If we don’t have labs to teach students how to use a pencil and paper, why do we use them to teach technology skills?
Over the last two years, Park has needed to restructure some of our programs and areas of operation. One of these places is the way we approach technology instruction, with the rationale that how we were doing this work, which had mostly revolved around teaching students discrete technology skills in isolation, could be moved out of a lab setting and be more effective when integrated into classroom instruction. For me this better reinforces the idea that technology is simply another tool for learning. My analogy for this has long been, “If we don’t have labs to teach students how to use a pencil and paper, why do we use them to teach technology skills?”
Of course, moving this work out of the silo of a computer lab and into the classroom brings a whole new set of challenges, opportunities, and unintended consequences. Perhaps the most wonderful and wholly unexpected byproduct of this restructuring was that it inspired a very generous gift to the School, underwritten by donors with an interest in technological literacy, and made with the express purpose of helping us bridge from the lab approach to classroom integration.
Bill and Brian
This gift allowed us to hire a technology support person to provide relief to Bill Rider, Park’s Chief Information Officer. Bill’s title is actually somewhat grand, as he has typically been a department of one, who has had to mostly focus on keeping our technology infrastructure -- hardware, software, and network -- up and running. These responsibilities are now shared with
Brian Steinberg, Park’s new Technology Support Specialist, which allows the technology team to move beyond immediate day-to-day technology needs and let them focus more fully on technology integration into curriculum and daily instruction.
Our central goal is to train teachers to see technology as a set of tools and skills that can be applied in specific ways to make teaching and learning easier and more effective. Bill is uniquely qualified to do this work at Park as he has worked closely with each and every faculty member in building out our technology infrastructure over the last seven years, and knows both our liabilities and strengths as a School.
Supported by this generous infusion of focused funding, Bill and Brian have developed or incorporated a number of specific initiatives to support this work:
Technology Integration. The International Society for Technology Integration (ISTE) has developed and regularly updates a list of foundational technology skills and competencies that students should master at various ages and stages. Our technology team has been working with faculty members and division heads during professional development sessions this year to both explain these standards and to chart where they are currently integrated in classroom instruction or might best fit in classroom instruction. The vision is to align these skills to existing curriculum and content in the same way that Park currently “maps” other aspects of our curriculum. Now that we have the bandwidth to do this (pun intended) Bill and Brian have been instrumental in guiding teachers K-12 on how to incorporate technology lessons into their existing curriculum and integrate it into their daily plans to help them become more efficient while modeling appropriate technology use.
Faculty Tech Fellows. Park is developing a strand within our professional community to support faculty members who themselves may not yet be fully proficient with the ISTE standards (they are always changing, often quickly). To address this, two stipended fellowship opportunities have been created for teachers willing to commit to developing a “train the trainer” model of technology inclusion in classroom instruction. This year Britton Thomas, Grade 4, and Cristin Scordato, Grade 5, are working with Mr. Rider to identify and integrate instructional technology into their curricula, pilot the effectiveness of the technology on teaching and learning, and then develop methods for training their peers in the approaches they have adopted. As this model builds out over the years, we envision having multiple technology fellows incubating new ideas in their classes in all three divisions of the School and then bringing forth those that are worthy of replication to the rest of the faculty.
Google Educators. Sixteen teachers have signed on to become Google certified educators this year. This program is designed for educators and classroom teachers who wish to demonstrate proficiency in using Google for Education tools. Following online coursework developed by Google, Park’s cohort is working through multiple certification levels with Brian Steinberg that range from basic implementation to becoming a “Certified Innovator.” The “G-Suite” of educational tools that Google offers are some of the most powerful cloud-based applications in the instructional technology space, and the judicious use of these tools should have a tremendous impact upon how students and teachers learn, create content, collaborate, and demonstrate their knowledge.
Tech Hub. The technology labs have begun to be transformed into a “tech hub,” driven in part by a group of Upper School students who have collaborated with Bill and Brian in articulating how they wish to use the space. One of the lab spaces now has three dimensional printers, a large format poster printer, space dedicated to STEAM initiatives, computers dedicated to digital media and graphic design, project work space for all, as well as access to powerful computers. The vision for this space is to allow students opportunities to explore and familiarize themselves with new technologies. Each student will also have an opportunity to explore a passion project- a project that they are passionate about exploring and sharing relating to technology. The Assistant Technologist will manage this group of trained student-workers who might assist with day-to-day troubleshooting across campus, wherever appropriate. Interested, qualified students could apply to work through the hub for community service hours and in turn provide support services to the School while developing valuable technology skills.
Using the Greenscreen
Computer and Information Studies. If you are a parent of a certain age, you may remember learning BASIC programming, or some other now now-defunct computer language in school. While the language may no longer be used, hopefully the logical architecture underpinning the code taught you to, “think like a computer.” If you are a parent of a current Park School lower school student, you most likely have experienced the updated version of this at home when your child discusses their Computer and Information Studies (CIS) class with Joelle Hiller, one of Park’s mathematics teachers. The mission of this program is to provide the opportunity for all students to engage in activities that develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills, while promoting technological and information literacy as a foundation for academic life and future employment. Mrs. Hiller created this program to allow our youngest learners to use information and technology to design and create experiences (programming), make sense of information (data analysis), and solve problems (debugging). The skills and habits of minds that are developed at this developmental stage will equip Park students for higher-level learning in the areas of computing and informatics that they will encounter in the future, both in school and the wider technology-based society in which we live. While not a direct outgrowth of Park’s technology reboot, this program is perfectly aligned with the goals and vision that our technology team have developed.
Introduction to Coding
A Weather Station. Another faculty initiative that dovetails beautifully into technology integration in the classroom is Park’s Lower School Weather Station. This hands-on project has grown out of a vision for using various meteorological and technological tools to teach students the skills needed to monitor, analyze, and report various aspects of the weather. Thanks to generous support from the Park Parents Association, the School has created a basic outdoor weather station (Thermometer, Hygrometer, Barometer, Weather Vane, Rain Gauge, and Anemometer) for students to record the weather daily. The second phase of this program is to integrate it with the tech hub and Knopp-Hailpern Science Center, by developing monitors in each building that display students’ weather data. In its fullest expression, our technologists are also working on a YouTube weather report, generated via webcam against a green screen, so that students can produce their own “Park School Weather Channel” broadcast.
The Weather Station
These specific initiatives are all aligned with a deceptively simple vision for the immediate future of technology instruction at Park School. Namely, that we fully embrace the idea that technology is not an additional “special” subject that we teach, but rather another literacy skill that helps us shape our world. Like reading, writing, and mathematics, the more fluently we can employ this skill, the more likely we are to reach our goals. Just as classroom teachers are meant to model traditional literacies, they should also play an important role in students’ technological lives by actively and appropriately modeling technology use, integrating it into their teaching with tangible goals in mind.
Finally, as always, money is fuel. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that the work that we are currently doing in technology integration could only come to life through generous philanthropic support. We were blessed to have support from donors who understand how important technology integration is to our students’ futures and had the means and desire to help us kickstart this latest iteration. As we move forward, some of these initiatives will find their way into our operating budget and others will remain reliant on external sources of funding. (Spoiler alert- this weekend’s annual auction will have a portion dedication to supporting these efforts.)
This said I have tremendous faith that, as always, a path will emerge.