Teachers learning to technology as tools

Whitney Plunkett, 23, a first grade teacher at Edmondson Heights Elementary, learns how to use media and technology to teach reading skills at a conference held Friday, June 27, at Cockeysville Middle School. (Staff photo by Lauren Loricchio, Baltimore Sun Media Group / July 2, 2014)

The Baltimore County school system is scheduled to implement a new digital technology program in 10 designated 'Lighthouse' schools in the fall, and educators from the schools chosen to pilot the program took part in a two-day conference last week at Cockeysville Middle School.

There they had the opportunity to learn about new techniques for engaging students using technology.

Whitney Plunkett, 23, a first-grade teacher at Edmondson Heights Elementary, learned ways to teach reading fluency with media and technology during a class taught by Michael Capps, a professional development educator with Discovery Education.

"I have learned a lot about the different resources I can use in my classroom to engage my students," Plunkett said.

The class focused on showing teachers how to use the audio program "Audacity" and how to use video to help students feel more confident while learning to read.

Plunkett was one of 300 teachers to attend the conference.

"It's been over 18 months of planning and we are really excited to be at this place where we are really getting down in the trenches and working with teachers, and providing the necessary kind of development that they need on curriculum and the tools, so that when school starts in August, they will be able to hit the ground running with their students," said Ryan Imbriale, BCPS executive director of innovative learning.

Imbriale said the unusually harsh winter was a setback in preparing teachers for the digital conversion.

"We've had professional days that were scheduled and canceled because of the weather, so we've been spending a great deal of time catching up because of the weather and making sure there aren't any gaps, and that we don't miss opportunities," Imbriale said. "Even though we had the challenges of the weather, we need to be at the same place in August, had the weather not been a big issue."

The 10 schools piloting the program are all elementary schools: Chase, Church Lane, Edmondson Heights, Fort Garrison, Halstead, Hawthorne, Joppa View, Lansdowne, Mays Chapel and Rodgers Forge.

A teacher from each grade was designated as part of the Teacher Leader Corps. That teacher is responsible for leading other teachers who teach the same grade in the program, BCPS information says.

"Teachers had the opportunity to sign up for classes that they wanted to attend," Imbriale said. "It's really personalized for the teachers, to decide which lessons they wanted to attend, in order for them to feel as comfortable about starting the school year as they could."

Using the HP Elitebook Revolve 810 G2, a hybrid laptop and tablet, teachers blogged while following along with each lesson.

"In all of the sessions, everyone is trying to blog some of the great tools they're going to take back, along with notes from each session," said Stephen Price, principal of Lansdowne Elementary. "We have some staff members who weren't able to attend, so they can access the live blog and access everyone's notes from the session and see our learning."

David Proudfoot, principal of Edmondson Heights Elementary, said the conference was the first time the entire staff had the opportunity to learn about the implementation together.

Previously, two S.T.A.T. (Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow) teachers at the school would attend professional development sessions and report back to others at the school, Proudfoot said.

"It's giving us an opportunity to build camaraderie with each other and build a common language," Proudfoot said. "With that core communication...we're getting the sense that this is doable."

While before the focus was more on the logistics of when teachers would get their devices and how they would operate, the focus is shifting to how teachers will use the tools to teach students, Proudfoot said.

"Our focus for next year with the devices will be student engagement," Proudfoot said.