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What's Working In ... Education (Benton Foundation)

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  What's Working In...

During the research process for The Learning Connection: Schools in the Information Age, we interviewed many educators about their real-world experience using computers in the classroom. While the Learning Connection touches upon their experience, this What's Working in Education goes into greater detail about the "hows" and "how nots," and other lessons learned in the field. We kept this document large so you could print it out in whole, but you may also go directly to the issue of most interest to you: Getting started -- technology planning What about the Three R's? Educational Content Supporting teachers Class size Paradigm shifts Low-tech, high impact The visionary Profile: Green Valley High School Acknowledgements

Getting Started -- technology planning  [back to top]

From our discussions with educators, three general approaches to technology planning emerged, in most cases not necessarily designed as such. If you build it, they will come. This model sees the installation of the technical infrastructure (phone lines, local area network, Internet connectivity) installed first, with the apparent assumption or intent that curriculum integration and teacher training and use will follow. But will it? Green Valley High School (Henderson, NV) has had Internet access for four years, but teachers aren't using it in the classroom much: "Next year will be the optimal year for teacher training," its technology coordinator told us, although she also mentioned they were still struggling with how much to support professional development in technology applications. Knoxville Middle School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has a large networked lab with high speed Internet connectivity. How are the children using it? They're building web pages that list their favorite sports personalities, rock stars and television shows. Morse High School in San Diego is entering its third year of an NSF grant-supported project to wire the schools and implement a school-to-career program. Although their networking infrastructure is quite solid, few of their project plans are in place. They are only now getting into teacher-training issues.

Neither of these had any teacher training built in from the beginning; however when teachers are ready to use the technology, the infrastructure will be in place.

Implement now, the planning will follow. The next schools integrated the curriculum from the start, sometimes even before any formal technology planning takes place. St. Ambrose is a parochial school in Maryland that demonstrates both the ease smaller and especially non-public schools have implementing technology plans, and the role that experienced, innovative educators brings to the process. "We don't have all the bureaucracy of a public school," says Joanne Rojas, Principal. "Teachers have flexibility and autonomy regarding what and how they teach in the classrooms." St. Ambrose's experience has served as the model upon which the archdiocese is building out a technology plan for its other schools. At Sunnyside Elementary School in Pullman, Washington, technology became part of the curriculum from the beginning of the technology planning process. A networking pioneer teacher started using email in her classroom, saw the benefits to the students and through her experience generated commitment to meaningful uses of technology from other teachers and administrators. When the district was ready to fully implement their technology planning process, her school had experiences to demonstrate practical applications of its use. At Clear View, a charter school in Chula Vista, California, technology planning has always involved the teachers from the start, and always focused on how best to meet the educational needs of the students. Technology only follows curricular goals. Many people think that the public school system in Bellingham, Washington, went about incorporating technology into its programs in just the right way. Instead of developing an approach where technology was dealt with separate from curricular goals, school officials hammered out a set of "essential student learnings," defining what they wanted students to master. Only after envisioning what they wanted to accomplish did planners begin to think about installing computers and phone lines.

In addition, officials knew they had strong public support: the people of Bellingham readily accepted the notion that computers are enough a part of modern life that kids should have them in the schools. Voters bought into the project when they approved a $6 million bond issue.

Bellingham's technology strategy was ambitious, setting out to install networked computers in every one of its classrooms. Along the way, planners realized some unexpected benefits: the quickest pay-off from its investment, officials say, came when parents voiced great pleasure that they could actually reach their kids or their kids' teachers by telephoning the classroom directly.

The district also recognized the need for on-site teacher training, setting aside funds that enabled a group of "mentor" teachers to leave their classrooms for a year and work with other teachers on developing ways to use the new system in their classes. As more teachers got involved, the district spun out a growing set of lesson plans for professional development.

Time will tell if one approach is more effective than another. Those focusing on technological infrastructure first may end up being better prepared to integrate technology more widely into their classrooms. Morse High School may be installing infrastructure first, but they're doing so with a clear vision of adapting it into the school's educational goals. Green Valley's technology implementation was driven predominantly by a librarian and former teacher. While not yet fully integrated into curriculum, their planning has come from teachers, not administrators, creating likelihood of greater teacher buy-in and adoption.

Technology is not the solution

One lesson stands out: it is dangerous to assume that technology in and of itself is any panacea for today's educational challenges.

Belridge Elementary School in McKittrick, California is frequently mentioned as a school that adopted high technology only to have it yanked after just two years. In 1989 and 1990, thanks to increased tax revenues from local oil development, school officials spent almost $5 million in communication technologies. Each teacher and student had a computer for school use and one for home. Students were making use of CD-ROMS, laserdisk players, video and audio production facilities, a television station, multiple Internet servers, and then state-of-the-art computer technology. But when test scores two years later indicated no improvement at all, parents picketed the school, the district removed the school superintendent, and hired a "back-to-basics" replacement who pulled the plug on student use of most of the technology.

What went wrong? "The former superintendent was a visionary; there was no doubt about it," says Steve Wentland, current superintendent. "Everything he envisioned, districts are doing now: training, testing, implementing, in-service. The problem was that he saw technology as the epitome of saving education. Technology is simply a tool, but he believed it was more than that. If a kid came in with a question about a math problem, he sent them home to work it out on a computer. He decreased the amount of time kids were in the classroom. Our experience, which is backed up by research done at UCLA, is that kids need more time in the classroom, along with the oral participation with teachers. Our former superintendent was a great visionary about technology, but the management of the technology wasn't right. He spent too much money and brought in technology too fast. The teachers were forced to implement the technology without really having a handle on why they should."

Wentland has been slowly and quietly bringing technology use back into the classroom. "Technology is no longer out in the forefront. The student is. The curriculum is. I don't tell the teachers what to do with the technology; they tell me what they want to do."

Involving all stake-holders in the planning process is critical.

As Cynthia Montoya, of Green Valley High School learned, educating district administrators is imperative to a school's technology planning. Montoya was quite successful in raising grants and other monies to implement her school's technology infrastructure. But then she found herself held back by the district's ignorance of what she was trying to accomplish. "I raised money for four modems and four phone lines. But it took me another year-and-a-half to get the phone lines installed." Her district had a one-phone-line-per-school policy. On top of that, a district restructuring resulted in her technology projects being processed through the district's rehabilitation division, responsible for retrofitting walls and doors, but not well versed in computer technology. "My purchase orders would sit on someone's desk for weeks, even though the money was available; the staff just didn't understand what was being ordered." After much finagling and educating, she and her technology committee convinced the district to have information system staff consult in rehab projects involving technology.

Texas has 50,000 teachers registered on its statewide Texas Educational Network (TENET), and users are clamoring for greater access. How did Texas get such tremendous support for technology from its educational community? Teachers were involved from the very beginning in the design of the state's educational plan and their needs were a focus of the project. In 1989, the Texas State Legislature authorized the Long-Range Plan for Technology 1988-2000, and appropriated $6 million to begin to implement the initiatives. Included in the plan was the establishment of an electronic information system for Texas educators. In 1990, TENET was born -- at the same time as the other major educational technology initiatives in the state, and not as an afterthought as many professional development aspects of technology programs are done.

TENET director Connie Stout had done her homework on what teachers would use. "We held focus groups, not just for the teachers, but for the administrators and the secretaries and asked, 'What would make your job easier? What would you really like to be able to do?' For example, people answered, 'we want to know about jobs,' so there is a jobs announcement section on the website. We didn't ask, 'What would you do with the Internet?' Because if people aren't familiar with the Internet, then they won't be able to answer that question."

TENET staff continue to poll educators about their needs and what TENET's role should be. Stout explained, "this Monday and Tuesday I've got a group of librarians coming in for a focus group. We want to know, 'Now that you've got access to the Internet, what else would help you?' We listen to this group's needs and they help us develop policies on issues like intellectual property." [More about TENET.]

Related resources:

Bellingham Public Schools
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory
National Center for Technology Planning

What about the three Rs?   [back to top]

A community can make or break a school's technology efforts, as we saw from Belridge's experience described above. That community represented hundreds like it concerned that technology in the classroom diverts learning away from the basics of reading, writing and math. In the case of Belridge, the parents weren't convinced. But other schools are seeing that it's not an either/or situation at all; in fact, technology use in some classrooms exposes children to complex, real-world issues, and motivates them to acquire the sophisticated thinking skills they'll need to live and work in the twenty-first century.

In addition to improved test scores, teachers at California's Clear View charter school have seen that students are more motivated, enrollment has increased, and classroom participation is enthusiastic. "It no longer satisfies the student to read a chapter in an outdated textbook and answer questions," Principal Ginger Hovenic told us. "By using technology, the children learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic while developing essential work-related skills and positive self-esteem."

At Sunnyside Elementary in Pullman, Washington, the basics were incorporated into technology use from the beginning, enabling them to demonstrate to parents, other teachers, administrators and policymakers that the use of technology IS enhancing educational efforts and improving student learning.

More specifically, teacher Kristi Rennebohm Franz has been using email and the Internet in her first-grade classroom since 1993. In a global arts project done in coordination with the International Education and Resource Network (I*EARN, described further below), she pursued three curricular goals: to communicate something visually, to work on literacy, and to address multilingualism. Students are asked to draw a picture about a particular theme, write about their drawing, and to share the picture and text with students around the world. "We talk about what they're drawing. If they've drawn a picture of themselves with a sibling, we ask 'where are you?' If they are in the backyard, we talk about adding something to the picture to indicate that. We talk together to extend their ideas."

After exchanging the artwork through regular postal mail, the students engage in email follow-up, asking further questions about the content of the artwork sent by their peers around the world. "Not only does this engage the student in an inquiry about similarities and differences, but it also requires to the student to really think about the words they use. For example, a child may write about playing on the 'jungle gym.' This invariably results in a request for more information, because 'jungle gym' does not translate directly, so the child must delve into more detailed description. Similarly, an Australian child drew a picture that included the Australian 'bush' that instigated a discussion into the different meanings of 'bush' in each country. "From one sentence, you end up with an entire literacy lesson. And, out of the child's own inquiry, the child has done some learning."

These Sunnyside first- and second-graders didn't jump right into global email. "First we established the reality of the people behind the email addresses by sending messages over our local area network," Rennebohm Franz explained. "The student knew the human being behind the email message: 'Oh! This is a message from Fran; I play with her at recess.' Then we moved into email with another school in Washington state, and then we went global. This process built a cognitive connection that allowed the student to attach a human being to the email message."

There are many challenges to implementing joint projects on a global scale. Besides the obvious language barriers, you also have differing social contexts across countries. So how does it work?

The successful uses of I*EARN and similar Internet email projects tend to be those where the teacher has asked "what are we doing in our classroom now that could be enhanced through the use of telecommunications and global connections?"

Kristi Rennebohm Franz also stressed the importance of generating participation and removing any blocks to participation. For example, the Global Arts project included emailing descriptions about the visual pieces the students created. "We didn't want students or teachers to be encumbered by translating all text into English," Kristi explained. "Most importantly, we wanted children around the world to see the first language of their peers. So the global teachers in this project decided that the translation would be the responsibility of the receiving school, not the sender." One exception was the case of the Zuni pueblo children who knew that translation would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, so they translated their own work. For those recipient schools that did decide to translate, they sought and found resources within their communities who helped out.

Themes for the artwork were selected based on what was common across all cultures. The first art project focused on "sense of family". This was a theme that children could easily illustrate, and teachers didn't have to worry about how to get the children involved. "The project was so successful, in terms of generating participation, that we strongly recommend that schools just coming on board with I*EARN's Global Art project do the 'sense of family' project first."

Sunnyside curriculum also takes students into their community. Its teachers recognized that when children take their school work beyond the classroom and they receive a response back, it affirms that what they are learning and what they know is valued by someone else (beyond the teacher and parents). "This gives tremendous energy to what the children care about, and to the learning process as a whole," Rennebohm Franz told us. In addition, Sunnyside is creating environments where children can do something significant with what they're learning.

An I*EARN global habitat project, which began in 1993, first linked 6-8 year olds in two elementary schools located in opposite corners of Washington State. In more recent years, the project has involved schools from eight different countries. The project integrates technology use into science, social studies/geography, literacy and art curricula. Through email, websites, and live Internet video conferences, students share their learning about water habitats with each other and with peers around the world. Participating classes discover the commonalities and the diversity in their local water, and the need for collaborative problem-solving when it comes to restoring water habitats. Shared writings become springboards for further environmental lessons and recognition of the interrelatedness of aquatic ecosystems. In addition, the children are learning that they can have an impact on their surrounding habitat through their schoolwork.

The critics concerned that technology in the classroom detracts from hands-on learning experiences should have been in attendance at the Pullman, Washington park in the winter of 1996. That year's floods devastated the drainage system of the park ponds that the Sunnyside Elementary school children had been monitoring for three years. On one of their excursions to monitor water quality, they found one of the two ponds drained and the fish gasping for survival. Using boards and buckets, human chains of kids and quickly gathered parents, they moved a number of the fish to the other pond. In addition, one of the islands on the pond -- where area birds nested -- was deteriorating in part by the growing muskrat population. All this the students discovered by evaluating current circumstances at the site, as well as comparing it with the data collected by previous years' classes. When they presented their collectived knowledge at an I*EARN video conference with other schools, a remote student recommended the need to get other people in the community caring about the plight of the ponds. The children have met with the supervisor of city parks. "On their first visit, he expected he'd be telling a group of 7-year-olds about the pond," recalls Rennebohm Franz. "Instead, they came with three years worth of data they'd collected and questions about how the park was managing the muskrat population." The children are now working with the city park supervisor to get support for restoring the island as a nesting habitat.

Related resources:

Education Week article about Clear View Charter School.
Discoveries along the Education Superhighway by Clear View principal Ginger Hovenic

Educational Content  [back to top]

As the Learning Connection report discussed, the issue of quality educational content on the Internet concerns critics and proponents of Internet use alike.

"At first it was difficult to find the things I wanted," Fairland Elementary teacher Mary O'Haver told us. "But now I'm more comfortable searching the 'net. One of the questions I frequently get [from other teachers] is 'how does one evaluate the content one finds on the net?' Use common sense, I tell them. There is a Spanish saying that translates to 'Paper holds whatever you put on it.' When you look at a printed publication, you look for the name of the author, sometimes the publisher, and if it has references and a bibliography. Look for the equivalent on the web. If it's not immediately evident on the page you're looking for, back your way up the URL until you get to the source."

A growing number of educators and others are establishing guidelines for appropriate educational materials on the Internet. For example, two librarians at Widener University's library have developed a methodology for evaluating websites for authority, accuracy, objectivity, timeliness and thoroughness ( In another case, a set of schools in Wisconsin and Colorado have joined forces in a project where students select and annotate a list of resources for other K-12 students ( A lengthy list of organizations providing or compiling educational content can be found in the Learning Connections Resources. One such product is ERIC, a service used by many teachers, including O'Haver.

"I used ERIC a great deal at first, checking it regularly to see what was new. But I really enjoy looking at what other teachers have done with their students, and those kinds of sites are ones I tend to stumble upon accidentally." For example, during the snowstorm of 1996, O'Haver was homebound but with access to the World Wide Web. In the process of looking up sites about "snow," she found Mrs. Gerke's First Grade Class at Pearl Creek School in Fairbanks, Alaska ( The first graders were exploring whether or not snowstorms dumped the same amount of snow at each house in town. They learned how to create rulers, how to measure the snow at specific times, and record their findings, and from their findings, report their results and come to a conclusion. The website documented the entire process, making it easily replicable for O'Haver's and others' classes.

O'Haver stresses that her students are producers of valuable resources. "From the beginning, our web space has been a place where we produce resources, not promote ourselves or even our school. The emphasis has always been and continues to be about what value we are adding to the Internet." Partly this has come about because her students have seen that the bulk of the educational material on the Internet is aimed at adults. Much of what they produce, therefore, is re-purposed material on the same subject, but in larger print, with simpler words and more pictures. This has created an incredible resource for other students and teachers around the world to use. "I get email thanking me for projects that students put up two years ago, that other students are finding helpful in their own class work." Fairland Elementary's own web page contains almost 200 student-produced projects that include how the project was done (frequently documented by the students themselves), the results of the project, and online resources related to the project.

Fairland's site also includes ready-to-use plans and handouts for class. For example, years ago, O'Haver realized that most of her fifth grade students didn't know nursery rhymes. "I was teaching them social studies, and we were talking about King George. I mentioned how 'Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie' was really a critical comment about King George. They weren't even familiar with that nursery rhyme." As a result, she created a project with the school's kindergarten teacher and informed her students that they would learn twenty-three nursery rhymes. Then, choosing one, they were to create a poster that would be a lesson plan for the kindergartners. Each poster would include three worksheets: an art activity, a math activity and a reading activity-- all associated somehow with the nursery rhyme. "The results were fantastic, the computers were used in the creation of the posters and the worksheets, and the children came up with projects that were real things that could be used and were used by the kindergarten teacher for many years. Those posters are pretty dog-eared now."

"One time the students became upset when they found conflicting information. The textbooks said that Ponce de Leon was born on one date, but the web site they found gave a different date. One girl was quite indignant: "If they're going to put it on the Internet, they should check their facts!" The result for their research project was that they had to indicate that conflicting information existed about de Leon's exact birth date. "Now the kids are looking for mistakes." This has instilled in them a sense of pride in being sure that their information THEY put on the web does not have mistakes.

But O'Haver doesn't rely on Internet content alone. In fact, she has pretty high expectations for her student projects. "I require that they take notes from four different text books, 2 CD roms, 2-4 'trade' books (non textbooks from the library), and at least one web site. This last is usually done after reading a text book to help the student evaluate what they find on the Internet."

As for access to inappropriate material on the Internet, O'Haver has experienced very little of this in the five years she's been helping kids use technology in the classroom. "First off, the projects are so specific, that the students are pretty focused on finding the information they need. Secondly, they don't have a lot of time on the computer (since it must be shared). Also, I hang around the computer when the kids are online. And, I've spent years in the classroom. I can smell it when some kid is getting distracted from their work-- offline or online." On the rare occasion that they do find inappropriate material, she simply explains that sometimes we find things when we're searching that are not what we're looking for, and gets the kids back on track. Besides, she points out, children are confronted with inappropriate content in their daily lives-- on magazine racks at the local corner store, cable and broadcast television, and the movies. This is just another medium about which children need to be taught judgment.

Related resources:

Fairland Elementary School
NetLessons: Web-Based Projects For Your Classroom, by Laura Parker Roerden. May be ordered online.
Learning Connection Resources (see "Classroom content")

Supporting teachers  [back to top]

The best technology planning and implementation is not going to replace the person we call Teacher. His or her role, even in this changing environment, is still to inspire learning in the lives of students. In our discussions with educators, we asked them to identify key elements that contribute to successful teacher training efforts. Here's what came up again and again.

Teachers training teachers... in the classroom.

Sunnyside Elementary has arranged for release time for some of its more technology-savvy teachers to mentor their peers in their own classrooms. "When the mentoring is done by a peer, in the context of that teacher's own curriculum, the likelihood of buy-in and success is exponentially greater," says teacher Kristi Rennebohm Franz. "The technology curriculum is then generated from within" versus imposed from an outside source. "I also stress that my way is just one way, that this is what works for me, but what works for you might be something entirely different. It's up to the individual teacher to decide what's manageable in his or her class, what fits with their other activities. Teacher ownership of the curriculum is paramount."

"This isn't specific to technology," Kristi Rennebohm Franz goes on to say, "but it would make an incredible difference if the substitute teachers who replace us during our release time were always the same person. This would be provide consistency to the students, ease the job of the substitute, and provide greater peace of mind to the released teacher."

Who pays? Who learns?

Many school districts expect teachers to pay for their own professional development. "Here at Green Valley High School," says librarian Cynthia Montoya, "we're seeing that integrating technology isn't standard professional development as we've known it. We're currently grappling with how much to support teacher training from our budget."

Other educators recognized that they'd need to take their own training in hand. A few years of one teacher volunteering her time and expertise supporting her colleagues in the use of educational technology convinced the administration and the district of the need to budget for technical support staff. Today, her district's budget includes stipend-supported teacher technology coordinators at each school, a district technology expert who visits each school one morning per week, and a district network technician who takes care of the local area and wide area network connections, coming to schools as needed. Hopefully, enough grandwork has been laid by the early volunteer innovators that those coming online today will have an easier path.

A school in Pittsburgh found that the average working experience of its teachers is 28 years of teaching. "Do we re-tool them, or wait for a new breed?" its principal pondered. But Mary O'Haver, who's been training and inspiring educators for many years, noted: "I was surprised, at first, to see that it's more often the older teachers rather than the younger getting on the bandwagon. Then I realized it's because those of us who are older don't necessarily have families at home, and we're also more comfortable in the classroom. The younger teachers are still getting their sea legs in the classrooms, many have families and other obligations outside of school. But me? Well, my kids are grown, I've got the computer in the TV room, and the refrigerator is close at hand. What more do I need?"

Peer support

Teachers at Clear View charter school meet weekly for an hour on Fridays after class is over. "The meetings are voluntary, but no one misses," says principal Ginger Hovenic. Colleagues share what they're learning about applying technology in the classroom, and share what they're students are producing. "We evaluate teacher efforts by the quality of the students' work."

Morse High School's School-to-Career project has resulted in a cross-department council given the task of maintaining the integrity of their subjects, determining what's to be taught, and assessing how to track the students in the program. "In the process," teacher Bart Hays explains, "we start sharing other resources. We had a biology teacher concerned about the amount of time it was taking to learn and set up computer graphing projects for her class. The math teachers, who are graphing on computers quite frequently, offered to do graphing for other departments." One challenge they do have, though is finding enough time to bring these teachers together for more resource and knowledge sharing. "We're currently considering a new time schedule for classes that we hope will help."

An increasing number of online resources have been developed that support the efforts of teachers using technology in the classroom. The The Learning Connection Resources section lists some of them. We highlight two here to paint a picture of how some of these resources are being used by teachers. The first is a state-based initiative instigated by the Texas state department of education; the second is a nonprofit education network consisting of teachers and students around the globe.


In its current form, the Texas Education Network (TENET) described earlier, provides every public school educator in the state with an email account, online academic resources, public data, planned forums, professional support, and development information. As TENET's Director Connie Stout describes it, an educator-focused network was a way to get the support of teachers for educational technology. "We knew we had to prove to educators why they should want to use it. It was a proof of concept project."

Educators' response to TENET was clear -- they loved it. One of the application's main appeals is the communication it provides teachers. "Teachers report that the peer support is tremendous," Stout told us. "They have been so isolated traditionally. We've had teachers say that they would have left the profession by now if this hadn't happened because now finally they have support in the classroom. They can find out so much information from their peers. "


The International Education and Resource Network (I*EARN) was launched by the Copen Family Foundation in 1990 as an international nonprofit network of elementary and secondary schools linked by telecommunications. Now serving schools in over 30 countries, the network enables teachers and students to participate in joint projects where they can investigate mutual areas of concern, theme-based projects that make a meaningful contribution to people, society and the planet.

Schools fill out a membership form and pay modest subscription fee to join I*EARN. One person at the school is designated as a contact person -- usually a classroom teacher or technology coordinator. An account for accessing the online discussions (and for using email, if you don't already have an Internet account) is provided.

I*EARN member schools receive a booklet that describes the I*EARN projects and lists the contact teacher coordinators for each project. Some teachers begin by contacting a teacher to join an ongoing project.

Newcomers also receive a directory of all I*EARN participants listed by country. From that resource they can make individual email connections to begin building teacher collaborations and initiate project ideas as they discuss one another's teaching goals and interests online.

The I*EARN network includes a set of online discussion areas, called electronic conferences, available only to I*EARN members. All current I*EARN projects have conferences where teachers (and sometimes students) post information about a project's progress. This allows newcomers to see how teachers implement projects and provides an opportunity for new teachers to join in on a particular project. Teachers also share challenges and new ideas. Sunnyside Elementary teacher Kristi Rennebohm Franz tells us this is where she got started with implementing Internet use in her curriculum. "I just kept reading new ideas being posted and invitations from other teachers to join them in projects. When I saw something that looked like a fit to our classroom, I responded and off we were on a meaningful project journey."

Kristi Rennebohm Franz goes on to tell us that often what happens is that as teachers begin with one project, other projects begin to emerge from the collaboration among schools. "For example, we began a water habitat project between another Washington state elementary school and my classes, but as we got to know one another as teachers and the children became acquainted, more ideas of things we could do together online emerged."

Related resources:

NetLearning: Why Teachers Use the Internet, by Ferdi Serim & Melissa Koch. May be ordered online.
Online Internet Institute

Class size  [back to top]

Equally important to all other efforts to create a good environment for teacher training and successful integration of technology into education is that of class size. There are those who would contend that computers in the classroom will allow the teaching of more students by less teachers. "This is a diversionary tactic away from necessary school reform," claims Kristi Rennebohm Franz. "In order for anything to make a difference, including technology, you must have a manageable class size. If we've got to prove that our investment in technology is making a difference in learning, then we must create an environment where learning is going to succeed. This means small class sizes. We cannot as a nation allow any child to be in a classroom that is not an optimal environment for teacher-student interaction."

Steve Wentland, principal at Belridge, also decries claims that computers in the classroom can teach more students. "We're getting more out of the students, meaning teachers reading more, correcting more. And we're required to teach more things all the time. Technology certainly enhances education, but it by no means replaces the teacher."

These and other educators call upon the nation to make the case that education is a priority in this country.

Paradigm shifts  [back to top]

Some teachers find it a difficult pill to swallow, but today's students often have more comfort, if not down-right expertise, in some of the technology coming into the classroom. Almost all of the teachers with whom we spoke who are actively implementing computer technology in the classroom have overcome the hurdle of letting students teach them.

"I've even incorporated this into the curriculum," says Patricia Weeg of Delmar Elementary School. "When a new piece of software comes in, I assign a particular student to researching how it works, then providing a demonstration to the rest of the class -- including me!"

Morse High School's technology coordinator, John Shacklett expands on this point. "When you put a computer into a classroom, there are all sorts of installing and checking that need to get done. We don't have the staff resources to do it all ourselves, so we're training the students to help us. They insert ethernet cards, make patch cables, install and test software -- all skills that will help students in the workplace."

"We learn by trial and error," St. Ambrose principal Joanne Rojas told us. "The biggest obstacle we've had to get over was our fear of making mistakes. But once over that, and we see we're all in this together, the teachers have learned right along with the students."

Morse High School teacher Bart Hays, who has 20 years of teaching under his belt, also encourages teachers to let go of the old paradigm that teachers are first and foremost deliverers of content, and the fear that technology cuts into their teaching time. "Your job is to teach. Using technology does take some time away from content, but I've found it generates far more interest; the kids are learning better. They're getting something that can be used in other courses. I'm constantly re-assured every time I put them on the computers. They're so excited and they get so much done. The attitude towards the entire class changes. They respect me because I'm giving them something useful."

Ginger Hovenic, principal at Clear View charter school, also recommends patience. "You've got to give the whole school time to learn and reflect on what's possible and what works. Your priority should always be on staff development, not equipment. Don't let the equipment drive the curriculum. And always, always, keep your focus on what's best for the educational needs of the student."

Fairland Elementary's Mary O'Haver, who has been using computers in the classroom since 1992, explained that the author of a book doesn't tend to concern herself with the binding, or the print and paper selection of the book. She is most focused on content, on the message being conveyed. "Teachers are like authors. Their primary interest and focus is on the content and the end result-- empowering young people to learn. Technology is simply a tool to help enhance and extend what teachers are already doing. Don't forget," she reminds teachers, "we've been using 'multimedia' for generations: a pencil with an eraser on paper with words and pictures and crayons."

Low tech, high impact  [back to top]

With all the attention that educational technology is getting, many schools are feeling pressured to spend their money on only the best. This is particularly hampered by the reality that computers bought today are immediately on the road to obsolescence, so we better get top of the line now. But many schools are doing exciting things with "low-end" computers and very little money.

"You may be surprised to know that the bulk of our computers are older Macs with only 40 megabyte hard drives," Fairland Elementary's Mary O'Haver told us. "Not what you would call power houses, but I sure have learned it isn't what you have but what you do with it."

Fairland Elementary has 28 Apple Macintosh LCs (available now for about $300 each) with 8 megs of RAM and 40 megabyte hard drives networked to a Quadra with an 80 megabyte hard disk that acts as a file server. They use Netscape 1.1 freeware (they don't have enough RAM for anything higher), word-processing software, a simple desktop publishing package, and a graphics slide-show program called "KidPic" ($40-50) that allows you to produce slide shows with pictures and sound. Fifth grade teacher Mary O'Haver explained how she implemented this technology:

"I had the class read Old Yeller with the assignment to make one KidPic picture for each of the sixteen chapters. We even figured out how to get the KidPic files onto the web. We separated the audio from the graphic with a graphic converter I found on the Internet. Then we used Sound Edit Pro to grab the "resource fork" of the sound portion of the file. This lets you actually edit the sound, deleting, for example, the breathing before or after a sentence. Then we saved the file in AIFF format which is web-compatible."

Because they only have one phone line connected to a 14.4 modem, teachers download web sites with an $8 shareware product called History. "Once the sites are downloaded and viewed, they are in cache (memory). They come up much faster during subsequent uses." (A similar commercial program is WebWhacker.)

"We put the little money we do have into peripherals that add quality to our older machines. For example, the school has a video camera, so, with a few hundred dollars, we bought a video digitizing board for the computers. We use software called Screenplay on our old Quadra 700, that allows students to edit the video and get stills for their web pages. A flatbed scanner and microphones allow them to add other visual images and sound as well."

And while O'Haver may have to scrounge around the Internet and elsewhere looking for software and hardware that works on these older machines, she always finds what she wants or needs.

O'Haver and her colleagues show how ingenuity, perserverance and creativity can stretch a dollar across many classroom lessons.

Visionaries and Innovators  [back to top]

With so much attention being paid to technology, we tend to forget that individual human beings are the ones making a difference in communities, in schools, in classrooms, in the lives of children. You can have all the technology in the world, but without a visionary to see its applicability, computers and the Internet contribute little.

It's not about buying the best equipment. It's not about what will make the school look good. It's about enhancing students' learning, and inspiring and supporting teachers in doing what they already do well.

That's not a direct quote; it's a compilation from the various teachers we spoke with. None of them know each other; they live in different parts of the country, teaching in environments as diverse as this country can put out. Some have money; some have none. But what they all share is a commitment to the quality of children's education. And they all have played similar roles: Cynthia Montoya, through research and perserverance, finally demonstrated to her principal the need and value to commit funds to technology infrastructure. Ginger Hovenic enrolled the participation of community businesses, not just in giving money and equipment, but in participating in the education projects of her students. Kristi Rennebohm Franz empowered her students to take their lessons beyond the classroom, to their community and to the rest of the world. Mary O'Haver wouldn't be stopped by the lack of resources; she used what was available and what was affordable to contribute not only to her children's educations, but to curricular resources available to all educators.

These and hundreds of other educational innovators have served and are serving as pioneers for tomorrow's teachers. The groundwork they've laid will make implementing technology all the more powerful for the teachers and students who come after. The unpaid hours and hours and hours of time they've spent is providing districts around the country with the experience and lessons needed to build ongoing support and professional development into their technology implementation.

Green Valley High School - Making it work   [back to top]

In response to the tremendous population growth, Clark County (which includes Las Vegas) built Green Valley High School in 1992, and hired Cynthia Montoya as school librarian. She did not know that she would also become the chief proponent of the school's adoption of communications technology. And she did not know what it would take to pull it all off.

An educator for 19 years (13 as a librarian), Montoya recognized the need for her students to have access to and knowledge of technology in this predominantly service-worker population. Montoya took initiative and began researching what would be involved to implement a technology infrastructure. "I feel like a subcontractor; I know more about wiring than I ever thought I'd know."

Today, Green Valley High School has a T1 connection to the Internet, a fiber optic local area network, four "drops" in each classroom, one computer per classroom (with plans for four per classroom by the fall of 1997), and seven computer labs filled with both Apple Macintosh and IBM-compatible computers. How did it get there?

Librarian as fundraiser

After pressing her principal for the entire school year, Montoya finally received $17,000 to start installing computers and infrastructure. With the cooperation of a local library, she raised an additional $7,000 from a congressional program that gives money to state library committees. This paid for four modems, four phone lines, and one computer. However, despite the success in raising funds, it took Montoya an additional year-and-a-half to change their one-line-per-school policy and install additional phone lines.

In 1994, a Department of Commerce National Telecommunications Infrastructure Administration grant of $26,000 (which was matched by the school district), supported the installation of the fiber optic local area network, connecting the library, classrooms and computer labs.

Librarian as technical consultant

In addition to fundraising efforts, and convincing her principal and school board of the importance of technology, Montoya spear-headed the creation of a technology committee and school technology plan. "Grantmakers want to see that you have a plan, and even though the administration didn't fully understand the technology, they were more supportive when they saw the legwork we'd done."  

When the Nevada state legislature voted to give extra money to its schools, most divvied this up over multiple departments. Montoya and her cross-department technology committee, however, invested the entire $100,000 into technology.

Supported by a technology committee, a visionary principal and successful fundraising, Montoya's efforts were then put at risk by the restructuring of the school district. Anything dealing with the installation of telecommunications became the purview of the buildings rehabilitation division, normally responsible for retrofitting walls and doors, but not well versed in computer technology. "My purchase orders for phone lines or modems would sit on someone's desk for weeks, even though the money was available; the staff just didn't understand what was being ordered." The technology division of the district understood the technology but wasn't allowed to be involved because the district had identified the funding as a retrofit project. "After much finagling, we convinced them to involve a technical person in rehab projects involving technology."

What's next?

Right now, each school is paying individually for connection charges, software licenses, and subscriptions. "I'm paying $1,400 per month for our T1, and over $1,000 per month for CD subscriptions. This is over half my annual library budget; it's prohibitive!" scoffs Montoya. So she and others are pushing the district to negotiate district-wide agreements. "California has pooled their money; now we have to get Nevada on board."

Like many schools, Green Valley focused first on installing their communications infrastructure. "Next year will be the optimal year for teacher training. Currently, we're discussing how much to spend upgrading teacher skills, and we're planning daily classes for training teachers." In the meantime, Montoya and one other technically-comfortable teacher, and one part-time mom who comes in at lunch, provide technical support.

Now that the school district is seeing so much progress, Montoya points out, she's finding that she needs to rein them in a bit. "The superintendent wants to make all the libraries virtual, but we can't do without books." She also wants to see the school library open longer, and is exploring the possibility of sharing the library and media center with a local community college.

Add Your Profile
We're interested in adding profiles to this area of our website. Specifically, we're looking for stories about your school's experience dealing with the issues highlighted in this report, and in The Learning Connection. We are particularly interested in "hard lessons learned"-- those difficulties you didn't expect, that surprised you -- and how you dealt with them. We are not just looking for "fluff" pieces that tell an "ahh.." story, but that share real experiences and challenges. If you'd like to share your experience with us, please email your story to

I want to thank the following educators for spending so much of their valuable time sharing lessons learned. These are incredibly visionary and committed indiviuals making great strides in education. Thank you. Kristi Rennebohm Franz, Sunnyside Elementary School, Pullman, Washington Mary O'Haver, Fairland Elementary School, Maryland Ginger Hovenic, Clear View Charter School, Chula Vista, California Joanne Rojas, St. Ambrose Catholic School, Maryland John Shallett and Bart Hays, Morse High School, San Diego, California Patricia Weeg, Delmar Elementary School, Delaware Steve Wendtland, Belridge Middle School, California Smith
Benton Foundation

Last updated: 4 May 2001 mlw