is that each teacher who participates in the training also receives $4,000 in technology for their classrooms, which can include computers, digital video equipment and presentation technology,” said trainer Jean Carmody, a Cranston teacher.

Steve Sposato, a Westerly High School teacher and program trainer, explained that ultimately the goal of the program is to “get teachers to buy into and integrate whatever tools will facilitate kids getting hands-on technology experience.”

One of Cranston’s district math coaches, Linda Bello, was impressed by the presentations at the end of the two weeks.

“How they have developed their ideas and integrated technology is fantastic,” she said. “The kids will be responding to homework and prompts using wikis, and working on projects that are technology-based. Teachers have found new learning games for kids and linked them to their classroom websites.”

Carmody notes that the use of technology in the classroom allows kids to become further engaged in their learning and motivates them to learn at a higher level.

In addition to the benefit to the students, the teachers reap the benefits as well. They are able to spend two full weeks sharing ideas with other professionals, something they don’t often get to do as professional development opportunities are often few and far between, given the current fiscal crisis across the state.

“There’s a lot of teacher sharing, a lot of co-learning and socialized intelligence,” said Benz. “We want them to do more than just reproduce information. We want them to get the facts and utilize the facts and have a deeper engagement in their learning.”

The Cranston teachers participating in this summer’s training particularly impressed Benz.

“As somebody from outside Cranston, I have to say how impressed I am with the efforts of the teachers here. These teachers are fantastic,” he said. “They’re trying to get to another level for the kids. All of their focus is on the kids, and they really seem to be appreciative of the program.”

Benz noted that for every teacher who receives the training, there were twice as many applicants. He also stated that Cranston is a leader in the state of Rhode Island, piloting their science curriculum mapping work with the University of Texas’ Dana Center, and taking part in the RITTI/E2T2 training.

“They’re really taking control of the curriculum mapping information,” he said.

As part of the grant, the teacher participants are expected to bring back what they’ve learned and share it with the rest of their staff, teaching others.

“There’s a spirit of excitement and collaboration,” said Sposato. Carmody agreed.

“We’re encouraging them to think out of the box. It’s not just PowerPoint and Excel anymore,” she said. “There’s just no limit to what’s out there.”

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