Technology in the Classroom: The Pathway to Integration

By Hilary Mahan, MBEF Board Member

Technology. It’s the buzzword of the 21st century. Handheld devices, apps, social media sites, even emoji’s…are infiltrating our daily lives. Technology went from a cumbersome desktop computer with limited use to a talking Smart Phone that you wouldn’t dare leave behind. So it’s no surprise that the obsession with technology has made its way into today’s classroom too. The innovative and creative tools now easily accessible have changed the future of education forever.

MBUSD has been on the forefront of exploring the connection of technology and the classroom, introducing iPads to one grade level at each elementary school through a pilot program in 2011/2012. The Administration and School Board recognized the exciting and inevitable use of technology in the classroom and the efforts were accelerated during the 2012/2013 school year by bringing the pilot program to the middle school. Next, teachers at all school sites were supplied with an iPad and MacBook laptop by the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), and MBEF committed to help fund the District’s efforts.

Just as with the introduction of any new concept, there is a significant learning curve along the way. The introduction of new technology in our schools did not go without its hiccups, but the desire to harness the potential power was unwavering. Mobile technology in hand, our teachers and students are equipped for the 21st century. But it takes more than just a device to take full advantage of its benefits. Among the MBUSD goals for 2014-2015, is the crucial objective of focusing on the career development and continuous learning for all staff, including teachers and support staff. Specifically, MBUSD is committed to “integrating technology as a 21st century tool for teaching and learning, utilizing TOSA’s (teacher on special assignment) to support teachers and developing recommended uses for technology at each grade level and /or subject area.” And that is where the Teachers on Special Assignment in 21st Century Teaching and Learning, and Instructional Technology come in. Armed with impressive backgrounds in education and technology integration, we are fortunate to have three experts to lead us along the way:

Gretchen Gabreski –
TOSA 21st Century Teaching and Learning
Jason Marshall –
TOSA Instructional
Technology
Paula Noda –
TOSA Instructional
Technology
Grechen Gabreski Jason Marshall PaulaNoda

The team is passionate about integrating state-of-the-art technology into lessons by staying current with what is happening in the world. Ms. Gabreski says that part of their job is to provide best practices and assistance to use technology for innovation and creation. They find the best out there and bring it to the classroom. Each TOSA is charged with one or two focus schools at the elementary level and bring their expertise and energy to each campus. Gone are the days when students went to a computer lab for 45 minutes once a week or even once a month. Now, the lab is in the classroom and can take place at any time in any subject area.

The TOSA’s work closely with the District’s Technology Committee made up of almost 40 administrators, teachers and parents. Together they are determining the scope and sequence of the skills necessary to develop a 3-year technology plan that clearly defines the MBUSD vision. It will identify where the District is going and what devices are needed to get there. Ms. Noda points out that this includes identifying “the minimal skills by grade level that the students should know or master, as well as different activities to help them develop those skills in the classroom.”

They began their efforts surveying the teachers to determine the needs of each individual. As former classroom teachers themselves, Ms. Gabreski states that they understand how much time it takes to develop lessons, work with students, and communicate with parents. The role of the TOSA is to provide assistance with moving lessons forward with increased access and skills, as well as driving curriculum. Ms. Noda adds that there is a lot expected of MBUSD teachers – particularly the new adoptions of Common Core and new technology – and the TOSA’s strive to bring these changes to all classrooms, not just those that are comfortable with them. The team has developed blogs that are centered around activities that teachers can use to utilize technology in the classroom. Ms. Noda finds that some teachers are looking for the next new best thing in education technology, while others are looking at how to replace an older activity with a new technology model. The team also hosts “appy hours”, minus the wine and cheese of course, to introduce new concepts through a brief intro, or to learn a particular application like Doodle Buddy. It is clear that they want to meet the needs of teachers and will make themselves available, whether coaching in the classroom, at collaboration meetings, or otherwise providing expertise.

When asked about a single moment that has epitomized the potential of technology in a fourth grade classroom, Mr. Marshall recalls the students in a Robinson classroom utilizing Mystery Hangout. Mystery Hangout is a social game played between two groups of students, perhaps nationally or internationally. The objective is to determine where each group is located by asking geographical questions. The first group to guess the other’s location wins. It’s not only fun for the students but it also involves the 4 C’s: they are being creative in their thinking, they are communicating with each other, each group is collaborating with each other to determine the best questions to ask, and they are developing critical thinking skills in discovering the location.

While our teachers strive to teach our students how to incorporate technology productively into their education, we as parents have a similar responsibility. A handheld device does not mean it must be in hand at all times. The beauty of technology is to create, not just consume, as Ms. Gabreski eloquently expressed, and when we as parents become dependant on technology ourselves, we are setting a similar course for our children. We must be careful not to model the very behavior we are trying to avoid.

We can rest assured that while in the classroom, our children are being challenged to use technology in the very best way possible. And as technology evolves, this key technology team will keep us on the right course.

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About Manhattan Beach Education Foundation

Manhattan Beach Education Foundation is an independent 501 (c) 3 non-profit established by parents and community leaders to support quality public education in Manhattan Beach. Since 1983, MBEF has granted much needed funds to supplement state funding and has helped MBUSD continually rank in the top three school districts in California. With more than 3,000 donors and annual grants exceeding $5 million, MBEF is one of the oldest and most successful foundations in the state.