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Technology grant makes DC teachers, staff, computer savvy

August 25, 2008

Technology academy gives training for integration in the classroom

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

With the start of the new school year straight ahead, teachers are heading back even more computer savvy than when they left.

Thanks to a grant written by middle and high school media specialists Pam and Paul Beckermann, the Dassel-Cokato School District was awarded a $75,000 grant for a technology integration initiative.

The grant, through the Minnesota Department of Education, was competitive and only awarded to a select group of educational organizations.

To better ensure the acceptance of the grant, the Beckermanns created a learning program that would encompass all four of the main areas including technology integration, professional development, distance learning/online learning, and information and technology literacy.

Through the classes, the Beckermanns wanted to give teachers, staff, and administration the opportunity to better use technology and integrate it into the classroom.

“We wanted it to be a whole community effort,” Pam said, with the ultimate objective being building technology literacy with the students.

“We wanted to have a school where everyone was comfortable with technology,” Paul said.

With learning sessions beginning in June, 82 teachers chose at least one session. One teacher took 12 classes, Paul said.

“There is a real desire for teachers to have this opportunity,” Pam said.

Sessions included learning different software such as Excel and PowerPoint, as well as getting familiar with newer technology such as SMART boards (interactive white boards).

With more classes being offered this month and more throughout the year into next summer, the goal of the grant is for each teacher to have achieved 20 hours of technology training.

Since the amount of the grant could in no way pay each teacher, staff, and administrator to receive the amount of training set forth through the objective, the school board worked with the Beckermanns to allow participants to receive lane change credits (not to exceed seven and one-half credits per teacher with a half credit per class) as opposed to paying stipends for every class taken.

“This was huge for us,” Paul said, explaining the bulk of the grant money can go toward offering more classes.

“The board has been extremely supportive with this endeavor,” he added.

Before the renewal of the levy last fall, the Beckermanns felt the district was falling behind.

“Our kids live in a digital age and they learn best in that,” Paul said.

“We don’t teach technology for the sake of teaching technology,” he said. “Students learn better and acquire skills to be more productive and successful.”

“The burden has been lifted. Now we can provide the tools and the training. [The teachers are] excited and we’re excited,” Pam said.

An integrated approach

The three main components for the DC Technology Integration Initiative were, technology integration academies, online communication and distance learning, and the virtual technology academy.

The technology integration academies provide attendees with the “skills, knowledge, and expertise needed to successfully integrate technology into management, instruction, and learning experiences, with the intended goals of improving student academic achievement and developing student technology literacy skills.”

Students will have the opportunity to have an integrated approach of technology use in all subjects.

In the subject of math for example, students will be able to use Excel to see more “real world applications of [math],” Paul said.

“They will be able to see the relevance of the different math concepts through the use of the program,” Pam said.

The Beckermanns also explained the new technology standards are expected to be “technology literate” in eighth grade according to the Minnesota state standards.

The second component – online communication and distance learning – allows teachers to build their own classroom web sites and “virtual classrooms.” The advantage for teachers learning these interactive tools is the improvement of communication between parents and teachers “providing interactive learning environments intended to increase student achievement.”

The final piece to the technology integration initiative is the virtual technology academy, which is done using Moodle, an open source (free-of-charge) software.

The Beckermanns call it a “virtual help desk” in which all staff can support each other and share ideas through online discussion groups.

Fifth grade teacher Alisa Johnson took five classes this summer including a PowerPoint class and also learned how to use her new SMART board in classes this fall.

“It was a great opportunity to get in-house training and to be able to put it into action,” Johnson said.

Comments given on the surveys given also showed positive remarks.

“They were appreciative for the opportunity and excited for what they can do in the classroom,” Pam said.

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