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Raising Good Digital Citizens

As the new director of instructional technology, Maggie Thelen wants students to learn appropriately for the online age but also to be good digital citizens. That means schools using technology as a creative teaching tool, not letting students just look up answers on Google, she said.

“We live in a Google world, so we have to teach with Google in mind,” said Thelen, who began the newly created post in March. “We know they’re going home and getting on social media (and) doing research. So what are the parameters, and how can we teach them to embrace that technology and harness that for education, not just for the fun that they’re having at home?”

Thelen aims to achieve those objectives by training teachers in effective use of technology, working with students and setting districtwide standards for IT improvement. She will head up efforts to best utilize the $15 million for technology upgrades included in the $76 million bond issue voters approved in 2014.

Thelen recently was approved for a three-year contract by the Rockford Board of Education, following search committee interviews with eight candidates. As principal of Belmont Elementary for the past six years and of Cannonsburg Elementary for the previous seven, Thelen served as Rockford’s IT director from 1996 to 2003 until the position fell victim to budget cuts.

Her strong background made Thelen the best choice to implement the district’s infrastructure and hardware upgrades, Superintendent Michael Shibler said.

“I want to make sure teachers have the opportunity to be trained to effectively use that technology to improve teaching and learning,” Shibler said. “Maggie’s had vast experience in helping teachers use technology. That’s why I recommended her.”

Jeremy Karel, who has been assistant principal at East Rockford Middle School, has been appointed to replace Thelen as Belmont’s principal.

Thelen works with second-grader Lillian Decker in the Belmont Elementary computer lab

Passion at Work

Thelen’s affinity for technology goes back to her graduate-student days at Johns Hopkins University, where she did her master’s thesis on the use of technology for highly abled children. She came to Rockford in 1990 as a teacher of gifted and talented students.

“I saw the impact technology can have on teaching and learning,” Thelen said. “That’s where my passion lies.”

She put that passion to work at Belmont, instituting a computer coding club for K-5 students and pulling down a $10,000 grant for students to create computer apps.

In her new position, she will work with teachers and administrators to help them integrate technology into their everyday teaching. With all K-12 students receiving devices, the emphasis will be less on computer labs than on making technology another classroom learning tool.

“My job is working with teachers and administrators to figure out, ‘What is your end goal, curricular-wise?’ and saying ‘How could you use this piece of technology to enhance it and make it better?’ ” she said.

She also will emphasize “digital citizenship” with students, helping them discern safe and reliable sites and avoid abuses such as plagiarism and incivility.

“It’s somuch easier to be mean, to say things you can’t take back, to have conversations you wouldn’t have with a real person because you are shielded by technology,” she said. “It’s important for students to be able to understand etiquette.”

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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