Bernice Hart Elementary School
Design and Implementation
Successful learners in the 21st Century will be flexible, self-motivated problem solvers who are comfortable dealing with the complexities of the real world. They will be able to use any and all tools available in order to creatively and collaboratively accommodate to rapid change. Their teachers must, therefore, be both conceptually and operationally adept in what has come to be known as "constructivist" ways of teaching and learning, interacting with their students as both mentors and co-learners. It is especially critical that 21st Century teachers be comfortable and competent with curriculum-based use of computer-mediated tools for learning and teaching.
In January 1998, prior to the opening of Hart School in August, a Planning Team was created to begin developing a vision for the school and to design a learning environment to support this vision. The team included:
The result of the collaborative effort between Hart, UT, and SEDL was The Future Is Now, a comprehensive program for professional development involving the learning community of Hart inservice and preservice educators.
To address these educational issues, Bernice Hart Elementary School in Austin, Texas, has implemented a program titled The Future Is Now - A Model for Creating Effective Learning Environments. The goals of the program are to:
Although the focus of this program is professional development, the end goal is, of course, student achievement. At the outset of the school year and as a constant reminder, the principal reiterated her belief and expectation that all students would achieve at a high level and that they would become competent problem solvers and critical thinkers.
To support accomplishment of these goals, teachers at Hart are required to incorporate technology in a variety of administrative and instructional uses. These include using email as the major vehicle for communicating with other staff, using database applications to easily access and share student information and to facilitate curriculum planning, accessing templates on the file server for standardization of schoolwide documents, and sending documents as email attachments to be read on the computer rather than being distributed and printed on paper. In addition, all instructional staff are expected to pass the Austin ISD Technology Competencies and to implement the instructional strategies and models presented in SEDL training.
Preservice Teachers/University Researchers
We were fortunate in the relationship that developed between Hart and the College of Education at the University of Texas. Dr. Harris has served as a liaison between university faculty and staff who are interested in conducting research studies that arise out of the needs of the Hart staff. In addition, at about the time the school opened, Dr. Paul Resta, Director of UT's Learning Technology Center, sought Hart School for a field placement site for interns/student teachers in the College of Education Literacy and Technology cohort (Cohort I). Supervised by university professors, this cohort of 16 to 25 students, each equipped with a Macintosh PowerBook G3, serve as interns in Hart classrooms during each spring semester and return the following fall semester as student teachers.
Instructional Uses of Technology
Another element of The Future Is Now came as a result of Hart's being one of six schools selected to participate in Applying Technology to Restructuring and Learning (ATRL), an initiative funded through the U. S. Department of Education and implemented by the Technology Assistance Program at the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL).
The SEDL project, Applying Technology to Restructuring and Learning, was an ideal vehicle for providing teachers support as they move away from traditional modes of instruction. In addition to formal professional development sessions, assistance was provided throughout the year to individual teachers both onsite and on-line, by the SEDL staff and the co-developers (Hart technology and projects coordinators.) This assistance included discussion of teachers' progress in creating constructivist learning environments supported by technology, their plans for future projects, and issues and challenges they faced with changes in their instructional practice, software and hardware. In addition, team teaching with a teacher and a co-developer or SEDL staff was conducted.
Over the course of two years, 72 hours of professional development were designed and conducted by SEDL staff and co-developers, Gayle Gaston and Steve Banks. Hart principal, Claudia Tousek, demonstrated her commitment to this program by attending and participating in all professional development sessions. These sessions introduced participants to the conceptual framework of constructivist learning theory and how the infusion of technology can support teaching and learning. Each session provide an opportunity for Hart educators to participate in a model constructivist learning experience supported by particular technology.
Learning about technology was embedded in curriculum-based activities to model practices that teachers would use in creating constructivist learning environments in their classrooms. Guided reflection on these learning experiences was used to scaffold teachers' construction of knowledge about new roles and practices. Part of each session was allocated for teacher development of classroom activities facilitated by SEDL staff and co-developers to support teachers as they began the process of applying these ideas in the classroom. All Hart teachers participated in the 72 hours of training.
The final six hours of SEDL professional development in each of the past two years required teachers to present or demonstrate lessons or units they had developed over the school year as a result of participation in the project. Activities reflected teachers' understanding, acquisition, and adoption of constructivist teaching approaches supported by technology. In addition to the presentations to their peers, teachers wrote their lesson plans in a standardized format, and reflected upon the changes they had made in their classroom practice.
Administrative and Systemic Uses of Technology
Over the course of two years, Mr. Banks and Ms. Gaston have developed a number of relational database applications based on needs identified by principal Claudia Tousek. During the 1999-2000 school year Hart School began to be viewed by the district as a model for implementing school improvement systems, of which the database applications are an integral part.
The Hart databases are developed in FileMakerPro and are hosted on the LAN file server. Teachers, administrators, and support staff all have access to the databases via the network:
As both administrators and staff have recognized the power of shared information through networked databases, frequent requests are made for the development of applications that meet specific needs. Simple databases are also being created by teachers and students for their own purposes.