Oct 31 2006

Grant Helps School Integrate Technology into its Classroom

A California school district won an Enhancing Education Through Technology competitive grant to helping both its special and general education students.

It all started with a special education teacher’s vision to eliminate the stigma of using assistive technology in the classroom by making it available to every student. Special education students may be reluctant to use technology that sets them apart from other students, even though it has a proven value. Also, teachers are not always trained on the technology and may not be able to support it.

Cupertino Union School District’s desire to remove these barriers resulted in winning a $1.4 million multiyear Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) competitive grant, which helped fund the integration of technology into the general education classroom.

The Cupertino Union School District (CUSD), which is located in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, consists of 20 elementary and five middle schools with a diverse student population.

The middle school language arts class, with its heterogeneous student groups, was chosen for the technology integration because research shows that student-centered classrooms, in which teachers develop skills to differentiate instruction, can support individual learning styles and help students with learning difficulties. Instructional technology expands the toolbox of strategies that teachers can use to enrich every student’s educational experience.

Each middle school had two seventh-grade language arts teachers and a special education teacher participate in the program, which involved 700 students in the district during the program’s first year. Every classroom teacher received a wireless computer lab that is connected to scanners, printers and servers, along with multimedia applications, for a rich array of technologies.

The teachers and staff were offered professional development time to support technology proficiency and integration. In addition, an EETT grant coach was hired to facilitate communications among the schools, differentiate assignments, and monitor student proficiency and technology usage.

“The [EETT] coach has been instrumental in supporting our teachers and providing insights into critical issues within the scope of the grant,” reports Michelle Mount, CUSD coordinator of instructional services.

Summer School for Teachers

Professional development for teachers and staff started at a weeklong summer institute. Each teacher received a wireless notebook PC, and training focused on the operating system and hardware, as well as the use of software applications in classroom activities. The applications ranged from Microsoft Word and PowerPoint to Inspiration software and multimedia tools.

Unscheduled time after training was used to plan technology integration into lesson plans. Teachers worked in teams to develop strategies for introducing technology into their classrooms and accommodating a range of student abilities. Using state academic content standards, the teachers created lessons in which technology was a tool for supporting student learning.

Throughout the school year, professional development days were held quarterly with the Santa Clara County Office of Education and Apple Professional Development education consultants. These training sessions were collaborative and participant driven, using projects that could be taken back to the classroom.

For teachers new to the technology, there was some worry that having 35 notebook PCs in the classroom would be overwhelming. This proved not to be the case. “The students were so pleased to have a computer that classroom management was not a problem,” says Susan Jezyk, CUSD’s grant coach.

Teachers were surprised by their students’ sense of ownership and desire to use the computers on a daily basis. Teachers and students learned technology side by side, with the students coaching other students.

Jezyk advised teachers to start with mini-projects at the beginning of the year and to learn the technology with small projects in which the content comes from the students’ own lives. The teachers later added the research component and curriculum content.

All of the participating teachers agreed that differentiating the curriculum should not mean assigning more work to faster students. Steve Burrell, a language arts teacher at Cupertino Middle School, came up with personal interest projects that students could work on when their class work was completed.

“I was worried that they would not take it seriously, but they were energized,” says Burrell. One student, for example, did a project on how the brain is affected when studying.

Peer coaching was another invaluable part of the ongoing communications among the teachers. Monthly meetings and training sessions allowed the exchange of challenges and best practices.

Teachers shared the projects that were working well. They also solicited help on the technology challenges they were encountering, as well as on differentiating the lesson plan for special-needs students.

Technical Support

The notebook computers and servers arrived last summer when most of the staff members were away. The information technology team created disk images for the teachers’ notebook PCs, including third-party software applications, to prepare the computers for summer training.

The servers were installed in the classrooms before the start of the school year. One portable classroom required an upgrade in electrical capacity to handle the new notebooks and server.

Harlin Hansen, technology resource teacher, set up the notebooks and servers. Though developing and installing the images on nearly 300 notebooks was a huge undertaking, Hansen says, “It saved hours of time [later] for the site troubleshooters who restored the crashed disks.”

As the site technology troubleshooters become more familiar with the program, their role is expected to grow. For instance, Lee Appelbaum, a technology specialist at Kennedy Middle School, wrote a tool to create student accounts on the server using the students’ administration records, which will be useful when new students enter the school next year.

A Level Playing Field

Shirley Miller, a language arts teacher at Hyde Middle School, whose mainstream classroom includes students with special needs, says, “[Technology] levels the playing field.” Finding Web sites that support the language arts curriculum and providing choices that differentiate the complexity of the material enable every student to successfully complete their projects.

Miller’s class recently studied Rudyard Kipling’s short story “ Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” The more advanced students paired up for author interviews and biographies, while other students paired up to explore India’s local flora and fauna. Each student chose the format of his or her report, creating a slide show, newspaper article or brochure.

“The lab projects encourage higher-level thinking where students have to make decisions on their own and in teams, which is important for their future,” says Sarah Barrango, language arts teacher at Kennedy Middle School.

Barrango’s students recently filmed alternate endings to “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” a story from their literature book. “The students pitched their ideas to the movie production company—me—using both storyboards and scripts they had developed,” she says. After filming, the students added titles and credits, readying their videos for a movie premiere day in the classroom.

Karen Alyassini, Miller Middle School language arts teacher, reports that technology interests and motivates students who might otherwise tune out. For instance, one of her resource students had trouble handing in his assignments. “Using the computers this year has kept him from ‘turning off’ to school, and he gets more work done,” she says.

Next Year’s Focus

“Improving communications between classroom and home is a focus for next year,” says CUSD’s Jezyk. Teachers are planning regular communications with parents through e-mail and an EETT link on their Web sites that documents technology usage in the classroom. A quarterly newsletter also is being planned. It will focus on professional development and will highlight one or two classroom projects.

Another of next year’s goals is to store student work on the server and to make it accessible to school staff. The 2005 summer institute will present the use of student ePortfolios to share class work on the school intranet.

During the grant’s second year, two eighth-grade language arts classrooms at each middle school will reap the benefits along with their counterparts in seventh grade. The new teachers will have summer training in preparation for the coming school year, and more advanced training is available for last year’s participants. This summer’s professional development will be different, however, since last year’s participants will have classroom-tested experience to share with the group.

With next year’s program doubling to more than 20 teachers and about 1,400 students, this experience is certain to prove valuable.

Writing a Successful Grant Application

The Cupertino Union School District’s ability to win a $1.4 million multiyear Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) competitive grant involved five key steps.

1. Administrative Support

Surprisingly, time was not an issue after getting the right team together. With administrative support releasing members from classroom and instructional activities, the grant-writing team was able to focus on the application and finish the draft in less than two weeks.

“The individual strengths of the team members meant we didn’t have a weak area,” says Harlin Hansen, technology resource teacher for the school district. Other members included a special education teacher, a language arts teacher and the coordinator of instruction.

2. Student Benefit

The grant proposed integrating technology into the general education classroom to eliminate the stigma often felt by special-needs students in a mainstream class. By focusing on a larger target group, all students in a classroom can benefit from the technology, while the teacher can integrate its use into daily activities to support students with special needs.

“It was not about the technology but about better student learning,” says Harvey Barnett of WestEd, a San Francisco-based outside evaluator of the grant.

3. Supporting Research

Grant readers said the proposal was well-researched and that the professional development component had a high probability of success. Middle school research supports the case for heterogeneous groupings of students.

A diverse group of learners, without regard to disability or language development, can be successful in student-centered classrooms where teachers know how to differentiate instruction using technology. Ongoing professional development for teachers on the use of technology has a positive correlation with student use of technology in the classroom.

4. Establishing Partnerships

The grant team realized that partnering with other experts in the education field was necessary to get the right skill set. WestEd developed rubrics for classroom observations and dissemination of best practices. Parents Helping Parents, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based community organization that was created to assist parents of children with special needs, identified parents who could benefit from technology training.

5. Strong Evaluation Strategy

Evaluation was integrated into each component, and a coach was hired to support the overall goals of the program. Data-driven decision-making was built in with pre- and post-surveys of technology usage and proficiency, teacher journals and classroom observations.

Teacher journals included minutes of usage and reflections on technology integration. California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting tests and student portfolios offered quantitative and qualitative methods to assess student academic progress.

Performance Goals and Key Measures

Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT), Title II, Part D of the No Child Left Behind Act, requires grantees to establish performance goals for the use of technology and a schedule for evaluation. The Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) grant application was rated highly based on the integration of evaluation into each component of the proposal and its overall program evaluation.

Increase the percentage of target students using technology as a tool to support state academic content standards as adopted by the State Board of Education.

• Teachers record total minutes of technology use by students to achieve curriculum standards and a weekly reflection in their EETT technology journals.

• Students take the California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP2) Technology Proficiency Test at the beginning and end of the year.

• Quarterly classroom observations are conducted by the grant coach and outside evaluator to assess technology integration in classroom.

Increase target teachers’ proficiency in technology and use of technology as a tool to support target student academic achievement.

• Teachers complete the CTAP2 Technology Proficiency Assessment and Technology Use Survey at the beginning and end of the year.

• Quarterly classroom observations are conducted by the grant coach and outside evaluator to assess technology use and integration in classroom.

• Teachers record their progress in a technology proficiency journal along with minutes of instruction, lesson preparation and adaptation to student’s individual needs utilizing technology.

• California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting tests and seventh-grade writing assignment scores are used to assess student academic progress.

• Student portfolios provide a qualitative assessment of academic progress.

Expand access for all students and teachers in the target group to up-to-date technology tools and electronic learning resources.

• The California School Technology Survey, which includes an average student-to-computer ratio, is submitted by all participating schools annually. Target decreases in the ratio are calculated using baselines from 2003-2004.

• Fund lab time outside of class for up to two hours weekly to foster independent mastery of the technology and record student attendance.

Increase the percentage of teachers who communicate to parents monthly using online technology available through this grant, such as e-mail distribution lists and online newsletters.

• Parent surveys are conducted twice a year to assess the quality of communication from school to home.

• CUSD allows all middle-school parents to monitor student attendance and grades.

Una Daly has been the technology coordinator at Christa McAuliffe K-8 School in Saratoga, Calif., for the last five years and has written several articles on the use of wireless computers in the classroom.