Professional Development: Teachers & Students Learn Together

Palm TXAs you know, I'm in the business of helping students learn. Most times that means training teachers in workshops. While I think workshops are valuable and necessary, I'd like to tell you about how nearly a dozen teachers in Fort Smith, Arkansas learned about integrating handhelds into their classrooms.

Tilles Elementary School was the lucky recipient of a grant to purchase Palm TX handhelds for each of their fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. I had worked with students and teachers in Fort Smith's school district before and they were kind enough to invite me back. George Lieux, Fort Smith Public Schools' Technology Academy Specialist and I worked on a plan to train teachers and students. Instead of teachers getting a subs and spending a day in a room with me, we did something different. Teachers and students learned at the same time! The first day involved other handheld-using instructors and seven 35-minute rotation sessions. Each class rotated to each instructor with their teacher to learn about care, operation, software, and rationale for their brand new Palm TX handhelds. My rotation period was all about MathAce. Others were about using keyboards, Graffiti, Memos, and beaming. All of this was preceded by an opening assembly I gave to all students to psyche them up about handheld computing (as if they needed to be any more excited).

George developed a schedule with 7 rotation sessions to orient teachers and students to the Palm TX.

The second and third days in the school expanded upon the first day's orientation with real curriculum-based activities. I did 45 minute lessons for math and language arts in each of the grades (10 different lessons in all). Teachers had subs and were able to join all of the classes I conducted. So, instead of me talking, demonstrating, or simulating lessons with teachers in a workshop, they saw it in action with Tilles' students. During their hour-long debriefing, teachers said they really liked this approach. Not only did they learn the technology, they saw it clearly integrated and they picked up essential classroom management techniques. Moreover, it was fulfilling for me. My strength is teaching kids and I enjoyed every second of it.

I did short write-ups of the ten lessons I conducted at Tilles. Additionally, you can read about the project in the short article Education Students Assist in Tilles Schools Project published in the UA Fort Smith News.

Currently I'm in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands working with two schools to integrate handheld computers. I'm taking the same approach as in Fort Smith: teaching students directly. It's great because I get to coach teachers, empower students, and continue to put into practice all that stuff I say about education and technology. And, it's so much fun!