Click and Drag

Instructional Technology Director Kate Green is impressed when she observes high school teacher Shelby Duncan introduce her web-based unit on volcanoes. Later, however, Shelby doubts she's met the needs of low- and high-level readers. At another school, fourth-grade teacher Melissa Mendel struggles with behavior management issues in the computer lab. Kate wonders how she can help teachers use technology effectively.

Dr. Kate Green, the district’s new Director of Instructional Technology, observes a first-year teacher introducing her students to the basics of how to create PowerPoint presentations.

“I only found out this morning that you were coming in, so I don’t really have a formal lesson plan written up,” Nancy Tunick explained a bit nervously. “I mean, I know what my goals are and how I’ll measure them, but it’s not on the district’s form or anything,” she said as she handed Dr. Kate Green a piece of paper.

See Nancy’s informal lesson plan below:

“That’s alright,” Kate responded automatically, although in truth she was a bit annoyed, both with Nancy – a new teacher especially needed clear lesson plans – and with her principal, Lacy Caminer. She had initially contacted Lacy last month and had scheduled this observation just a week ago. Why hadn’t Lacy told Nancy in advance?

As Nancy launched into her lesson on how to use PowerPoint, Kate’s irritation dissipated. These students were getting a thorough introduction to the basics of creating a slideshow. She wondered, though, if they would remember the specific steps when they began to develop their own slide next class.

Dr. Kate Green’s next observation is of Shelby Dunkin, Earth Science teacher. In preparation, Shelby develops a unit to showcase her technology integration skills.

Shelby Dunkin shivered as she sat at her classroom desk, Googling away. Glancing out the windows at the bleak gray sky, she felt certain that a snowstorm would arrive that evening as predicted. Perhaps there would be a snow day tomorrow? Her soul perked up at the thought, but she quickly squelched it and buckled down to work. She couldn’t afford to be unprepared; Kate Green was coming in to observe her, and she wanted to look good.

Martin O’Reilly, principal at JFK High and class of ’66 graduate, hadn’t minced words. “We’re under the gun, technology-wise. I’m catching heat from the new superintendent and you’re the best defense I’ve got. You younger teachers take to technology like ducks to water. Every time I walk by your room, you’ve got those carts in there and the kids are clicking away. So strut your stuff, show this Kate Green what you can do.”

Shelby is enthusiastic about using technology with her students.

Shelby had resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She found his tone patronizing, but she was also excited that she would have an informed observer coming to her class. So few teachers at JFK took advantage of the available technology, citing the difficulties of getting lab space, using the internet, which was notoriously unreliable, and finding time to develop lessons on top of grading papers, contacting parents, and fitting in all the content their curriculum demanded. As a member of the school’s technology committee for the past three years, Shelby had helped nudge a reluctant staff towards greater use of technology, but while most teachers now seemed comfortable surfing the Web or emailing parents, few used technology to enhance their lessons on a regular basis, if at all.

This observation wouldn’t be Shelby’s first encounter with Kate Green, the new Instructional Technology Director. Shelby had served as a faculty representative during the hiring cycle for the IT position, and while Shelby found Kate pleasant and intelligent, she hadn’t been her first choice for the position, mainly because of her cushy background. Shelby knew of North Middle, where Kate had been principal. It was a rich school whose students probably all had computers at home and had grown up with them. At JFK, it was different. With free-lunch qualifiers hovering at about 45%, for many students, exposure to and practice with computers had to happen at school – or else it wasn’t going to happen at all. For Shelby, this was an imperative concern, demanding that she do ever more to increase student familiarity with technology so that they might have a fighting chance at success in the “real world” they would face upon graduation. Would Kate understand what these students were up against?

She glanced at her watch: 4:08 and she still wasn’t sure how to structure her volcano unit. Pick-up for the twins from daycare was by 5, and if she wasn’t there on time she’d face both a hefty late fee and some very sad toddlers. She needed to get this done. Now. Weeding through the ever-proliferating websites for teachers took too much time. It was so easy to get sidetracked by an interesting or innovative site that had nothing to do with the unit at hand. She often fantasized about creating a district-wide, web-based “file cabinet,” where teachers could post units tailored to fit this district. She wondered if Kate Green would be interested in such a project. Shelby decided to bring it up when Kate came to observe.

Finally, Shelby found a site that might work. With a few modifications to increase higher level thinking skills and the addition of a rubric to help her students better understand what was expected, she could easily integrate this volcano project into her curriculum. Would she be able to use it with that rubric she’d bookmarked last week? That would require adding a PowerPoint component, a program her students should have already used. She crossed her fingers, hoping she wouldn’t have to spend too much time remediating the gaps in their varying skill levels. She clicked on the bookmarked link to the rubric and decided to revise it to reflect the research piece of the volcano project. She felt a little buzz of excitement as the project became clearer in her head. She’d need a few more hours to pull it all together before presenting it to her students in front of Kate Green.

Click here to see the Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework that guides Shelby’s planning.

Click here to view the Volcano Web Research Project that Shelby found promising.

Kate and Shelby both had high expectations for the unit based on the opening lesson that Kate observed, but despite a positive start, the flaws in Shelby’s planned volcano project become increasingly apparent.

Shelby sighed. She’d been so excited when she’d started this unit a week-and-a-half ago. Even Kate Green had seemed impressed when she’d come in. It was a good thing her observation had been early on. Now, Shelby couldn’t wait to finish.

Shelby’s use of the school’s mobile computer labs is anything but convenient.

She had reserved two mobile carts for the duration of the unit, each stocked with fifteen laptops and a printer, and had dragged them daily up the slightly sloping hallway to her classroom from the locked storage closet where they were kept overnight. This was a workout, as each approximated the weight of an elephant and was perched on wobbly wheels. One of her colleagues had actually sprained a shoulder trying to keep an errant cart from careening down the hall. She wondered if Kate Green had endured the same logistical challenges in her old district. Between the transportation issue and the paperwork that accompanied the cart, she spent much of her time on administrative concerns rather than actually teaching her students. And they clearly needed her help.

See the laptop check-out procedures Shelby follows below:

Mentally, she reviewed the list the reading specialist had sent out flagging students of concern. In this standard level Earth Science class, the only science option for ninth graders, Shelby remembered counting out seven names as reading two or more grades below grade level. Most of the names hadn’t come as a surprise, although there were a few who clearly had learned to compensate through their oral and aural skills and were fairly good students. But this volcano research project was presenting a challenge to all seven of them – as well as for many of her students who could, supposedly, read on grade level.

See the results of the reading assessment for Shelby’s class below:

See the Project Assignment and Grading Rubric Shelby gave to her students below:

“Ms. Dunkin, Ms. Dunkin.”

Without looking up, Shelby knew it was Shatoya Jackson. One of her brightest students, Shatoya had earned a scholarship the previous summer to study with the Woods Hole Sea Education Association and had a strong interest in becoming a marine biologist. A junior, she should have taken Earth Science two years ago, but had doubled up her math courses as a freshman so that she could get ahead and qualify for AP Calculus her senior year. She was taking AP Chemistry this year and probably would graduate as one of the top ten students in her class. Talented though she was, she annoyed Shelby to death.

Click here to read more about the Woods Hole Sea Education Association’s programs.

“Coming,” Shelby replied, shelving the check-out sheet and moving toward Shatoya’s desk.

“Look what I found. It’s so cool.”

Shelby leaned over to read the screen. “And that’s not your assignment right now!”

“Oh, I finished my presentation last class, so I’m just surfing. This is a really cool site.” As usual, Shatoya was ahead of her peers.

Click here to see The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs Discoveries.

“I’m sure it is, but you need to continue working on your presentation,” Shelby kept her tone firm and level.

Shatoya answered with a whine, “But I’m done. I can’t help it if it takes everybody else longer than me.”

One of the most irritating things about Shatoya was her attitude of superiority towards her classmates.

“You can revise it, add details, make the presentation flashier.”

“It already looks amazing. Really. I’m done.”

Unfortunately, Shelby was pretty sure that Shatoya’s assessment was correct. “Just make sure you stay on a science-related site then,” she replied, giving up so that she could help the students who really needed her.

James, for instance, sitting just across from Shatoya, was busily copying down information off the screen. He had scored the lowest on the reading test, somewhere around fifth-grade level, if she remembered correctly. Although he was passing her class, that was mainly due to his effort rather than his achievement, since he regularly failed quizzes and tests. His answers showed little comprehension of the material and she wondered how he could seem so diligent and studious and yet retain almost nothing.

Just last week she’d taken the time to review one of his quizzes with him. She’d remembered a strategy the reading specialist had recommended, and had asked James to read the questions aloud. While he’d been able to do that fairly well, when she asked him to restate the questions in his own words, his restatements made almost no sense. She’d vowed to give him some extra attention, but it was hard in a class of twenty-seven students.

See James’ quiz below:

She moved towards his desk now. “Hey, James, how’s it going?”

His gold-rimmed glasses magnified his eyes, making him look perpetually startled. Docile and sweet, he turned in every homework assignment, in large, loopy handwriting, full of misspellings, misstatements, and factual errors.

“Which volcano are you studying?”

“This one,” he replied, pointing at the screen.

“What made you choose it?”

He shrugged.

“What have you learned about Mt. Spurr?”

He picked up his papers and began to read the “notes” he had taken, clearly just a transcription of the site.

Click here to see the site where James gathers information.

“Just tell me about it in your own words.”

He looked more startled than ever. “Ummm. It’s in Alaska? It’s thirty-eight miles away?”

“Away from what?”

He looked at his notes again. “From the camera?”

Shelby took a deep breath. He had no clue what he was talking about. She was sure his “report” would be a jumble of copied down facts and that he would learn nothing from this exercise. After last week’s observation, Kate Green had requested copies of students’ completed projects. What would she think when she saw the results?

Kate Green, now midway through her observations at every school in the district, reflects on what she’s seen so far.

Kate swore under her breath as the manila folder crammed with observation notes and student work samples tipped out of her hand, spilling its contents onto her lap and the floor. As she picked up the scattered sheets, she grinned. Here she was, the IT Director, swamped in paperwork. How ironic.

At each of the weekly observations she’d undertaken to familiarize herself with the needs of her new district, she requested the teacher send her several examples of products based on the lesson she’d observed. Usually, these came as attachments to emails, but frequently she received large stacks through inter-office mail. Either way, she had to keep hard copies so that they could be distributed at the spring inservices she was planning. Hence, the overflowing folder.

Turning back to her computer, she quickly opened Shelby Dunkin’s email and scanned her note. She’d been out to observe at JFK High School last month, and had come away with a strong sense that here was a teacher and unit she could use as a model for the rest of the district. The content and technology had been seamlessly interwoven to support each other, and Shelby clearly was an innovator, thinking of new ways to use technology to enhance teaching and learning.

She’d emailed Shelby a thank-you and had reiterated her request for finished products. Now, with the unit completed, Shelby had finally sent her copies of her students’ work.

She clicked on Shelby’s attachment and smiled widely. Yes, this is what she wanted students doing. Maybe things weren’t so bleak in this district after all.

Click here to see Shatoya’s presentation.

Click here to view James’ presentation, which Shelby chose not to send to Kate.

After glancing through the first project, she looked for the next, but saw no more attachments. She made a note to follow up with Shelby.

Continuing her observations, Dr. Kate Green heads to nearby Brighton Elementary to check out a fourth grade, computer-based, writing lesson.

“Ewwww! Slime.”

Kate paused at the door as she heard the delightedly grossed-out voice within. Just then, the teacher, Melissa Mendel, called out a greeting, “Dr. Green! I am so glad you could be here! Come in, come in.”

Kate looked around the room. The walls were papered with students’ work, pictures of children from around the world, and posters of famous art. Sunlight streamed in through the huge old-fashioned windows. Kate sighed. Someday I’ll have windows at work again, she thought. At each cluster of desks, students were busily sifting through two baskets.

Raising her voice a bit, Melissa reminded students, “Don’t forget to jot down notes on what you’re finding! You’ve got three more minutes to finish.” Kids scrambled to retrieve pencils and begin writing.

“So, tell me a bit about this lesson you’re doing today,” Kate inquired.

“It’s something I adapted from a website I found on doing compare and contrast activities. Students can have a hard time with that and it’s an important skill for the MCAS.”

Click here for more information about the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.

See a copy of Melissa’s lesson plan below:

“Right now, they’re collecting data about Halloween and Valentine’s Day and recording it in a Venn diagram. They get to eat the candy in the baskets, so they are really into this activity! We’ll head to the lab in a minute for them to write their paragraphs as partners.”

“Is it hard to get time in the lab?” Kate asked.

“Oh, I can always find space. It’s great.”

Sure, Kate agreed. It’s great for these kids, but such easy access probably meant the lab was underutilized. This seemed to be an issue across the district, but it was hard to tell, since principals always sent her to observe in classrooms with teachers fairly proficient in technology.

“Time’s up,” Melissa called out. Kate glanced at her watch. She was interested in just how long it took to transition from the classroom to the computer lab. In some of her observations, especially at the upper levels, she’d noticed that up to 15 minutes out of a class period was spent on getting students from one setting to the other, leaving relatively little class time for actual computer work.

“I didn’t finish,” a student called out.

“Me, neither,” another chimed in.

“Time to go. Walk with your partner and bring your data. Let’s go!” Melissa continued without acknowledging the complaints. Students quickly formed a line and walked to the lab, located just across the hall. She unlocked the door, turned on the lights and began flicking the “on” switches at each computer.

A chorus of, “mine’s not coming on,” began, and Melissa responded with less and less patience. “You know you have to wait a bit. Just give it a chance and use this time to review your data.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Kate caught an angelic-faced little boy as he lobbed a rubber eyeball. Squeals erupted from the other side of the room and Melissa hurried to investigate, calling over her shoulder to the remaining row, “Just hit the ‘on’ button, okay? I’ll be back in a minute to help out.”

Kate quickly sketched a diagram of the lab’s lay-out and where students were seated. It had been eight minutes since they’d left the classroom and students weren’t writing yet. A pair of students near Kate was clearly frustrated as the boy next to them used his wrist pad to whack their keyboard, producing a quacking noise.

See the diagram Kate sketched below:

“Hands on your own keyboard!” Melissa called as she quickly moved to separate them.

Red splotches bloomed on Melissa’s cheeks and neck, but her attitude remained upbeat as she gathered everyone’s attention by turning on the projector screen. “Alright, class, you should all be up and running now. Pay close attention as I review the steps for today’s work.” The class settled down as she showed them how to navigate the screen, access their earlier writing, and begin the new assignment.

Kate decided to focus on the pair sitting closest to her, rather than wandering the room as she sometimes did. The two children, Erika and Rahshawn, had overflowing Venn diagrams in front of them.

“I get to write the compare part,” Erika claimed.

Rahshawn shrugged. “I don’t care. It just means next time I have to do that. But you gotta type the whole thing. I’m too slow.”

“You sure are,” Erika dissed him.

Melissa intervened. “How’s it going, guys?”

“I’m gonna compare and he’s gonna contrast and I’m typing the whole thing,” Erika summed up.

“I like how you split up the writing already, but I want each of you to type what the other person says.”

“Ms. Mendellll . . .” Erika looked pained. “That’ll take forever.”

Rahshawn nodded vehemently in agreement.

“Then you’d better get to work fast,” Ms. Mendel smiled and moved on to a pair in the next row.

“I’m typing my part,” Erika said under her breath to Rahshawn.

“I heard that! Split the work as I told you.” Ms. Mendel had good ears.

Kate glanced at their screen, where Erika had quickly typed a title in big letters, “Two Holidays by Erika Smith and Rahshawn Henderson,” and was now playing with various fonts.

“Do it in Greek,” Rahshawn said, and they both giggled at the illegible result.

“Please use a normal font,” Melissa touched each of them on the shoulder as she made another pass by them.

Erika sighed heavily and changed the title back. “Okay. Rahshawn, you’d better type now.”

Rahshawn scooted his chair closer to their shared keyboard and painstakingly began pecking with his index finger as Erika composed aloud. “They are both holidays . . . Dummy, there’s only one ‘L’!”

See Rahshawn and Erika’s Venn diagrams and resulting paragraph below:

Again their teacher was at their side. “Be supportive of each other. Use spellcheck and proofread at the end. Rahshawn, practice the finger positions we’ve gone over before.” She was gone across the room to help a pair frantically waving their hands.

No wonder she’s so skinny, Kate thought. That woman’s getting an aerobic work-out today!