Are brighter futures through edtech within reach?
Tuesday, July 24, 2018
Possibilities for using technology in schools are endless — but the conditions that nurture successful educational technology programs boil down to a handful. Institutions that boast excellent outcomes associated with their high-tech capabilities had three common traits; detailed technology visions and plans, teacher and student involvement in technology planning, and formal evaluation of technology effectiveness.
These findings were based on a global survey evaluating 22 evidence-based edtech capabilities. Some 481 educators from 10 countries were asked to grade their success in achieving or advancing outcomes in the areas of test scores, teacher satisfaction, school rating or ranking, and career readiness.
Young games programmers create their own fun and futures
All these things are happening at the South Fayette School District in the southwestern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Computational thinking, human-centered design and innovation mindset form the vision of what they’re striving to inspire in students.
A special report published in Education Week zeroed in on one group of 10-year-olds engaged in creating their own games in a video game-development studio that has the trappings of a professional one, except for its location in a fifth-grade classroom.
Expertly guided by their young tech-savvy teacher, they practice their newly learned skills in using the kid-friendly programming language Scratch.
Readers learn that the teacher has been brought up to speed only within the last year thanks to comprehensive training and development. Her growth is nurtured by a fertile environment of peer collaboration and backing from the higher tiers.
The leadership and relentless work of Superintendent Billie Rondinelli, who is committed to making sure her students are globally competitive, is a major driving force behind the district’s phenomenal technology program.
Fab Labs is fabulous for students with special needs
Elsewhere in the state of Pennsylvania, behavior immediately improved in students with special needs and those with mental health issues after a high-tech fabrication lab was piloted in one of Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit campus schools, which receive youth who don’t adapt to traditional education methods and settings.
The lab, funded by a Chevron grant, was bought to support the school’s plan to transform its learning approach to a hands-on and project-based one.
Tinkering with technology and experiencing their new power and accomplishments as makers completely shifted the students’ attitudes, blogs Amanda Baker in Scientific American. They became more social and collaborative with classmates. Even students who’d previously refused to talk presented their projects confidently in front of panels.
What children envisioned for their futures also got brighter. In their exit surveys, some mentioned ambitions to build skills to pursue technical positions after graduation, whereas in the past, graduates saw themselves employed in the fast-food industry.
Juxtaposition of districts paints bleak picture
Like the aforementioned students, what children from high-poverty communities stand to gain is significant. Yet, as noted in the previous article in the series, populations that could most benefit from the boost high-quality technology education offers are usually those with the least access.
The report that gave readers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of a fifth-grade classroom’s game programming project reveals contrasting scenarios in a different school, as the writer juxtaposes two districts a mere 10 miles from another but worlds apart in terms of demographics and technology.
Sto-Rox High School has between 30 and 60 dormant Chromebooks for its 1,300 students. Incidentally, it’s in a district where 77 percent of the students are poor and 33 percent white.
In the other district, where 80 percent of students are white and just 13 percent are poor, each floor in the intermediate school has a large central room designed for student collaboration on projects, such as producing videos and programming robots.
Teacher development, the digital divide’s looming issue
The disparity in equipment and facilities is but the tip of the iceberg. A deeper problem now lies in the lack of educators sufficiently trained to provide students with an effective technology education, according to the report funded by a grant. Interestingly, the publication has been covering the digital divide separating technology haves and have nots in Pittsburgh since about the year 2000.
Many teachers aren't finishing college with adequate preparation to navigate this new digital environment, and professional development for practicing teachers hasn’t kept up with the pace of technological change. That’s magnified in low-income districts.
"Teachers in high-poverty schools are consistently less likely than their counterparts to say they've received technology-integration training," reports writer Benjamin Herold.
Along with limited resources, schools in high-poverty districts typically have more urgent concerns, to which professional development for technology takes a back seat. Time for teachers to collaborate or a develop a culture where they push each other to explore more powerful uses of classroom technology appear to be unaffordable luxuries.
Organizations push for equity in technology education
The persistent inequality in western Pennsylvania’s schools — a pattern that repeats itself throughout the nation — has not gone unnoticed.
As long as district funding is tied to property taxes, a level playing field is highly unlikely however organizations are pushing to make a dent in the problem. The Education Week piece mentions the Grable Foundation, which helps fund initiatives like Remake Learning, a network that’s viewed as a national model for how to support STEM, STEAM, maker education, computer science, and similar innovative learning approaches.
Designers of the Remake Learning initiative make it clear that its mission to boost disadvantaged groups is about unleashing the power they have to contribute to society, share their unique talents and create solutions as members of our global community.
Sunanna Chand, director of Remake Learning puts it like this, "Often equity conversations can be simplified to ‘We need to help these populations because they don’t have as much,’ when really our equity mission is to uplift the brilliance and voices of these populations, and to get all learners lit up by learning."
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