Tammy Halfacre's Kindergarten Class, Hoonah Elementary School
Teachers often say that technology opens up new worlds to their students, that it brings information to their students that otherwise wouldn't be available to them. Tammy Halfacre, kindergarten teacher at Hoonah Elementary, thinks so as well, especially considering the unique location of her school.
Hoonah is a community of about 900 on Chichagof Island, forty miles west of Juneau, Alaska. Hoonah's population is about 80 percent native Tlingit. Getting to and from Hoonah can be quite involved. The only transportation means are by a twice-weekly ferry or by three to six passenger planes that fly to Juneau and back several times a day, depending on weather and other factors.
Technology has provided Hoonah's children learning opportunities similar to those children in larger communities. Besides providing access to information, technology can be used to show Hoonah's children how other children live and learn all around the country. Halfacre's students are penpals with kindergarten classes in New Jersey and in Texas. Halfacre takes digital photos of her students and emails them to the other classes. The classes also have exchanged videotapes of their activities.
The children communicate with their penpals frequently, either writing individual letters on class stationery they created themselves, writing group letters or through email. Halfacre says on her web site:"Starting the year writing to our new pen pals is an exciting way to introduce writing, letters, sounds, signing their name and patterns. Later in the year this is excellent for mapping skills, social studies, and literacy lessons about letter writing."
Technology is used to celebrate student achievements. Every class at Hoonah has a part of the hall's wall to celebrate their successes. Halfacre has covered her wall with dozens of vibrant, colorful digital photos of her students engaged in all sorts of activities. The pictures show the children doing everything from saying the pledge of allegiance at the Potlatch, to working on various projects. In the middle of the pictures is the caption "Look How Far You Have Come!" Halfacre takes pictures at every opportunity, and they are displayed around the school, in the monthly school newsletter, on her class web site, and in the school yearbook. As Halfacre says, "When the children see their pictures everywhere, they have a sense of pride and ownership of their school." Sharing the pictures with parents encourages family-school-student communication, and is exciting for the parents to see their children's accomplishments. "The kid's excitement is what prompts me to do this," says Halfacre. The pictures also give the children immediate positive feedback, because the digital pictures can be displayed instantly. The advantage to having instant pictures is especially important when it can take a week to send pictures to Juneau for developing.
Like other schools that are beginning to integrate technology into the curriculum, Hoonah's administration has supported the staff by listening to their suggestions, and giving them the resources and independence to experiment and implement their ideas. The staff is currently exploring how technology can be used for authentic and project-based cooperative learning. Staff have encouraged the administration to use a grant to purchase a project-based learning science curriculum that utilizes computer technology. This would replace a computer lab used primarily for drill-based skills. The program builds on children's current knowledge with students working collaboratively on science activities in small groups or in pairs. The projects are correlated with the curriculum standards for kindergarten through 6th grade, and so they will enhance educational goals rather than being an add-on.
The replacement of the drill-based computer lab for this hands-on module lab, will be an adjustment for some. However, says John Halfacre, one of the teachers involved in the new lab, most of the staff are willing to try something new if it is aligned with the current curriculum and will benefit the students.
The staff and administration's enthusiasm for trying new ideas if they benefit the kids' whole learning is one reason this school is a wonderful learning environment. Infusing various technologies in the classroom, whether it is a digital camera, videotape, or project modules enhance learning and encourages children to learn.