Model Technology Pilot Program Launched Throughout the District

Promethean classroomNintendo DS. PSP. Wii. Blackberrys and iPhones. HDTV.

Gone are the days of grainy Bugs Bunny cartoons on Saturday mornings and low-tech entertainment like board games or Rubik’s cube.

Today’s kids demand all action, all the time. Short bursts of information in rapid-fire succession. Teachers have to use every trick in the book to maintain the interest of the technology savvy students who populate classrooms in districts across the state and across the country.

Students are no longer content to check their technology at the door – they want to be involved with the lessons, and for technology to be fully integrated into the classroom experience.

How can teachers compete with the high-tech gadgets most kids have at home, or even in their pockets at school?

Model Technology Project

As part of the $125 million bond package voters passed in 2007, Pflugerville ISD is launching a model technology pilot program unlike any in Central Texas. With the final classrooms outfitted with equipment in early December, the District is arming its teachers with technology that can rival any gizmo kids can purchase.

“Our long-term goal is to be a leading district in technology integration in our classrooms, and this project is just the first step,” Chief Academic Officer Keith McBurnett said. “We are the only district in Central Texas to offer this technology in classrooms at every one of our schools, and ultimately we want to have it in every classroom, not just a handful.”

Each PISD campus is now home to four model technology classrooms equipped with Promethean Activeclassroom products, which allow teachers to engage students with interactive lessons, integrate curriculum with teaching software and facilitate communication and collaboration through learner response systems.

In plain terms, teachers are using the technology kids love to hook them on learning.

“This is what our kids already know,” Spring Hill Elementary teacher Valerie Bonn said. “They are a 3-D generation and we are still doing everything in one or two dimensions. If we want kids to get excited about learning, we have to speak their language.”

The Technology in Action

(Read more about the products here.)

Promethean classroomPromethean Activeclassroom products in PISD classrooms include interactive whiteboards, document cameras, and wireless slates and response systems. The common theme with each of these components is student participation in classroom instruction.

“The buy-in is amazing,” Bonn said. “Everyone wants to participate. They all want a chance to work at the board. They are learning in a way that makes sense to them, and they are taking part in the instruction rather than just being bystanders.”

The students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the technology.

“I can do more things on the fly. Instead of holding a tiny paper up, I can project it and show everyone exactly what I mean,” Bonn said. “No more transparencies that are hard to read.”

Unlike conventional teaching tools such as workbooks and worksheets, Bonn says the materials available to teachers are limitless.

“The resources available seem endless. The content is easy to modify to meet the specific needs of my students.”

Despite only a few classrooms at each campus being equipped with the Promethean products, teachers and staff members are finding inventive ways to give as many students as possible access to the products.

At Spring Hill, librarian Pam Shellenberger uses the boards to teach kids library basics.

“The boards practically scream interaction,” Shellenberger said. “The students are actively engaged in the lesson, and any lesson where you want active participation has become that much easier with the boards. They are a built-in attention-grabbers for each lesson.”

As a parent with three students in PISD schools, Shellenberger, whose daughter Tess calls the boards “the magic wall,” sees the technology as a tremendous asset to parents as well.

“What parent wouldn’t want their student to have ‘the magic wall’ in their classroom,” Shellenberger said. “The boards help the teachers get excited about lessons, keep students engaged and offer student data for teachers to share with parents.”

The technology symbolizes the District’s effort to evolve with the modern day learner, and the investment conveys a message that technology and education can be infused to make a significant difference in instruction, Shellenberger said.

Research-Based Approach

Instructional technology coordinators Todd Gratehouse and Kathryn Ives point to recent studies that show interactive whiteboards can be used to support a variety of learning styles and help promote student interest and concentration, which leads to more effective learning.

“Interactive whiteboards affect learning in several ways,” Gratehouse said, “including raising the level of student engagement in a classroom, motivating students and promoting enthusiasm for learning. Interactive whiteboards support many different learning styles and are used in a variety of learning environments, including those catering to students with hearing and visual impairments.”

In addition to the observed positive impacts on student learning, research shows that designing lessons around interactive whiteboards helps educators streamline their preparation, be more efficient in integrating technology into lessons and increase their productivity overall.

“Educators understand that student engagement is crucial to learning and, as a growing collection of international research shows, interactive whiteboards promote student engagement,” Ives said.

Teachers with interactive whiteboards were found to incorporate 21st century skills in the area of communication, problem solving, and collaboration more often than other teachers, and more frequently asked questions to monitor student learning.

The technology allows teachers the ability to quickly monitor student learning, which teachers list as one of its major benefits.

Nothing Replaces Quality Instruction by Teachers

Promethean classroomWhile technology is a tremendous asset to teachers, it certainly can’t take the place of good old-fashioned teaching. The technology is a tool for teachers, not a substitute for teacher-student interaction.

“It’s important to not give the idea that technology replaces good teaching,” Gratehouse said. “Technology enhances good teaching and allows for more outlets for interactive and engaging instructional experiences.”

Ives says many of the lessons will remain the same, but the amount of information retained by the students and the instant feedback for teachers will change. 

“A teacher may well do the same lesson with the board that they did without the board,” Ives said.  “Doing the same lesson on the board allows the teacher to save student responses and notations and allows for very easy recall of that information.”

The key difference is the potential for student interaction with the lesson, Ives said.

“We have a lot of direct teaching going on in our classrooms, where teachers talk and students listen. Using the technology affords the students a better opportunity for interactive participation, which is a very important first step to them retaining the information.”

Bonn says she is sometimes better at “doing” than explaining, and the board allows her to brainstorm with students and organize information in a quick, interactive way.

“Before the board was installed, we had to give everything a place and then it had to stay in that spot on the paper,” Bonn said. “This technology allows us to do all of our brainstorming first and then take it and slide it into the right spots, but keep it all easily accessible for future use.”

Training for Teachers

The instructional technology staff completed Promethean training, which prepared them to conduct 18 training sessions for teachers and other staff members.

All teachers have been placed in cohorts under the leadership of District curriculum and instruction staff members. Cohorts will meet monthly during the spring semester.

“The objective of the cohort is to continue building on the instructional focus of the model technology classrooms,” Gratehouse said. “This aligns with research that shows continued efforts in professional development result in a deeper understanding by teachers of how to use the technology to meet instructional goals.”

Long-term Plans

If the model technology pilot yields the results PISD leaders expect, the District will evaluate options to bring the technology into more classrooms.

“We are already seeing teachers and students benefit from the technology in just a few short months,” McBurnett said. “Research shows that integrating technology into the classroom in a meaningful way will lead to improved student achievement and get kids excited about learning.”

Pflugerville ISD’s approach to education is to prepare Each Child for Their Future in Our World. McBurnett sees technology integration into the classroom as a major step toward meeting that goal.

“Technology already permeates every aspect of our students’ lives,” McBurnett said. “Why wouldn’t we want to take the same technology our students thrive on and make it an instructional tool?”

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.