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October 1, 1995
Vol. 53
No. 2

What Happens When Funding Is Not an Issue?

At one rural New England school, students and staff changed significantly when presented with the funds to invest in state-of-the-art technology.

In the 1993–94 school year, the Flood Brook School community in Londonderry, Vermont, received a $1.1 million trust fund, established exclusively to bring technology into the learning and teaching experiences of students, staff, and the community. The windfall was due to the vision and generosity of Sam Lloyd, a local businessman and former Vermont state representative. What can really happen to a school when significant levels of technology are suddenly thrust into the daily lives of staff and students? What are the positive educational implications of technological change to the ways teachers teach and students learn?

Designing the Framework

Although he was confident in the impact that technology could have on students' learning, Sam Lloyd had no specific vision of how the technology should be structured or even what outcomes he hoped to see. His sole provision was that the design include a significant component for the community's technology education. An 11-member Technology Committee, composed of the principal, teachers, school board, and community members, worked intently for nine months to articulate a vision of technology in the school's life and the realistic parameters of the hardware design. They created a design that would make technology in the school as common as the pen and pencil in the daily work lives of students and teachers.
The hardware components of Flood Brook's design are an Ethernet network that links the school's 21 classrooms and office spaces; 4 student workstations in each K–8 classroom; PowerBooks (the Macintosh Duo-Dock system) for each of the school's 27 full-time teachers; modem and telephone access from all classrooms; and a computer lab (The Sam Lloyd Technology Center) for student and community use and staff training.
In addition to planning these hardware components, the committee decided to commit considerable funds to ongoing staff development in the uses of technology as teaching and professional tools. The committee felt that technology would never take hold with students unless teachers became skilled with computers and able to teach technology to the students. Thus, one of the committee's easiest decisions was to provide each classroom teacher with a PowerBook to use both during the school day and at home. The committee strongly felt that only with personal experimentation and practice would teachers feel truly comfortable leading students into their own daily encounters with the power of computers. This has proven to be among the most powerful components of the Flood Brook technology design.
To begin Flood Brook's transition from a typical school with one computer in a classroom (used occasionally by students and seldom by teachers) to a state-of-the-art school with computers in each classroom and a station for each teacher, the school initiated three days of summer inservice training on the PowerBook system and on ClarisWorks, the school's main application software. Now, this initial training is supplemented regularly during the school year with inservice technology training and with a summer course designed specifically for the ongoing needs of the staff.
The committee also created the full-time position of technology facilitator to oversee the complex network and teacher training. It would have been easy to assign this new staff member specific class responsibilities, but the committee felt that such a move would too quickly shift the responsibility away from classroom teachers as technology instructors for the students and would mire the technology facilitator in an unending cycle of classroom lessons, leaving little time for staff development and systems management.

Setting Goals

  • transform the school into a true learning center with access to information resources typically unavailable to elementary schools and rural areas;
  • provide students with opportunities to interact in “real time” with other students around New England and the nation;
  • enable students to become collaborative workers, critical thinkers, and evaluators of information, especially as they gained access to a wealth and variety of external and internal data sources;
  • empower students to work at deeper levels of reflection, creativity, skill development, and presentation as they apply their academic potential; and
  • enhance the effective reinforcement of basic skills through student use of application software and programming that focus on student creation.
The committee articulated goals for the Flood Brook staff as well. These goals were simple and direct: Technology would (1) enable teachers to develop new instructional practices as they experimented with its potential as a pedagogical tool and (2) increase internal school communication and, thus, increase professional dialogue among teachers.
For the community, the committee wanted to transform the school into a center for technology education and learning in general.

Helping Students Learn

At the outset, no one could have predicted technology's impact on the lives of students, parents, community, and staff, but the changes brought about have been meaningful.
As a rule, technology has fostered the development of a workshop environment in all classrooms, a move in keeping with the school's emphasis on process writing, literacy learning, and hands-on mathematics and science. Technology affords teachers the opportunity to plan a number of activities at the same time. Thus, upon walking into a Flood Brook classroom one might encounter students at the computers working individually or in small groups on writing or mathematics, a teacher working with a group of students on a reading activity, and students working on their own or with a teacher assistant.
Last year, teachers on the 5th and 6th grade team were able to enhance instruction on the human body by providing students with access to interactive software on human physiology. In the workshop environment of the classroom, such resources have provided numerous opportunities for in-depth research, cooperative learning, and knowledge-based exchanges among students and teachers.
The use of technology has led to an increase in student writing; a heightened focus on revision and editing, especially in the upper grades; and more frequent publication of student work. Even students with minimal keyboarding skills are able to produce and revise for publication work that is easily read by peers.
In the school's primary literacy program, where student-created literature is a key component of student reading, pupil-generated books abound. Handwriting no longer gets in the way of a student's ability to produce a readable piece of writing. Students take greater pride in their product and are more willing to revise their work. A visitor to Flood Brook recently encountered a 4th grade student working on an eight-page, single-spaced story on the computer. When the visitor asked if the student would have produced a similar story by hand, the student said, “No way.” When asked why not, the student simply shook his hand as students do when it is sore from writing. For this student, technology had facilitated his ability to get his ideas out on a page; it had freed him to write. For all students, technology provides the power of authorship, a sense of control, and a heightened sense of involvement in their own learning.

Helping Teachers Teach

Technology is now a key component in all the teachers' classroom instruction. The majority of the staff came to this experience with little computer knowledge and with considerable apprehension. Over the course of the first year, however, teachers began to see ways to apply the technology in their teaching. Building upon small successes, teachers began to venture forward more confidently into technological experimentation. A primary teacher, who early in the process saw little application for technology in her room, was drawn in while viewing a full-motion video on a CD-ROM encyclopedia in the school's media center. As she perused the encyclopedia for information to tie into a thematic unit on Space, she came across a video segment of an astronaut taking a space walk. When she realized that she could incorporate this into her classroom Space Center, she was hooked and on her way to viewing technology as another piece in her repertoire of teaching skills.
As teachers have become more active in using technology in their classrooms, they have renewed their focus on the programs and curriculums they teach. The school's grade level teams are taking a closer look at what, how, and why they (and their colleagues at other grade levels) teach what they do. While this may have eventually occurred without it, technology appears to have facilitated the process. Even the task of deciding what software titles or programs to order as a grade level or team prompts discussion about the nature of the curriculum's content and where such skills should be taught. For Flood Brook, as at any school, such discussions can only foster effective teaching.
Increasing internal staff communication was an original goal of the project, and we have set up an easy-to-use e-mail system over the school's network. Through this system, staff members are able to send messages to individual colleagues, groups, or the entire staff at once. Once operational, this system became perhaps the most quickly used piece of software in the building. Conversations range from the ridiculous to the sublime, and frequent electronic contacts go on each day regarding teaching needs (“Anyone have 14 empty coffee cans?”); curriculum questions (“I am doing a unit on bees. Does anyone have any information?”); school events (“Remember to mention Friday night's Harvest Festival to your students”); and problems that arise around technology (“Can you come down to look at a student computer that is making strange sounds?”).
Among the staff, individuals with an affinity for technology have also emerged. Their interest in delving a little deeper into technology's potential as a teaching tool has established them as coaches for their colleagues. Some teachers, for example, have experimented with the creation of databases to track student progress, and colleagues have followed suit. The Flood Brook design allows for technology coaches to develop and provide continuous support and forums for staff development in the tools of technology learning.
As staff members have become more confident with their abilities to use technology as an effective teaching tool, many have developed their professional presentation skills as well. They use technology for both in-school and off-site presentations to other educators and interested parties. Every school or district wants articulate educators who can speak to the methodologies and goals of instruction. As teachers have become more familiar with the power of computer presentation tools, they have also become more comfortable taking risks as presenters.
And what of the community? Sam Lloyd's original vision called only for us to design a significant community component. Through evening courses at the school, taught by Technology Facilitator Doug Snow, more than 200 parents and community members have learned something about technology. Often a lengthy list of people wait for the next technology course offering. And beyond all this, technology has been one more avenue for the school to solidify its bonds with the community and to become a true town resource in the eyes of the community. Parents and the general public have a renewed sense of pride in their school.

Moving Forward

The voyage is by no means over. Staff members continue to explore new ways to use technology to assess student progress and to develop new instructional approaches. Flood Brook is just beginning to explore the possibilities of modem access to external databases for real-time research. This will help us meet our goal of extending student research beyond the four walls of the classroom and transforming each classroom into a true learning center.
Telephone charges and other costs related to online time via such popular services as eWorld, America Online, and CompuServe present formidable challenges to Vermont's rural schools, where a hub for online services is not often a local call. Developing efficient and inexpensive means of electronic contact for staff and students with their peers in other state, regional, and national schools is an ongoing challenge, one that the school is only beginning to tackle.
As powerful as technology has been as a tool for students and staff, its real power has been the numerous doors that it has opened for each individual (whether student, teacher, parent, or community member) who has encountered Flood Brook's resources. Moving deeper into the understanding and use of computers as tools, many in the Flood Brook Community have begun to see options where before they saw few or none, to ask new questions, to visualize new connections, and to communicate their ideas more forcefully and meaningfully. In its two years with technology, Flood Brook has renewed itself as a center of learning for students, staff, and community.

Robert B. Buckley has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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