Columbia County Schools
Lake City, FL
Lake City is located near the intersection of I-10 and I-75 in northcentral Florida, some 200 miles from NASA's shuttle launch pad at Cape Canaveral. In 1997, it became headquarters for a consortium of 12 rural school districts and three cooperating universities that launched its own high-tech mission to help teachers become innovative users of technology and help students become responsible for their own learning. Most of the schools involved receive Title I funding and serve student bodies in which 50% to 85% of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Through the consortium's efforts, each of these schools now has access to teachers on site who are well versed in the challenges and benefits of integrating technology into classroom teaching.
The program developed to help nurture technological expertise within consortium schools is called Tech TEAMS (Technology Teaching Educational Alternatives for Mainstream Students). Goals 2000 funds support the program in the form of a $440,000 professional development grant from the Florida Department of Education. The Tech TEAMS professional development process encompasses three stages:
The program is fashioned after the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow model, which suggests that teachers advance through five predictable stages as they learn to use technology for instruction: entry, adoption, adaptation, appropriation, and innovation. Teachers not only learn to use technology but also confront deeply held beliefs about schooling; consider how a child experiences instruction; and learn to involve students in active, collaborative tasks.
In the first stage, each of the 12 participating school systems sent a team of teachers (regular classroom teachers for grades 3, 4, and 5, as well as teachers of exceptional learners), administrators, and technology specialists to a three-day training session devoted to acquiring basic technology competencies. Additional sessions held throughout the school year boosted team members' knowledge and confidence; teachers received stipends for attending sessions held outside regular school hours.
The second phase encouraged teachers to reform their classroom practices and include children with special needs by using approaches such as cooperative and project-based learning. Instead of using technology simply to support traditional teaching practices, teachers began to make the learning environment more student centered and transform content-related goals into problems for students to investigate. Teachers developed curriculum units that linked the content of Florida's Sunshine State Curriculum Standards to student activities. Students were often organized into teams that included children with special needs.
In the third stage, demonstration sites were established at various schools, allowing more teachers to see how technology integration might benefit students in the classroom. As principals created action plans for broadening reform efforts in their schools, Tech TEAM teachers helped train other teachers in their schools to integrate technology as they restructured the learning environment.
Any program involving 12 school districts is likely to encounter challenges in communication and coordination; Tech TEAMS was no exception. Training coordinators found it nearly inevitable that an evening training session would conflict with at least one local PTO meeting or parent conference. Gaining administrative support across several schools was also a challenge. Intruding on the long-term stability of the program and its team-building effort was the temporary or permanent loss of team members due to transfers, retirements, or medical and family leaves.
Today, despite these challenges, model technology classrooms at each target school and district demonstrate effective practices for integrating technology into teaching and learning. A cadre of teachers is mentoring others through the evolution of thought and practice in technology integration. These teachers know what factors to look for in evaluating the program's positive impact on the school: students taking responsibility for their own learning and willing to work collaboratively to solve problems, think critically, and develop products.