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Carroll teachers learn ways to incorporate technology into instruction

Nearly 200 teachers gathered at Winters Mill High School Tuesday for Carroll County Public Schools' first bring your own device professional development conference, an opportunity for teachers to learn how to employ technology to teach students.

Last year, the school system piloted a policy, allowing staff and students in grades 3-12 to bring approved electronic devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, net books, cellphones and e-readers to school. The Bring Your Own Device, or BYOD, policy, as it is known, was up for a revision at the Carroll County Board of Education's June 10 meeting. The revision limits use of electronic devices by elementary school students during recess and cafeteria time.

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Elementary, middle and high school teachers attended a series of workshop sessions throughout Tuesday, learning how to use applications such as the video creation service Animoto, presentation application Office Sway and the text messaging poll application Poll Everywhere. The purpose of the workshop was to show teachers how to develop their capacity to incorporate technology into lessons.

"We worked through that [first year] and obviously this is the next logical step," said Jeffrey Alisauckas, supervisor of curriculum and instructional resources for CCPS teacher and leadership development. "And everybody knew we needed that and we knew we needed that; we couldn't put it all out and once — we had to do it in phases and this is the second phase of it."

Travis Blizzard, a technology education teacher at Shiloh Middle School who mentors two other teachers, said he attended two courses, one on the digital note taking application Microsoft OneNote and another on Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive.

"I've already started moving some things into the OneDrive and the OneNote, so that I'll be able to share lessons with the new teachers that they'll be able to implement," Blizzard said. "Also, I'll have it so that all the students will be able to access handouts... for example, if they lost it or their parents want to help them with homework, they will be able to access it and get it off the web."

The BYOD policy allows students to use devices unless directed otherwise by a staff member, and teachers have the authority to choose whether to incorporate devices into lessons.

Alisauckas said many schools weren't allowing the use of devices during class time, because they didn't know how to effectively use such technology in class. Teachers didn't want students misusing devices and getting distracting from learning, he said.

Sarah Ziethen, a seventh-grade science teacher at Mount Airy Middle School who attended the conference, said her students regularly use laptop computers, which are available to them in her classroom.

"Students have access to technology pretty much on a regular basis and because of that I'm pretty comfortable with our BYOD policy; I let students take their devices out — I actually prefer that they're on their desk — and I figured going here I would learn more about different web tools that my students could use to further their science education," said Ziethen, who attended a session on the application Animoto.

Ziethen said she plans to use the tools in class. The use of such tools, she said makes learning more interactive and fun for students, who are accustomed to using technology.

"It keeps them engaged and interested," she said. "There is a lot to be said about something that is interactive versus teaching out of a text book."

Ziethen said she feels it is important for students to learn how to use different web tools.

"It's applicable to them because they're going to use it for the rest of their lives. If they're able to use it in a meaningful way I think it's going to be something they can carry with them as a skill," she said.

Gayle Julian, a special education teacher at Century High School who also attended the two sessions on Microsoft Office OneNote and Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive, said she didn't realize all of the web tools that are available to teachers until attending the conference.

"I'm not sure how many I'll be able to use with my students, but I could see using a lot of applications as a teacher that would make it easier to teach and stay organized," Julian said.

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Alisauckas said he expects the school system will hold more BYOD professional development for teachers in the future.

"There definitely needs to be more professional development, absolutely, but this is a huge positive first step in making sure that the instructional technology is having a positive impact on student achievement," Alisauckas said.

Ziethen said the conference was very valuable.

"I think it's applicable every year; they always come out with new tools and [the school system] continues to approve new tools and online software," she said. "Even with my comfort level, which I think is higher than some of the other teachers at my school, I still learn a ton."

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