Beyond Computers: Teachers Dig Deep with ‘Tech Tool Smackdown’

With online standardized testing coming down the pike, students as early as kindergarten using Google Docs and email, and districts integrating mobile devices more than ever, Lee High School English teacher Andrea Donovan says the more a teacher knows about technology the better.

Donovan led the session “Tech Tool Smackdown” at Rebel U, a recent daylong conference focused on technology integration in the classroom for Godfrey Lee Public Schools. She introduced fellow teachers to three online tools and challenged them to “smack down” their ideas on how to use them.

While no teachers in her session had prior knowledge of tools she introduced, she later attended a session where she learned of 10 new tools she hadn’t heard of before.

When it comes to technology, there is much to learn and keep learning.

“(Rebel U) is a great way to implement all of the great ideas teachers have that used to be done in older ways,” Donovan said. “It creates hands-on learning for students and they can communicate so much better with each other.”

Rebel U has Evolved 

In its fifth year, Rebel U was started as a way to kick off several technology programs, including the increase in mobile technology and using devices in the classroom. Godfrey Lee was one of the first districts to implements a 1:1 laptop program in 2009.

Since then, the conference, hosted at Kent ISD, has grown from tech sessions to in-depth training on technology in the classroom.

“It’s really across the board,” said Dan Townsend, director of technology for Godfrey Lee Public Schools. “Technology is the highlight and what really drives the professional development, but it’s evolved to be something broader than technology itself. We are actually getting teachers to discuss how they can change the way they teach.”

Knowing a teacher down the hall is using a Web tool or devices reduces the fear factor, said Sarah Wood, a technology and media integration specialist.

“They learn from their peers as far as things they can do in their classroom so it’s not so intimidating when they go and do it,” Wood said.

Superintendent Dave Britten said the district has kept up with technology needs, recently switching from Dell Netbooks to MacBook Airs for student use. The district has increased its bandwidth to meet the requirement for online state testing. Students are also allowed to bring their own devices to school.

“We make technology available to students and believe me, they use it when they want to use it,” Britten said.

Donovan said teachers will use it as well.

“It keeps us mindful of integrating technology all year long,” she said. “(Rebel U) helps mentoring newer teachers to get them aware that technology in the classroom is something that’s here and it’s a positive thing.”

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2012. Read Erin's full bio

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