Grissom column: System leading the way on technology

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 5, 2009

Keeping current with the changes in technology and the ever-changing skills needed for our students to be competitive when they leave the Rowan-Salisbury School System continues to be a challenge.
In spite of huge funding cuts this school year, the school system continues to seek alternative resources from grants and foundations to meet this challenge. Mark Warner, assistant dean at Kennesaw State University College of Education says that “it is possible to move into the 21st Century teaching without the aid of technology, but it is not easy. It is like asking if I can build a house with a handsaw.”
Classrooms that provide a technology-rich environment and integrate technology throughout the curriculum will not resemble classrooms of the past century. Students need a different set of learning tools to be successful and compete in the 21st century.
The school system began the 21st Century Model Classroom Project two years ago with just six classroom sites. Through an application process, teachers were selected for these classrooms who, first, were great teachers and, second, would demonstrate a strong interest in integrating and differentiating the curriculum through the use of technology.
These classrooms contain numerous technology tools and resources.
We now have 15 teachers in 14 of our schools and will be adding 10 more by January. The school system will then have a model classroom in 24 schools. Our goal, if our grant funding continues, is to have a Model 21st Century Classroom in every one of our schools by next school year.
All of the teachers who were selected are not only using their new tools but are developing plans for sharing their skills and knowledge with their peers in their school and colleagues across the system. They are writing lesson plans aligned to the N.C. Standard Course of Study to help other teachers use their technology equipment to enhance the delivery of the curriculum.
The iPod touch-based Digital Learning Environment project at North Rowan High School is the result of a joint partnership between Apple Inc. and our school system to provide students with an opportunity to learn 21st century technology skills. All students in the ninth and tenth grade have an iPod touch and are using them in all of their core subjects, as well as taking them home.
The school system was recently notified that a Golden Leaf Foundation grant has been awarded to accelerate the project to the entire student body. By the end of the school year, each student at North Rowan High School will be receiving the technology device, as well as being exposed to increased amounts of technology in their core classrooms, such as additional computers, ActivBoards and projectors. The school system Web site has devoted a portion to 21st Century Skills with highlights and lessons from both the 21st Century Model Classrooms and the iPod project at North High School.
The school system was very fortunate recently to host more than 65 superintendents, central office administrators, technology facilitators, principals and teachers from across the state to learn about how our teachers and students are utilizing technology in their classrooms.
Dr. Bill Harrison, chairman of the State School Board, visited on the same day and was impressed with the innovation and creativity of our students and staff. Our school system was very proud to showcase much advancement that is taking place with the use of technology to enhance student learning. Teachers are embracing the new tools very quickly and principals are seeking funding from fundraisers and matching funds projects to writing numerous grants.
There is a true dichotomy when one thinks about the future of technology for our school system. We certainly need to continue to provide our staff and students with the best tools possible for the 21st century learning skills. However, we also need the personnel to keep these tools running and to have necessary professional development so that they will be used effectively.
All of these areas cost lots of money ó money that the school system does not have. However, we have no choice. As a school system, we owe our students the opportunity to learn from and about technology tools so they will be prepared for their future.
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Dr. Judy Grissom is superintendent of the Rowan-Salisbury Schools.