Friday, November 18, 2016

The Progression of our Lower School Technology Integration

This is the progression of technology integration at CCS lower school since I came on staff in January of 2004 as a part-time related arts computer teacher. We've come a long way baby!

In the last few days of the first semester of the 2003-2004 school year I was given the opportunity to speak with the teacher that was leaving the school briefly before he left for Christmas break to understand what the curriculum expectations were for the stand alone computer classes in the elementary school. In that year, students in grades 1-2 had keyboarding for 30 minutes a week and grades 3-5 had keyboarding for 40 minutes a week. The teacher often gave students the last 5-10 minutes of each class period time to play games on the computers.

After being a high school computer teacher, I decided to teach the Microsoft computer applications of Word and Powerpoint to the fourth and fifth grade students. After a few years teaching, I graduated with a Masters in Instructional Technology in 2007. The process of learning through that period really gave me a burden to help our school see the benefits of technology integration- not always technology for technology sake and not stand alone. While my main goal was always for our students to continue to improve their keyboarding speed and accuracy, I started asking the elementary teachers how I might support their curriculum with what I was doing in class. I would often contact 3rd-5th grade teachers (and it helped that I had my own girls in those grades at the time) and ask them what they were studying. Sometimes I would create web searches for our students to learn more about what they were studying in class but also learn the skill of good Internet searching. Sometimes we would type letters to people, create poems, etc that integrated with the classroom all to also learn the needed skills I was trying to give our students in computer class. It wasn’t easy- I didn’t have a curriculum map to follow and sometimes it just didn’t work but it was always my goal to integrate what I did with what the students were doing as much as possible. I wanted them to learn that technology was a tool for their learning.

To be quite honest, I always thought we were above the curve of what most elementary students were doing regarding technology. So many schools didn’t have related arts computer teachers. The lower school lab was always “shown off” during admissions walks with potential families.

In 2013 our school decided to start doing computer-based testing of our lower school students. I came in one day and was told that during second semester almost a whole quarter’s worth of instruction would now happen with me rolling an iPad cart of 30 iPads from class to class when the lab was being used for testing throughout the year. I was excited about having options for instruction and learning more about mobile learning. Supporting instruction while learning about how mobile devices are best used in the classroom happened very quickly for me and I was constantly adapting and adopting new ideas.

At the end of the 2013-2014 school year CCS had a marvelous “problem.” We needed 4 classrooms for all the kindergarten students that wanted to come to our school. The computer lab was next to the other three kindergarten classrooms. Mobile technology was becoming more pronounced in the educational arena and I was asked “can we do without a lab?” I said “yes, but let me move into a technology coach role instead of a related arts teacher.”

I am thankful for administration that trusted me on this change. In order to make the transition, we set a very rigid “you must do 2 technology-based projects a year with Julie” to our elementary teachers. Some did more, a few did less, but we started integrating. As I look back over that time I realize we were leading with tech often. It often gives me a stomach lurch compared to where we are today but I can’t figure out how we could have gotten to where we are today without setting some requirement in the beginning.

From the 2013-2014 school year until this past year that “rule” was a rule of expectation. Over the years I started off modeling instruction, co-teaching, and hand holding. Today, I am much more of a support when things go wrong, I help brainstorm new concepts, and try to be a visionary for the next steps. One of the major goals I have had regarding technology integration is that we also speak into teaching students about being appropriate digital citizens. Starting in 2013, CCS Lower School has been recognized as a Common Sense Media Digital Citizenship School because of the amount of lessons we teach our students regarding digital citizenship.

In the 2015-2016 school year, in decision with our fifth grade teachers, the fifth grade became a 1:1 required BYOT iPad grade. Deciding on one device only, instead of the BYOT of the upper school, has created tension between some of the lower and upper school. Much talk and prayer was put into that decision this school year before we announced to the second group of fifth graders which device would be required. This is an area that our fifth grade teachers and myself are constantly looking at for the greater good of our whole school and our students at that grade level.

2016-2017 brought another tremendous change to the lower school due to a grant for STEAM experiences. We were able to bring on a full time para-professional to help teachers integrate more STEAM into their classrooms. Under the direction of myself as the technology coordinator, the STEAM coordinator looks at the current integrated units, curriculum mapping, and ISTE standards for students. We create opportunities for our students to not only integrate technology in the classroom but have some computer science, robotics, and coding opportunities that support grade level curricular learning as well. In the hiring of the STEAM coordinator we also set the requirement that teachers were to work alongside her in the classroom. This is not a standalone related arts class. Much like the role of the tech coach in the beginning, our goal is for our STEAM coordinator to model and work with the teachers to help them get to the place to not only see potential ways to integrate as they are working on lessons but to feel confident in doing that themselves at some point. To see examples of what is being done regarding STEAM read our blog here

In 2016-2017 the requirement for 2 technology-based projects went away. We are seeing our teachers adapting blended learning into their math curriculum using Khan Academy and Matific. We are also seeing the current 3 sets of iPad carts and one Chromebook cart being heavily utilized for our project based learning endeavors and hitting the 4 C’s of technology integration: curation, connection, consumption, and creation. Technology integration in the lower school looks more seamless than it ever has and the need for teacher expectations in usage has dramatically decreased.

2016-2017 also brings with it the opportunities to once again have “technology for technology sake” into the lower school curriculum. Due to Friday afternoon electives for fourth and fifth grade students, we have offered our students the choice to participate in becoming part of a tech support team (see blog post here on tech team), coding, and engineering a prosthetic. Second semester will bring more technology-based options for students to choose from. After school this year our STEAM coordinator has offered circuitry and robotics clubs as well.

The hardest thing I’ve had to figure out is keyboarding. Since losing the lab we have wavered between no keyboarding instruction at all to this year, keyboarding being taught one day a week in grades 4 and 5 by the classroom teacher all year, and one day a week  for grade 3 next semester being taught by the classroom teacher. This is being done from a rolling cart of chromebooks shared within the entire lower school community.

What does the future look like? I think it would be fair to say that technology is a very fluid curriculum. The past few years have proven that. Goals in my mind include:

  • Continuing to find the balance needed between how much is enough and appropriate for this age level
  • Continuing to teach digital citizenship to our students as a priority in instruction practices across the curriculum
  • Creating growth experiences for our students regarding technology
  • Finding age appropriate ways for students to search the Internet for research and images that feels safe for our students
  • Continuing to assess where we are and what we want technology to do for us at our school
  • Bridging the gap between lower and upper school with cohesive goals to best meet the needs of our students and teachers
  • Continuing to grow the culture between curriculum and instructional technology working hand-in-hand looking for innovative solutions to educational issues

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