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Technology Helps W.Va. Teachers Improve Student Achievement

August 03, 2006

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. _ Gilda Haddox has seen first-hand how technology can help children grasp abstract concepts and improve student achievement.  

She’s one of many technology integration specialists that the West Virginia Department of Education has trained to help the reluctant and eager teacher alike build on their vast subject knowledge and incorporate technology into their classrooms.  

“Technology is a tool that some teachers are uncomfortable with because they didn’t grow up with computers at home,” said Haddox, one of two technology integration specialists in Wood County. “But when I work with a school for an entire school year, I see the teachers gain confidence and incorporate technology into their lesson plans as they get more comfortable.”  

Both the Department of Education and the West Virginia Board of Education recognize that teachers need the new delivery tools technology offers to reach today’s Nintendo generation and teach them 21st century skills.  

Yet many teachers often cling to proven routines until they are equipped and trained on reliable replacements. They don’t want to seem incompetent in front of students using unfamiliar technology, no matter how snazzy.  

“They’re afraid,” said Kathy Lazenby, Raleigh County’s technology integration specialist and a former teacher at Beckley-Stratton Middle School. “They’re not sure of themselves and don’t like that feeling. Nobody does. The best way to overcome that uncertainty is with technology integration specialists like me in schools.  

“It’s almost like student teaching again. You don’t put student teachers in a room by themselves and say teach, and we shouldn’t expect experienced teachers to embrace new technology without help.”  

The Department of Education agrees and has launched a comprehensive effort to train more than 100 West Virginia educators to become technology integration specialists as part of an effort to incorporate 21st century skills into the classroom and close the digital generation gap. The department also has provided the technology specialists with laptops and other tools.  

Once trained, they will take their new skills back to their home schools where they will help other teachers integrate technology into their teaching plans to improve student achievement.  

“Technology is at the core of 21st century learning,” said state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine. “In a digital world, the 21st century learner must learn to use technology to master the core subjects and other important skills. Teachers play a critical role in how their students will learn the skills they need to succeed.”  

The training session comes only months after Education Week Magazine identified West Virginia’s educational technology system as the best in the nation. In Technology Counts 2006, West Virginia was named the top state for computer access, data use and technology capacity in schools across the state. The state received an A, while the nation received an overall grade of C-plus.  

West Virginia became the second state in the nation to join the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in November 2005. The Partnership's framework puts an emphasis on information and communications technology literacy as well as critical thinking, communication skills, global awareness, and business, economic and civic literacy.  

Paula DeLong, a second grade teacher at Lubeck Elementary where Haddox was stationed last year, said working with a technology integration specialist has made her a better teacher.  

“We worked as a team,” DeLong said. “I would let her know what I was doing in the classroom and she would find a relevant Web site. When I was teaching about the solar system, she found a site where the kids could create their own planets. I got on the computer and learned right along with them.”  

In another exercise at Christmas time, her students wore pajamas to school and drank hot chocolate as they listened to actor Lou Diamond Phillips read “Polar Express.”  

The department’s effort to train technology integration specialists is one of 17 tasks and numerous recommendations in a June 2006 report, “Technology for 21st Century Learners.” It calls for, among other things, providing students and staff with equitable access to technology infrastructure that supports acquisition of 21st century skills and online professional development.  

The report was created with consultation from several stakeholders, including Nancy Sturm, education technology adviser to Gov. Joe Manchin, and the West Virginia Center for Professional Development.  

“The state has made a bold move that will change how teachers teach,” Haddox said. “I started teaching in 1973 and could have retired last May. But I was so excited about what’s happening in West Virginia. We’re on the verge of something great and I wanted to be part of that.”  

Education technology is not only about PowerPoint and spreadsheets. The focus of professional development is on learning teaching strategies that make a difference in student learning. These practices can help students read, reason and write more powerfully and make sense of a confusing world and a swelling tide of information.  

Today’s kids have grown up in a wired world, often gaining their computer proficiency through years of playing video games. Most don’t remember a world without the Internet.  

“They just learning differently,” said Heather Heck, Wayne High School’s librarian and technology integration specialist. “They are much more comfortable doing a Google search rather than picking up an encyclopedia or other reference book, turning to the index and going to a specific page. It’s often the same information but in a format they are more comfortable using.”  

When Lazenby started teaching in Raleigh County in 1988, the only computers in the school were in a computer lab. For the most part, classroom teachers still relied heavily on traditional chalkboards or overhead projectors.  

Those are now being replaced with electronic, interactive white boards that offer users many of the features of a computer as well as a 4-by-5 foot screen. And there are computers in most every classroom.  

“Yesterday’s classroom teacher stood up in front of the class imparting information and knowledge,” Paine said. “Today’s classroom has to be an engaging classroom where the students are active in their own learning. It moves learning from teacher-centered to student-centered.”  

Today’s students use multimedia to learn interactively and work on class projects. They use the Internet to do research, engage in projects, and to communicate. The new technologies allow students to have more control over their own learning, to think analytically and critically and to work collaboratively.  

Teachers will get another opportunity to improve their technology knowledge at the statewide Technology Conference Aug. 7-1, 2006, at the Charleston Civic Center. Participants from higher education, K-12, state agencies, the business community and non-profit sectors participate in the event. The goal of the conference is to foster partnerships among the groups by exchanging the latest technology advances.  

“This is a great opportunity for professional development and to hear about trends from nationally known speakers,” state Deputy Superintendent Jack McClanahan. “Teachers need opportunities like this to exchange ideas that ultimately improve student achievement.”  

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