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Teachers teach teachers how to use technology in classroom

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

By Alisha Hipwell

Six years ago, Kris Kirk walked out of an elementary school open house impressed because her daughter's teacher had computers in his classroom.

Kirk said as much to her daughter Alex, who promptly burst her mother's balloon.

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"Her exact words were, 'Duh, Mom, he doesn't know how to turn them on,' " said Kirk.

Schools pour millions of dollars every year into classroom technology purchases, but, as Kirk discovered, that's no guarantee teachers know how to use the technology effectively in their classrooms.

The open house experience left Kirk, president of the North Shore-based training company Mentors Consulting and Training, feeling "frustrated as a taxpayer that money was going to waste."

So her company developed Mentoring Educators Curriculum Accountable Teacher Training (CAT2), a teacher technology training program taught by teachers for teachers.

Four hundred educators from Shaler Area, Northgate, Avonworth and Pine-Richland school districts and Perry Traditional Academy in Pittsburgh schools went through the CAT2 program during a two-year pilot program in 2001-02.

This summer marked the first year Mentors made the CAT2 classes available to individual teachers from all area districts. Sessions covered such applications as Microsoft Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, FrontPage and Internet Explorer.

Recent studies show plenty of need.

Only 42 percent of new teachers said they felt "well prepared" or "very well prepared" to use computers for instruction in their first year of teaching, according to the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey.

Federal legislators recognized the training gap and included a section in the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 that requires states to allocate 25 percent of federal technology dollars to staff training. Prior to that act, a 1999 survey by the CEO Forum on Education and Technology found schools spent just 5 percent of their technology budgets on teaching teachers to use computers.

"Schools just don't invest in training," said Kirk.

And don't think a district full of young teachers necessarily equals proficient use of technology in the classroom.

"If a district says they have all young teachers, that doesn't mean much. They may know how to use the technology, but they often don't know how to integrate it into the curriculum," Kirk said.

District technology coordinators do provide some in-house training for teachers. And courses in Power Point, Microsoft Word and other computer applications are available through community colleges.

But there is a difference between knowing how to use an application, such as Internet Explorer, and knowing how to use it to improve student performance.

CAT2 "is not just a how-to-use course. It's really focused on teaching how to use it in the classroom, and that's so key," said Joe LaGrosse, technology director for Avonworth.

Nearly 80 teachers and staff members at Avonworth went though the 36-hour CAT2 pilot program. LaGrosse said it would have been difficult for him to deliver that much training to that many teachers through the typical in-school sessions.

Clicking with curriculum

Dan Charny, technology director for Shaler Area School District, said a decade ago many teachers were so new to computer use that technology training focused on basic skills -- even topics as simple as using a mouse.

But Charny and other technology coordinators in the pilot districts said the CAT2 training came at a time when most teachers were ready to move to the next level.

"Now, we're focusing on how to use the technology to best support and enhance the curriculum. That's the big difference. ...The CAT2 taught them the meaningful piece of the software," he said.

Mentors refined the CAT2 curriculum after the two-year pilot.

In the pilot, teachers were required to complete a project showing how to use technology in the classroom. That gave CAT2 designers 400 ideas to use in future classes.

Mentors also put together a team of content-area experts to design other ideas for using technology in the classroom.

The company also recruited teachers from the pilot program to instruct this summer's CAT2 courses.

"Teachers training teachers works best because classroom management issues always come up," said Kirk.

Teachers learning with teachers has advantages too.

"It was a think tank. We had a chance to share some great ideas," said Ted Yates, a reading specialist in the Moon Area School District.

Yates used his training to design a Web site where he keeps parents of his Title I reading students up to date on daily lessons and federal guidelines.

He also uses the Internet and an LCD projector to find and display images that give meaning to words and concepts his reading students don't understand. When the students read a book set in Paris, Yates showed them live Web-camera shots of the city.

"It's amazing what we can do," he said.

About 20 Moon teachers participated in the CAT2 pilot program, but district technology coordinator Kim Jones Prevost believes the effects of training reached beyond the initial group.

"You don't just reach one person in the class, because they'll go and tell 10 of their colleagues about the cool stuff they learned," she said.

Alisha Hipwell is a freelance writer.

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