Twin Falls District has made a commitment to install and improve technology. Approximately 16 miles of fiber-optic cable connect more than 1,200 district computers to the Internet. Voice messaging and email keep communication channels open among the district, teachers, parents, and the community. All O'Leary staff members communicate through email.
In the state of Idaho, teachers are required to pass the Idaho State Technology Competency Exam certifying knowledge of effective uses of technology for teaching and learning. Twin Falls District set a goal to be the first district with 100% technology-certified teachers. All team teachers have passed this exam.
For the It's a Wild Ride project, the teachers wanted to use photogates, a probeware tool which offers precise measurement of motion. The school had not acquired any, yet Meile and Theresa managed to convince a company to send them two.
"It would be impossible to accomplish all this without technology. Whether we are number crunching or running simulations, making predictions or organizing information and examining results, technology is the key. Technology enables students to manage more complex problems that have genuine meaning. Students can link up with true experts and become involved with the actual process of problem solving with meaning and rigor."
At O'Leary there are three main rooms where students can access networked computers. Teachers must schedule their use in advance. The Albertson's Lab, provided to O'Leary through a major grant from the Albertson's Foundation, contains 25 networked computers and a teaching station. Computers are arranged in groups on seven tables. There are CD writers and scanners available for student use. Videoconferencing equipment, an Elmo, and a Smartboard are also in the room. Two digital cameras, one digital video camera, and one set of probeware for CBLs complete the technology available to teachers and students. When the lab is not in use with students during the school day, these classrooms are used for staff professional development.
The library, located near Jill's classroom, also supports 25 computers linked to the Internet. The library media specialist supports student work, providing guidance in research and information literacy skills. Each classroom contains at least one computer, used by teachers for presentations, group demonstrations by students, and individual student work. Language arts classrooms contain six computers, as well as 25 Alpha Smart keyboards.
O'Leary has one full-time technical support person who is responsible for maintaining and upgrading machines. Additionally, each teacher-team identifies one team member to fulfill the role of 'technology support person' for that particular team. This person represents his/her team on the district's Technology Committee.
The teachers know that students come in with basic computer knowledge and technology skills. However, they still devoted time to formally walk students through certain processes. For example, Theresa explained how to use Inspiration to build a concept map and add notes. They also needed a demonstration for creating a database record for the roller coaster Web sites and then sorting and searching the database.
"Most students come with some knowledge of word processing and Internet skills. Projects still require formal teaching of technology skills to help students transfer their skills to the content of the project at hand."
All teachers on the team had reservations, at times, about the inconvenience of technology. There were inevitable delays when something didn't work or a file got lost or an application wouldn't open. Meile found that calibrating the probeware took tremendous patience and care to get accurate readings. Nonetheless, they each had moments of seeing the undeniable value of technology in helping students to really a grasp new concept or show what they understand.
"Technology should help students explore concepts on their own that would otherwise be impossible. Lessons need to give students the flexibility to test their own ideas and validate (or invalidate) their hypotheses. Technology can also best help students organize their new learning into creative presentations that all students can learn from. This level of processing is often entirely missing from most curriculums and yet it is one of the most important tasks students can do to cement their new knowledge."
"When it comes to new technology you have to be resourceful at times. Not many districts supply exactly what you want or need to enhance the curriculum. Perseverance is the key to getting what you need for your classroom."