In 2007, the Gulfport School District qualified to apply for the competitive portion of the Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) block-grant program established by No Child Left Behind. “The primary goal of the E2T2 grant,” according to Robin Silas of the Mississippi Department of Education, “is to improve student academic achievement through the use of technology in elementary schools and secondary schools.”
Funds from the grant enabled the district to implement Phase III of Project ACTIVATE, placing Activclassrooms in fourth grade classes. In 2008, the district once again qualified to compete in the E2T2 program; however, the focus of the grant in 2008 was on high school reform. One of the recommendations for connecting 21st-century learning and high school reform is that students acquire information and communications technology (ICT) literacy within the context of learning core subjects. However, recent survey data from Gulfport High School had shown that less than 30 percent of teachers were facilitating the integration of technology into the curriculum on a daily basis. Teachers simply did not have the resources that would enable them to seamlessly integrate technology into the core content areas.
In addition to the Activclassroom components, the district chose to use a portion of the 2008 E2T2 grant to purchase subscriptions to Gizmos. Gizmos are award-winning math and science simulations from ExploreLearning that enable students to dynamically solve problems, make predictions, generate and test hypotheses, and understand the effects of variables. Both teachers and students received logins to the Gizmos, giving students a chance to extend their learning at home. When an algebra student at Gulfport High was asked if the Gizmos helped, she replied, “Oh yeah. I used them in biology and in algebra. It was like having another teacher at home.”
In a recent demonstration of the technology, a Gulfport High School biology student used the RNA and Protein Synthesis Gizmo during class. “Even students at their desks were engaged, offering suggestions and clues while he tested his predictions,” commented Debra Worthy, one of the district’s technology trainers. Once the RNA sequence was complete, students responded with comments ranging from “Excellent” to “Can I do it, too, Ms. Temple?”
Each phase of Project ACTIVATE has received enthusiastic praise from teachers and students alike. According to Tracy Daniel, district technology trainer, “The new tools have made students more excited about coming to school to learn and have made teachers more eager to teach.”
Additional Project ACTIVATE results thus far demonstrate the following:
– Teachers initially spent a great deal more time in lesson preparation than they had prior to using the ActivClassroom system. However, according to comments made during informal interviews, teachers indicated a great deal of satisfaction in this endeavor.
– Teachers at various levels of technology proficiency used the systems differently. Teachers who were proficient prior to implementation of the grant were able to integrate more interactive teaching and learning activities into their instruction. In the room of a teacher who was highly proficient in using technology, first grade students used the Activboard as one of their instructional centers. In another classroom where the teacher was less proficient, the teacher was using the Activboard to present content to the children.
– There was a positive correlation between ongoing teacher collaboration and efficacy using the systems. At Gulfport High School, where collaboration among teachers in the English department was planned for specific times on specific dates, attitudes and skill in using the systems was more advanced.
– Use of the systems increased the overall technology proficiency of the students and teachers using them. In English classes, for example, students are composing digital stories to accompany their print research papers.
– Frequency of technology use increased among teachers who had access to the Activclassroom systems. Integrating technology used to be something that did not readily “fit” into the classroom routines. Now, technology is not only integrated, but it is integrated ubiquitously into almost every activity.
– Student achievement on district and state assessments has increased. In fact, 66 percent of sixth grade students in Gulfport scored Advanced and/or Proficient on the new state mathematics assessment in 2007-08, compared with 52 percent statewide; and 99.4 percent of students not only passed the state English writing exam, but the mean writing score was one of the highest in the state.
Terri Burnham summed up the project this way: “School has changed over the past two decades–from posters and models to gadgets and Gizmos. In Gulfport, Project ACTIVATE has changed what we do in school and how we do it.”
Terri Burnham is the director of technology for the Gulfport School District in Mississippi. Tracy Daniel is the district’s technology trainer.
Gulfport School District