Technology in the Classroom

Teacher Janie Smith, right, of East Limestone High School, shows students Anna Black and Ryan Countess how to improve their critical-thinking skills using a computer. Limestone schools are leading other area schools in the amount of Technology in Motion training they are receiving and passing on to other teachers.

Former Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant would be surprised to see his name linked with technology in the classroom.

But the once-winningest coach in the history of college football knew how to make people succeed.

“It’s not the will to win but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference,” Bear once said.

That’s the same philosophy Limestone County schools are using when it comes to integrating technology into the classrooms.

“Limestone County leads the area with sustained professional development in technology,” said Barry Wiginton, technology specialist with the North Alabama Teacher Exchange. “Technology in Motion conducts more workshops in Limestone County than any other system in the North Alabama Teacher Exchange in-service area,” Wiginton told school board members this week.

“Overall, among the NATE schools, Limestone received 39 percent of all Technology in Motion trainings between 2002 and 2006, Wiginton said. (NATE also includes trainings not conducted by Technology in Motion.)

NATE provides professional development for 4,400 K-12 educators in 136 schools in 10 school systems including Athens, Blount County, Cullman, Cullman County, Decatur, Hartselle, Lawrence County, Limestone County, Morgan County and Oneonta. It also administers two state initiatives – Technology in Motion and Alabama Reading Initiative

Using technology training designed by Intel, about 24 teachers are involved in the Limestone Project. The 12 who attended the recent board meeting were from Limestone Project II. They were trained in the Intel curriculum this year and they will deliver the training to teachers at their school next year. Limestone Project I teachers were trained last year and are currently conducting trainings at their school.

“They teach students through project-based learning that involves a great deal of critical thinking, not just the memorization of facts,” Wiginton said.

Teachers are raving about how much the instruction is helping their students.

Brad Lewis, who teaches history at Ardmore High School and who received technology-integration instruction from NATE, believes Limestone’s leadership role in integrating technology into the classroom will be a big draw for the hundreds of military personnel expected to move to the area because of the Base Realignment and Closure Act, or BRAC.

Limestone, Morgan and Madison counties hope to lure the newcomers and their tax dollars to their respective areas. Good schools will be a draw for newcomers.

“I think this will give us one more tool to make us cutting edge,” Lewis said.

“It has totally transformed me as a teacher,” said Leslie Story, English teacher at East Limestone High School. “I think, what can I do to get the students to really evaluate what they think.”

For example, after Story’s students read Shakespeare’s tragic play “Romeo and Juliet” and Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey,” they didn’t simply discuss the stories. Because both stories deal with marriage under pressure – the first from parents and the second from long separation, Story asked the students what couples can do to make marriage work.

Shane Carpenter, math and science teacher at Elkmont High School said the technology integration instruction helped her and her math students move beyond the paper and pencil method.

“It made them link cause and effect,” she said. “They learned to rate and rank sources for their term papers. It made them think higher.”

Tammy Hilliard, who teaches English and science at Ardmore High School, believes the technology integration instruction helped her push her students to explain why they believe what they believe.

“They have to justify themselves,” she said. “They have to ask, “Why do I think that?’

“Intel is now looking closely at Alabama, Arizona and North Carolina for the way that these states are using district trainers such as Technology in Motion Specialists to train master teachers at the school system level,” Wiginton said. “Alabama is promoting sustained professional development within a learning community that involves teachers, principals and central office personnel.”

Limestone County schools have been the most aggressive in gobbling up those skills. To prove it, Wiginton gave school board members these statistics:

• In 2002-2003, 45 percent of the instruction from Technology in Motion went to Limestone County teachers.

• In 2003-2004, 43 percent of the instruction from Technology in Motion went to Limestone County teachers.

• In 2004-2005, 43 percent of instruction from Technology in Motion went to Limestone County teachers.

• In 2005-2006, 25 percent of instruction from Technology in Motion went to Limestone County teachers.

Wiginton credited Karen Tucker, director of technology for Limestone schools, for making technology integration a focus in Limestone schools.

“I can’t stress this point enough, Karen Tucker is the reason Technology in Motion was scheduled so heavily in Limestone County,” he said.

Board Member John Wayne King, who is a member and past chairman of the NATE board, asked Wiginton to make the presentation after Wiginton mentioned to him how well Limestone was faring among other area school systems.

“To a great degree it speaks for our teachers more than anything – what they are teaching and who they are teaching,” King said.

Superintendent Dr. Barry Carroll is also pleased with the results.

“I think this is a great thing in Limestone County that people don’t know about,” he said.

Certainly the Bear would have approved of these teachers for their will to prepare students to win.

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