Tech Camp Trains Teachers from 20 Campuses
Promising to Affect Learning Outcomes for Nearly 1000 Students - July 10, 2006
A student reads his book with support from Angela Beach, a recent graduate from the College of Education’s teacher preparation program.
Around 80 Austin Independent School District (AISD) students and 45 teachers spent a week at Tech Camp ’06, learning from College of Education and AISD technology experts how technology can spark creativity, bolster student confidence and polish writing skills.
The camp was a joint effort of AISD and the College of Education’s Learning Technology Center (LTC) IDEA Studio and was funded by a grant from the Texas Education Agency. During three one-week camps at three different Austin elementary schools, a select group of teachers were trained to deliver professional development to their colleagues; teachers and librarians learned strategies for integrating technology into the classroom; and fourth and fifth graders were shown how to use the computer to create books about their lives.
“This was an incredibly successful – and ambitious – training project,” says Dr. Karen French, an instructional technology specialist in the IDEA Studio. “We worked on three different levels at one time in each camp – training professional development leaders, teaching teachers how to do a similar project at their own schools and working with the fourth and fifth graders to help them create their books and become more confident writers.
“Some teachers came to camp not even knowing how to use a Mac and having little experience with technology in the classroom. We wanted to give those, and all the rest, several options for breaking down this project and finding parts that seemed manageable and that they could comfortably use in a real class with their students. One complaint you hear about professional development is that it’s great when you’re there participating in an activity in that controlled setting, but it turns out to be something you don’t actually use – something that’s impractical – once you’re back in your class. In the three months we spent designing this camp, we kept that in mind, and I definitely don’t think teachers have left this camp feeling as though they never will use this information again.”
At the camp, mornings were devoted to teacher training, with the teachers learning how to use software such as iPhoto, Comic Life and Inspiration, as well as create a book of their own about their experiences at Tech Camp ’06. Teachers were encouraged to map out creative ways of re-creating a similar activity in their classes and brainstorm solutions to possible obstacles, whether the roadblocks were lack of support from administrators, limited physical resources or students’ lack of computer skills. In the afternoons, visiting first-year teachers worked directly with the elementary school students while teachers attending the camp observed.
Students, teachers, and parents enjoy a student's story as he reads his book to the group during the Friday showcase.
“We gave the fourth and fifth graders disposable cameras on Monday and told them to take the cameras home that evening and shoot photos that illustrated their lives,” says French. “The students could choose from a number of formats – diary, acrostic or narrative, for example – for their books. They brought the cameras back on Tuesday, with not a one of them forgetting to do so, and we developed the photos Tuesday evening. Using the photos and a careful prewriting exercise that we had them do to organize their thoughts, they sat down at computers and wrote their books.
“On Friday, the last day of the camp, we held a showcase in the school library in which each student went to the front of the room, sat in a special ‘reader’s chair’ and read his or her book to the teachers, students and visiting parents. The book was projected onto a large screen behind the students as well, and if a particular child was too shy to read her book, the class simply read it aloud from the screen. Most of the students, who were in summer school for TAKS preparation classes and often were bilingual, elected to read their books, which was amazing and inspiring. All of the books really opened a window into the children’s lives and seemed to accurately reflect their authors.”
Each Friday morning also was devoted to the teachers presenting their books to classmates in a similar manner.
Along with the training received in camp classes, teachers left with a detailed manual that reiterated tips and instructions learned in camp and will have access to an electronic version of the manual as well.
“Considering that the teachers we trained will go back and use this information with their students and that 80 fourth and fifth graders participated in our classes as well, this camp promises to affect the learning outcomes of almost 1000 students,” says French. “Thanks to the efforts of the IDEA Studio staff, staff from the AISD Instructional Technology Department, and the AISD teachers who served as leaders, the camp was a great success, and we’re very excited about working together again in the future – projects like this are a win-win all the way around.”