The ‘right direction’Published 12:36pm Friday, September 14, 2012
When it comes to the use of technology, Central Middle School in Coosa County “has grown by leaps and bounds” according to Coosa County Schools Superintendent Dennis Sanford.
“We know we’re going in the right direction for these students,” Sanford said.
CMS started becoming more technologically savvy thanks to a federal grant through the Alabama State Department of Education for $5.8 million in 2010.
“Unfortunately our middle school was one of the schools that was in school improvement,” Sanford said. “You had to be in school improvement to even apply for the grant.”
The school system was chosen as one of four to receive grants as part of phase one of a plan to impact school improvement and produce adequate yearly progress – and it’s working.
“If you’ve had several years that you didn’t make AYP and you’re in school improvement, you know that what you’re doing is not working,” Sanford said. “This was a great opportunity … We’ve made AYP here the last three years.”
Every subject taught at CMS makes
use of the technology available – everything from SMART Boards to document cameras to flip cameras and laptops, as well as programs like Windows Movie Maker – with the teachers learning a thing or two as well.
“One thing we had in place with the funding was quite a bit of professional development,” said Todd Wingard, CMS principal. “You can get all the stuff in the world, but if you don’t have the professional development and the training of how to use it, it won’t be used.”
Wingard said although some teachers were wary of the technology in the beginning, weekly training with Information Transport Solution of Wetumpka got teachers up to speed on everything available to them – like MyBigCampus, a Facebook-esque program where teachers can post lessons and students can chat, collaborate on projects and receive automatic feedback on their work.
While the majority of the new technology and programs are at the middle school, steps to expand into the elementary and high schools are also being taken.
“We’re doing a gradual release of what we can budget per year,” said Andi Wilson, federal programs coordinator.
This year, Wilson said first grade classrooms are getting SMART Boards and ELMO document cameras. It is also in their strategic plan, Wilson said, to begin teaching Powerpoint in second grade and above.
“When the children come to fifth grade, the teachers are really not going to have to take a lot of time instructing on how to do a Powerpoint or how to use Word,” Wilson said.
Wingard said one huge impact of their use of technology is in giving pre-tests and post-tests, where the students get immediate results.
“We typically had a lot of A and B students, but when it would come time for state testing, we didn’t see those type of results,” Wingard said.
He said when they started giving post-tests, they would still see high grades in teachers’ grade books, but they weren’t being reflected in the post-tests.
“That was a real eye-opener, when we would have tough conversations with parents: ‘Why does my kid have an A in your class but they made an F on the post-tests?’ That’s hard to explain,” Wingard said.
But with a greater focus on specific standards to cover and the technology to help them do that, Wingard said scores have improved.
“When we started using that technology, we saw students begin to get more engaged and do more of the work,” Wingard said.
Wilson and Sanford also touted the distance learning labs, which are available at each school and allow for things like virtual field trips and collaboration on education with other counties.
And the teachers are excited about it too – like first-year eighth grade science teacher Haley York.
“I was so excited when I came to interview for this job and they started telling me all the things that were available,” York said. “I just started praying I would get the job.”
York said her class uses clickers every day at the beginning of class for bell work, and her class will also make use of the laptops for online science labs.
“It just makes my job so much easier,” York said. “It’s wonderful.”