Minnesota School Board Journal, Early Winter 1997
Three 5th grade boys sat at a media center computer that had recently been connected to the Internet and they were giggling. Trouble? Game playing? Surfing? Hacking?
None of the above. These boys were using the Internet to find information about the Ebola virus from the Center for Disease Control’s World Wide Web site. Back in class, the boys became the content “experts” and both teacher and textbook assumed new roles. The health text became a supplementary reference source while the teacher became a mentor, a coach, and a guide by helping the class ask questions about the meaning, reliability, and use of the information the boys found.
Such educational experiences are becoming increasingly common place in the Mankato Schools. Teachers are using technology to enhance the curriculum; media centers have become gateways to digital resources as well as repositories of print materials; the basic computer literacy rate of teachers is over 93%; and district-wide networks are enhancing communications and record keeping.
A major factor in the district’s success with technology is that it has been working from clearly defined goals established by a media/technology advisory committee that has wide representation from both the school and the community. Annual objectives are established under each goal, a timeline is created, and person is given responsibility for their completion. These goals are also tied back to district’s technology plan, board goals, and the district’s strategic plan. This advisory committee along with administrative councils makes broad funding recommendations and decisions.
Goal 1: All students will demonstrate the mastered use of technology to access, process, organize, communicate, and evaluate information in order to answer questions and solve problems.
Mankato schools recognize that technology is simply a tool to better prepare its students for success in the “information age.” At the elementary level, the computer and library skills have been combined into a single information literacy curriculum. This curriculum has as its base two projects at each grade level that all students must complete. The projects are integrated into the classroom curriculum, rely on the application of technology skills to complete, and are authentically assessed. The intent is to meaningfully apply productivity tools in ways which help students answer questions and solve problems rather than simply teach a laundry list of disconnected, soon forgotten skills. The curriculum can be found at: <http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/infocurr/infolit.html>
At the secondary level, individual departments are using technology to help students meet graduation standards and breath new life into dry topics. One example of how technology can make the curriculum come alive can be found at <http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/schools/dakota/war/worldwar.html> These web pages are the end product of a World War II unit taught at one of our middle schools. The teacher and media specialist collaborated on the project that brought community members who remember World War II into the school where students interviewed them. Students then created web pages of the interviews enhanced with scanned photographs and memorabilia.
The media specialists in our schools have played an important leadership role in the implementation of technology. With knowledge of resources, experience in research, and expertise in software applications, media specialists work with both students and staff in using technology in meaningful ways. Building technicians, a district computer coordinator, a network manager, an ITV coordinator, and an equipment repairman support the media specialists by doing installation and maintenance.
Goal 2: Technology will be used to provide the most current, accurate and extensive information resources possible to all learners in the district and community in a cost effective and reliable manner at maximum convenience to the user.
Mankato schools have long prided themselves in their excellent media center’s print resources. But over the past five years, these collections have been enhanced (not supplanted!) by a variety of electronic resources. Automated library catalogs help make all areas of the schools’ print collections better and more easily used. Networked CD-ROMs give students and staff access to up-to-date indexes, encyclopedias, and specialized references sources both in the media center and in classroom from networked computers. Along with networked computers, all classrooms have access to the district’s video network and telephones.
The Internet has been available in our schools for about three years. Email and the World Wide Web give students and staff access to documents and human resources. A strong Internet Use Policy is taught to students who after completing a test and getting parental permission are given an Internet “driver’s license” which must be displayed when connected to the Internet.
District-created resources are increasingly being created, stored, and accessed through electronic means. A district-wide database of classroom sets of novels can be searched from every building. Community members as well as the school staff can find curriculum guides, board minutes, policies, school lunch menus, and staff directories on the school’s Intranet.
Goal 3: All district teachers will have the technology training, skills and resources needed to assure students will meet local and state learning objectives and have the technological means to assess and record student progress.
It’s unreasonable to ask teachers to teach skills that they themselves have not been taught. In order for maximum use to be made of technology resources, extensive staff development opportunities have been created. The CODE 77 project has given teachers computers and the skills to use them. <http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/dougwri/code77.html> The district’s TnT Academy has provided summer classes to teachers throughout the region. Our excellent computer coordinator conducts training during evening classes, on staff development days, though cooperative teaching in the classroom, and in customized “Training on Demand” sessions.
Through rubric measurements and staff surveys, the effectiveness of the technology training has been well documented. Our teachers and media specialists regularly present at conferences and created web pages of national repute: <http://www.isd77.k12.mn.us/resources/staffpages/shirk/music.box.html>
Goal 4: The district will use technology to improve its administrative effectiveness through efficient communication, planning, and record keeping.
Technology also works in the background to improve the operation of the school system. We are just beginning to see the impact our WAN (wide area network) on the information and communication flow in our district. The fiber/coaxial network using cable modems leased from the local cable company gives all buildings 10 MPS access to fileservers regardless of their location in the district. This allows us to begin looking at central databases that hold student records, special education forms, a “real-time” finance system, and easily reviewed personnel/payroll information. Using databases to record and store student progress information will also give the district a means of analyzing its effectiveness in helping student meet benchmarked levels of performance in a wide variety of skill areas. The potential exists for school to develop ways of showing their effectiveness that go beyond just reporting standardized test scores.
Technology well implemented and well used does not just happen. It requires a well-articulated vision shared by the school staff and the community. It requires funding prioritization and accountability for expenditures. And it requires teachers, media specialists, administrators, and school board members who are willing to take some risks to create a school system which meets 21st century educational demands.