Making an IMPACT on student learning: Program helps teachers gain 21st century skills

Making an IMPACT on student learning: Program helps teachers gain 21st century skills

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Teachers in three high needs school districts in South Jersey, and two non-public schools, are gaining knowledge on the use of 21st century technologies in their classrooms through a professional development program administered by Rowan University in partnership with the EIRC's Educational Technology Training Center.

Teachers in three high needs school districts in South Jersey, and two non-public schools, are gaining knowledge on the use of 21st century technologies in their classrooms through a professional development program administered by Rowan University in partnership with the EIRC's Educational Technology Training Center.

The program, called IMPACT (Improving Partnership and Active Collaboration for Teaching), is funded by a three-year $900,000 federal grant from the New Jersey Department of Education. Goals of the project include expanding the number of teachers who are highly qualified, building capacity to meet revised state standards in targeted subject areas, and increasing the level of integration of 21st century skills, technology and global perspectives into instruction.

Twenty mathematics and language arts teachers in fifth through 12th grades in the Lindenwold, Pennsauken and Millville school districts are involved, as are teachers from Durand Academy in Woodbury and The Ellison School in Vineland. Since March, teachers from the districts have been attending professional development sessions at the EIRC's headquarters at Rowan's South Jersey Technology Park.

Through the program, teachers have received laptops, SmartBoards, document cameras and printers. Others are receiving flip cameras, graphing calculators and other equipment as they learn to use the technologies to enhance their classroom teaching, and, ultimately, student achievement.

A majority of the participants are special education teachers. Each teacher is taking a three-credit graduate course this summer co-taught by Rowan English, mathematics or education faculty. By the end of the three-year program, teachers will complete 15 semester hours of work.

"Participants are beginning implementation of project activities in their classrooms," says Rowan mathematics professor Janet Caldwell, the project director for IMPACT. "In some schools, there has been very limited funding for professional development for teachers related to technology.

"So, while some districts have access to technology, the use of it right now is often at a relatively low level. By improving the use of technology, focusing on instruction and assessment, integrating 21st century skills, and providing coaching for teachers, the program will work to meet student needs more effectively. This will lead to increased student achievement."

The program includes classes at Rowan, workshop sessions at the EIRC, school-based meetings with school planning teams, and the creation of a detailed plan to facilitate successful student achievement for each school

First-year teacher Daniel Johnson, who teaches language arts and special education to fifth- and sixth-grade students at Lindenwold Middle School (LMS), says the IMPACT experience has been invaluable.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for any teacher, especially a first-year teacher like me," says Johnson, who will become highly qualified in language arts teaching at the completion of the program.

This spring, among other projects, Johnson's students have demonstrated their literary skills by creating videos from reading assignments, participating in online chats related to the books they've read, and taking quizzes online. With additional instruction from IMPACT, Johnson is hopeful to eventually initiate the use of Wikis in his classroom.

"I am hoping this grant will provide me and my colleagues with the opportunities to take some time to collaborate with one another and create effective and enriching lessons and activities for our students at LMS."

Pam Reilly, head teacher at Durand, who also runs the educational support program, says the skills learned at IMPACT will help her reach her students.

"I've learned a lot of technology-supported academics and I'm eager to incorporate what I've learned in my classroom," says Reilly, who will institute technology-based activities in the classroom this summer, many focusing on the study of rain forests.

"My students respond to computer-based activities very well and they look forward to using computers for information, games, and other activities. I know the interactive technologies I've learned, especially with the SmartBoard, will engage my students."

Charlotte Richardson, who teaches special education to sixth- through eighth-graders in Millville, says the sessions have helped her think differently about her teaching.

"I've realized that there is more that I can access to enrich the learning of my students in a hands-on way that they will understand," says Richardson, who is considering using a blog instead of an in-class journal to showcase her students' writings. She's also considering using video as part of lessons on data analysis and graphing.

"I'm hoping to use the camera to provide feedback and praise for student work," she says. "This, in turn, hopefully will help with increasing participation and on-task behavior because my students will all want their work on camera."

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