The information-age worker is expected to process large amounts of information on the job and to create the knowledge needed to solve a problem or make a decision. There is evidence, however, that those living in rural areas and at the lowest income levels are among those with the least access to information technologies. When schools lack access to the teaching and learning tools afforded through information technology, students are at a growing disadvantage.
Because many elementary schools in rural Kansas have high rates of low-income students, there is a substantial need for assistance in providing access to information technology to these “rural poor” schools and students. Academic indicators among these “rural poor” schools reinforce the need for an enriched learning environment as early as 4th and 5th grade. Although these schools design plans for students improvement and experience some limited success, often the resources are simply not available to realistically implement these improvement plans in a way that substantially impacts student achievement.
Technology-enhanced classrooms that are rich in learning resources and opportunities within the curriculum offer an approach for moving students from lower performing levels to upper performing levels. Students who are economically and/or academically disadvantaged and have the least access to technology resources are often those who stand to gain the most from the technology-enhanced, resource-rich classrooms and curricula. Therefore, the Technology Rich Classroom project targets many schools across Kansas with the highest need for assistance.
The Technology Rich Classrooms project is funded by $150,000 grants from the Kansas State Department of Education. In the first round of grants, twelve partnerships comprised of two schools or two schools and an education service center were funded. Steve Mills, Director of LSI Media Services at Parsons, and a Research Assistant Professor, wrote grants for two of the twelve partnerships that were funded statewide. These partnerships include elementary schools in Atchison, Holton, Marmaton Valley, and Yates Center and the Southeast Kansas Education Service Center. Mills and Media Services provide local evaluation and technical support for these projects.
The Technology Rich Classrooms project allows pilot classrooms in selected school districts to demonstrate the benefits of teaching and learning in classrooms enhanced with abundant technology resources. The goals for this project are intended to articulate a vision of transforming classrooms into technology-enhanced, student-centered, active learning environments. The following list of program components provides a retrospective of the Technology Rich Classrooms project:
- Plan, design and implement technology-enhanced, resource-rich, student-centered, active learning environments in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. The project establishes a Project Leadership Team; employs a Trainer/Mentor to provide on-going instructional support and mentoring for teacher participants; and formulates a matrix of technology integration best practices to use for local project evaluation.
- Transform classrooms into resource-rich, student-centered, active learning environments through the infusion of technology into the teaching and learning process, the curriculum, the classroom environment, and assessment activities. The project acquires appropriate computer hardware and software and installs it in two 4th and/or 5th grade classrooms at each elementary school; provides technology professional development activities through summer workshops for the project trainer, teacher participants, and principals; and provides weekly in-classroom mentoring and instructional support and on-demand access to the Trainer/Mentor through Internet videoconferencing.
- Improve student performance in targeted curriculum areas and enhance higher-level and critical thinking skills of students. The project develops and deploys curriculum-based, technology-enhanced instructional activities and evaluation rubrics for assessing learning process and products; integrates a teaching-and-learning-with-technology pedagogy in the classroom; facilitates communication and supports cooperative learning between teachers and students and between schools through Internet videoconferencing; collects and compares standardized test scores for curriculum areas targeted by the school improvement plan; develops and administers criterion-based assessments for curriculum areas targeted by the school improvement plan; and administers a cognitive abilities test to examine the critical thinking skills of all 4th and 5th grade students.
- Disseminate information about the project and related instructional activities and lesson plans to district faculty, parents, and other schools. The project publishes technology-enhanced lesson plans on the school district Web site; provides teaching/learning opportunities for students to showcase learning products through open house functions or a school technology fair; conducts in-service sessions and workshops on technology integration to prepare teachers who did not participate in the pilot project; and conducts presentations at Kansas Technology Leadership conferences and other local, state, or regional conferences.
In summary, the Technology Rich Classrooms project is intended to contribute to improved student performance, to better prepare students to compete and cope in the information age, to foster communication and collaboration among educators, to increase communication between schools and parents, to train educators in the new pedagogy supported by the use of technology tools, and to promote teaching and learning with technology to other classrooms in the school and district.