S.U. Bartolomé Javier Petrovitch School
Cabo Rojo, PR
Eulalia Texidor Ortiz has been 'in love' with technology for many years, which is why for the middle school English language arts teacher, being selected to be a Lead Teacher with the CENIT program at the S.U. Bartolomé Javier Petrovitch School in Cabo Rojo, was an honor.
Texidor Ortiz, who teaches sixth, seventh, and eighth grades at the school, acknowledges that participating in CENIT has truly opened her eyes, giving her the opportunity to learn to develop challenging activities that integrate technology into the curriculum and promote learning through a different system, one that expects and encourages students to be more involved in their learning. She is now more than a teacher; she's a facilitator, a role she accepts wholeheartedly.
"Through CENIT I have learned the importance of involving the students in their own learning process in a way that is more participatory. But at the same time, I have learned that our traditional teacher role changes to that of a facilitator," Texidor Ortiz said.
At the beginning of each school year, Texidor Ortiz sits with the students in her classes and has candid conversations with them about what they would like their writing assignments to be about and how they think technology should be used in each assignment.
"Because many of the students don't like to write, it's very important for me to give them this opportunity, and to use different methods to keep them motivated. But I always have a condition: whatever topic they choose, they must make sure to integrate technology into it, whether it be through the use of video cameras, digital cameras, computers or other technology based mediums. And I remind them that once their work is finished they must turn in a written report and make an oral presentation of their work before the entire class using Power Point," she added.
With this kind of support and encouragement, students in Texidor Ortiz's class feel comfortable taking charge of their learning development, so much so that one of the last ideas they suggested for a writing assignment was making a field trip to an ice skating rink not too far away from the school so that they could explore it and write their observations.
"One of the activities we decided to participate in as a group was visiting an ice skating rink that was recently built in the area. The students had to work on practicing how to write descriptive paragraphs using different verb tenses, and since they wanted to learn more about this kind of activity, we decided that it would be a good topic to write about. I agreed and asked them to think about how they would incorporate the use of technology," she said.
With that topic in mind, Texidor Ortiz set out to try to make the field trip a reality, but given the lack of resources at the school, she knew they would need help to pay for the trip. That's when she sought the support of AlACiMa (the Spanish acronym for The Puerto Rico Math and Science Partnership), a local project that focuses on science and mathematics and is run and supported by the four major universities on the island, the Department of Education, and other organizations. AlACiMa agreed to pay for the field trip as long as she and her students would incorporate science, physical education, and industrial arts into their study of the rink. Now the students would also focus their attention on these other issues; from the science angle, they would look at the friction of the bodies on the ice as people skate; from the physical education point of view, the students would look at ice skating as a sport; and to meet the industrial arts requirement, they would focus on analyzing the way the ice rink was built. For the writing part of the assignment, the students would have to focus on describing what happened before, during, and after the field trip; this would allow them to use verbs in different tenses.
Texidor Ortiz also increased the use of technology in the assignment by having the students use the Internet to find information about the topic of ice skating. The final components of the assignment required the students to turn in a written report, in English, and make an oral presentation before the entire class using Power Point.
"The day of the field trip, some students took with them video or digital cameras to document their trip. This trip was not only fun for all who participated; it was also an experience in learning," she added, citing the success of the trip.
"After we returned to the classroom all students received rubrics, a good way for them to understand what would be expected from their investigation and from their projects. The students began writing their descriptive paragraphs in English with my help by using Microsoft Word, and later those who had videos or digital photos of the trip integrated them into their writings; other students used Clip Art," she added.
She said the activity, which took the class about a month and a half to complete, proved to be successful from all aspects. It had the added benefit of having AlACiMa involved, which allowed the students to experience the activity from the standpoint of science and mathematics.
For those students who didn't participate in the ice skating writing activity, Texidor Ortiz developed an alternate writing project. Students completing this project focused on a problem or a situation in their communities they felt could be improved somehow.
"That group of students worked on the activity with the community by using the software Inspiration, which helps students create conceptual maps. These students decided to identify a situation in their community that concerned them. For this they went out and took pictures of those things they were concerned about. Later they identified one person in the community whom they thought would be able to help them find a solution to the problem, and they wrote that person a letter expressing their concerns. At the end of this activity, students were also required to hand in a written report and present their findings to the entire class with a Power Point presentation," she added.
While the use of technology in Texidor Ortiz's class may seem like second nature to her and the students, things didn't always run so smoothly in the classroom or in the school, for that matter.
She said that before the arrival of CENIT, the school's computers were all very old and outdated. They were only used to present certain concepts to the students, and not meant for the kind of uses she is now able to provide to her students.
"We had nine computers in the school, but because they didn't meet our needs, I got the school administration to buy us tape recorders which would allow the students to record themselves reading, ultimately improving their diction in English. I would divide the class into groups, some students would use the computers, others would use the tape recorders, and the rest would use other materials. Everyone would take turns, and for three days the students would rotate from one thing to the other, until finally all of them had used all the equipment. This was okay, but it was much too difficult and less constructivist," she added, reflecting about the past.
"Now all of the students can take advantage of the technology that is available and participate at the same time; it's excellent."