KU News Release
Feb. 21, 2012
Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860
KU program puts technology, expert training, new teaching in classrooms
LAWRENCE — It’s becoming more common with every semester for a school to hand out new electronics such as iPads or laptop computers to give students a new tool in their educational kit. For years now, a University of Kansas program has been going several steps beyond, knowing it’s not enough to just give a classroom new gadgets, it’s vital to provide teachers with the training on how to use the technology to enhance curriculum and help change how students learn.
Since 2003, Technology Rich Classrooms, a project of Advance Learning Technologies in Education in KU’s Center for Research on Learning, has been managing a Kansas State Department of Education program that provides funding to school districts across the state to purchase new technology and fund a facilitator in the school who coaches teachers how to make the new devices part of higher order curriculum. Nearly 90 Kansas schools have received the two-year, Title IID grants, and the program is spreading beyond Kansas’ borders.
“When it comes down to it, we don’t talk about iPads or Macbooks, we talk about using any technology the school has that engages students and empowers critical thinking,” said Amber Rowland, project leader.
Facilitators and teachers who take part in the program gather several times a year for professional learning on higher order instruction, student-centered approaches and technology integration, while meeting with their peers to discuss strategies and how they’ve put technology to use in their respective classrooms. The facilitators are primarily people within the district, not consultants, who the teachers know and can work with directly every day.
“Those facilitators are like coaches in the classrooms,” Rowland said. “When the funding goes away, we want that person to still be there.”
Schools who receive Technology Rich Classroom grants split the funds between technology purchases and professional development. Coaches are required to work with at least four teachers, but programs are now matching coaches with as many as nine teachers, and grantees are required to have at least one laptop or iPad for every two students. Classes take part in collaborative projects they wouldn’t have been able to do without the technology, such as collaborating with students in Ghana and building virtual museums. Each teacher also receives a laptop, projector and interactive whiteboard.
Teachers and school districts also are welcomed to an online home to learn more about the program and talk with their fellow technology-rich educators. Facilitators, teachers, the Kansas State Department of Education and KU personnel alike discuss new apps, funding opportunities, and they post videos, blogs and discussions about their schools and use of technology at kansastrc.org.
“Isolation is a problem that often follows teachers, especially in rural areas,” Rowland said. “TRC helps tear that barrier down.”
Because of countless variables among school districts, it’s virtually impossible to determine a specific percentage of improvement on test scores for all schools using the program, but plenty of real improvement has been noted. In Garden City, Kan., where more than 60 percent of the district’s students are considered economically disadvantaged, students in TRC classrooms showed a 13.8 to 19.2 percent increase in reading test scores over students in traditional classrooms. The math scores of the same group of students ranged from 4.2 to 26.3 percent higher. In 2010, another data sampling showed three separate TRC schools reporting a five to 38.6 percent improvement in the number of TRC students who met or exceeded math or reading standards as compared to their non-TRC counterparts. Teachers throughout the state have noted the improvement in their students and shared the results on kansastrc.org.
The improvement has caught the eye of educators outside of Kansas as well. The State Education Technology Director’s Association and the state of Kansas have both promoted TRC as a school improvement model, facilitating similar programs in states such as Oregon and New Hampshire.
Technology Rich Classrooms is in its last year of funding, but ALTEC and the Kansas State Department of Education are seeking new sources of funding. The need to support teachers as they prepare their students for the future will only continue, and the partners hope to find additional ways to facilitate professional learning for teachers in Kansas.
Technology invariably evolves quickly, often making today’s hot gadget nearly obsolete in short order. Technology Rich Classrooms strives to show both educators and students that technology is just a means to thinking critically and taking a new approach to education.
“Our mantra is ‘technology can enhance learning,’” Rowland said. “Just like a pen or a pencil, it’s a tool. We need people who can teach, collaborate, evaluate and come up with solutions to new problems. Teachers often tell us, ‘TRC wasn’t about the technology, it was about changing the way we teach and our students learn.’”
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