Technology conference sends 'the right message'
Rapidly changing tech tools offer potential to expand teaching styles and student learning
October 31, 2013
Carroll High School
assistant interim principal Trent Grundmeyer explains Hype Cycle at the Coon Rapids-Bayard West Central Iowa Tech Institute on Wednesday.
More than 100 educators attended the West Central Iowa Tech Institute at Coon Rapids-Bayard on Wednesday. Attendees described it as a "tech conference focused on student learning" not "technology for technology's sake," a theme they agreed was "the right message."
The day kicked off with a keynote address from Shannon Miller on giving students a voice. She shared the stage with a fourth-grade student who explained how she was empowered through technology in classrooms.
"She showed that empowerment comes from real-world products," said Brent Jorth, CRB principal and conference organizer. For example, rather than just turn in writing assignments for a teacher, the student writes a blog that is followed by individuals across the United States and abroad.
Breakout sessions covered topics ranging from how to use specific technology and programs, such as MacBooks Airs or Google Docs, to how to further engage students through gaming platforms and current events resources.
Leslie Pralle Keehn, former eighth-grade history teacher and current institutional technology consultant for the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, presented a session on gaming that left standing room only.
Keehn cited a study that indicated there were more than 1 billion gamers in the world, defined as any individual who spends an hour or more per day playing video or computer games. Every teacher could recognize that student who would run home to play Xbox, or stay at the library until it closed to play an online game with friends, she said, wondering how to "harness" that enthusiasm.
She cited five principles of gaming that could work to engage students - the ability to redo something they failed on their first try, collaboration with others to reach a goal, "leveling up" or becoming "masters" in various subjects, rewards or acknowledgement for hard work, and fast feedback that allows students to know immediately if they are understanding a concept.
She tested her theory on an eighth-grade history class. Students watched videos through HippoCampus, read articles and completed projects, such as tracing Americana Revolutionary battles on Google maps, in order to reach different levels. Keehn supplemented the required lessons with additional assignments students could choose to do for extra points, allowing them to delve further into the areas they found interesting.
She kept a leader board of the top five and began tweeting out changes to the board or announcing when students moved up to a new level. She was surprised to find the students tweeting back if she hadn't updated the game fast enough, and was further surprised to discover students spending weekends doing homework for fun. She had designed only five levels, and by the end of the class, the students were helping her design more.
The game format allowed her to develop different requirements for different students in accordance with individual education plans. But in the end, one of her special-education students stunned her, surpassing all of his classmates to win the game.
"It's a way of getting different kids engaged," Keehn said, acknowledging that while it wasn't a perfect solution, gaming was one way to combine best teaching practices and technology.
She found that the students who were traditionally "good at school" hated the game. Rather than figuring out how to demonstrate their knowledge, they just wanted Keehn to tell them how to get an A. But in life, there isn't going to be a clearly defined path to get an A, she said.
"The question in education now is what are we giving kids that they can't Google," Keehn explained. "We're helping kids learn how to learn."
She taught a second session on using the Internet to provide primary resources and timely, relevant supplements to class discussion. She focused on materials available through CSPAN. For example, there is already a full unit available to teachers on the chemical weapons in Syria, content that could be used in social studies and science classes. The network also has live feeds of congressional representatives and presidents speaking, which could be used in English classes to distinguish between different types of debate; financial materials on economic changes that could be utilized in math classes; and Supreme Court cases that break down Constitutional rights as judicial opinions are released.
"There is such a vast library," she said. "It's surprising how few people know about it."
Carroll High School assistant interim principal Trent Grundmeyer also presented several sessions at the conference, including one focused at administrators on how to use two free online reports to guide adaption of various technologies. The Horizon Report and the Hype Cycle trace various tools, such as tablets, open-source classes or 3D printing, to predict the "likely time frame to mainstream adoption."
"Some districts purchase technology to keep up with the Jones'," Grundmeyer said. "That's not a good way to do business or spend tax dollars."
The reports show what technologies are two to three or four to five years from adoption in the classroom to help schools stay ahead of the curve rather than behind. By knowing what technologies will be vital in the future, teachers can focus their professional development and training accordingly.
According to Grundmeyer, the reports have been fairly accurate so far. For example, one-to-one initiatives and cloud computing were predicted to reach mainstream. Now, more than 50 percent of Iowa districts have such initiatives, an acceptance rate surpassed only by Maine.
The reports also offer examples and models of how technologies can be used. For example, 3D printing, predicted to be about four to five years from mainstream acceptance, can be used to bring DNA helixes and dinosaurs to life for students as the resources get cheaper.
The key to selecting technology is to know the end goals, said Grundmeyer. Chromeboks, MacBooks and iPads can all be used in a one-to-one initiative, but MacBooks are better for creative uses, Chrombooks for collaborative functions such as Google Docs, and iPads for replacing textbooks with digital versions.
"Our job is to set up what we want for our kids," he explained. "Technology is not just a toy anymore. It's necessary in education."
When used together, the reports can help educators determine when acquiring technology will be most efficient and cost effective.
"You can't do all the research on your own, but you can know what to look at to see what's around the corner," Grundmeyer said. "That's our job as leaders."
Maggie Haines, eighth grade teacher in Winterset, and Austin Temperley, principal of Des Moines Christian School, were both impressed with the immediate potential of the conference sessions.
"I attended to get ideas I could take back to class tomorrow and I have," said Haines.
Temperley agreed, adding that the applications and tools presented throughout the day were "very practical."
Jorth said that he was pleased with the turnout and that feedback was positive. He hopes to double attendance at a similar event in the future. CRB superintendent Rich Stoffers agreed.
"We started with an idea to transform learning," Stoffers said, adding that a key motivation for the conference was the planned one-to-one rollout in the district scheduled for the upcoming spring.
"We're not there yet, but we're definitely transforming thinking," he said. "It's one thing to say we're going one-to-one, but another for the teachers to get involved. The main thing now is the follow-through."
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