Deer Park Elementary School
Juxtaposed between the gently rolling countryside of former farmland in Northern Virginia and the hustle and bustle of the nation's capitol, Deer Park Elementary School engages its faculty, 862 students, and their families in its mission of harnessing technology for the purpose of teaching and learning. Many of the parents who send their children to Deer Park are government or technology professionals who are fully aware of the new technology-based skills that are quickly changing workforce requirements. Opened in 1994 to ease overcrowding at two other Centreville schools, the school's principal, Lynne Pope, had a vision of establishing a "Total Technology School" and drew upon the resources and expertise of its teachers and parents.
Planning was key to realizing the school's vision to employ technology "consistently throughout the school's educational programs resulting in measurable increases in student achievement." The school established technology goals under the guidance of Diane Painter, Deer Park's Technology Resource Teacher, and a technology committee comprised of teachers from each grade level or special program. This committee works closely with the school's PTA to plan hardware and software initiatives.
The technology goals are closely aligned with the school's computer/technology standards and the state's recent Technology Standards of Learning (SOLs). While focused on curricular goals, the school's technology goals are also open-ended and encourage integration of appropriate technologies in teaching and learning. The technology committee members also continually monitor new and emerging technologies with an eye to the roles they may play in education. Closely linked to the school's technology goals are evaluation components. These goals are available on-line at http://www.fcps.k12.va.us/DeerParkES/techgoal.htm
Fairfax County Public Schools had a "Model Technology" program in place prior to Deer Park's opening. This designation emphasizes access to technology in Kindergarten through second grade. Deer Park extended its vision to include all students in all grades and has become a self-described "Total Technology School." All classrooms house four Macintosh computers with Internet access, TV monitor for classroom presentations, a laserdisc player, and VCR.
In addition, the school houses a computer lab, special education learning labs, and a media center with five student work stations. The media center has five Inlex stations that allow access to information about what resources are available throughout the school system and the county's public library systems. The entire school is networked and an NT fileserver allows teachers to work from any station throughout the building.
Technical support in terms of troubleshooting or instructional support to personnel comes from several sources. The full-time technology resource teacher (TRT) works with teachers and their students to create and implement technology initiatives that address curriculum areas. The part-time school-based technology specialist (SBTS) works with the technology resource teacher to provide troubleshooting support of hardware and software issues, as well as coordinate inservice training sessions. The school system also provides itinerant support for hardware and software issues the SBTS can not resolve.
Deer Park provides pedagogical support that capitalizes on the high level of access. With help from Painter and the technology committee, teachers from each grade set specific curricular goals and plan lessons that incorporate appropriate technology to meet these goals. All of the teachers at Deer Park are committed to integrating technology and all have developed technology-rich lessons.
The school also supports students and helps them to become familiar with complex software applications, such as spreadsheets and databases, through age-appropriate software and activities that focus on curricular goals. First-graders may use ClarisWorks for Kids to record their observations of local weather patterns and then create weather charts and bar graphs based on their own research. HyperStudio and ClarisWorks applications can support scanned pictures and create multimedia presentations to illustrate topics such as economic terms or famous historical figures -- covering skills similar to creating research papers, but in a more dynamic setting. Fifth-graders create spreadsheets that record purchases and calculate totals, as well as tax expenditures. In addition, the school sponsors an after school computer club for students wishing to develop web pages for the ThinkQuest Jr. competition.
Deer Park places special emphasis on teacher research projects to better understand the impact access to technology has had on teaching and learning. These projects are published in a variety of settings, including Web-based publications, and faculty members frequently present their findings at conferences. Says Painter, "These projects document the type of interactions, behaviors, skills, and learning that we see take place as children use technology." Better than scores from multiple-choice tests, the results from these research projects provide valuable lessons for teachers to reflect upon when integrating technology in their classrooms.
Early experiments with telecommunications projects taught Painter that not all schools have the access to technology or organizational skills to support these informative projects beyond the initial state of enthusiasm. While successful projects expanded Deer Park students' understanding of life in places such as Australia and other areas of the United States -- well beyond the limits of textbooks and videos -- the school also suffered through less successful pairings. Documenting interactions between students in the school's "Web Weavers Club" has helped teachers better understand the impact of collaborative learning and develop effective strategies to use when creating and implementing these projects in their own classrooms.
An early commitment to providing extensive access to technology for students and teachers has helped Deer Park effectively incorporate technology as a tool to support teaching and learning. Deer Park's supportive environment capitalizes on this access and helps teachers to face their curricular goals with a variety of appropriate tools. The school's technology plan focuses on curricular goals, but keeps an eye on new and emerging technologies that might impact education. The faculty, staff, and parents of Deer Park have helped the school's students face the challenges of developing the information literacy skills necessary to succeed in a technology-rich society.