At Athens Academy - a preK-12 coeducational, independent college preparatory day school whose Mission Statement declares it "seeks excellence with honor in the educational and personal experience of each student" - a 1-1 student-to-laptop ratio in grades 7-12 allows teachers and students to use technology in effective and enlightening ways. Powerful teaching tools now at their fingertips, students and teachers have the opportunity to realize new levels of creativity and productivity. The school seeks to harness the laptop's potential for transforming traditional, teacher-centered classrooms into student-centered learning environments.
A 4-year evaluation of the program registered both the students' willingness to make this shift and the teachers' tentativeness toward change. Many master teachers are intimidated by the new tech tools and are therefore reluctant to integrate technology into lessons in a meaningful way. To overcome this obstacle, the school has tried a variety of faculty development approaches - site visits to other laptop schools, 20-minute after-school training sessions, individual summer sessions, weekly workshops, and independent study. While no single strategy proved entirely successful, teachers progressed in the acquisition of technical skills.
Real integration and a project-based focus were slower to achieve. Therefore, the school adopted a new approach to training its teachers - one that mirrors the very learning environment it hopes to inspire. To support teachers as they develop authentic, project-centered lessons and assessment, bi-weekly staff development sessions throughout the school year now facilitate individual teacher projects that focus on using technology to improve student performance and attain curricular objectives. Teachers become learners in a project-based learning environment. If the school judges that this type of classroom experience is most effective for student learning, why shouldn't teacher training follow the same design? It works for students, and it works for adult learners (in this case, teachers). The results of this staff development innovation have proven this true. Teachers learn the role of facilitator as they work with media/tech instructors in their sessions. These facilitators (tech integrationists) structure the sessions as they hope teachers will do for their future classroom activities. Teachers can experience first-hand the methodology involved in project-based learning, and they can witness its effectiveness for their own professional development, skill acquisition, and content understanding.
This project-based learning approach incorporates elements of the 6 C's of Motivation - choice, challenge, control, collaboration, construction of meaning, and consequences. The term "student-centered" suggests that choice/control is shared in the learning environment; that learners interact and assist each other; that they create meaning as they explore topics, tasks, and problems; and that results/findings/projects are presented to other learners.
Note the steps involved as teachers design their individual projects, implement them in their classrooms, and assess them with peer input.
Athens Academy Teacher Project Design
Identify the desired area of growth you seek for your students.
6 C featured: Choice
Describe your plan for achieving this goal, focusing on creating an "engaged learning" environment with the support of integrated technology. Provide a timeline of clearly defined steps and activities.
6 C featured: Challenge and Control
Identify how technology will assist you in facilitating student growth in this area.
Identify the training and support you'll need to implement your plan. List Media and Tech faculty who will assist you in the development of your project.
6 C featured: Collaboration and Challenge
Assess your progress throughout the development and implementation of your plan. Identify at least three faculty members (at least one from your group and at least one from your department) to serve on your assessment team. Note the elements of your project you'd like them to review (observe teacher's class during the unit, provide feedback on teaching materials, help develop evaluation tools for student projects, assess student work).
6 C featured: Collaboration and Challenge
In a brief description, explain the steps you followed as you used a new technology tool. This procedure will be linked to the Tech Help Page for other teachers' later use.
6 C featured: Collaboration and Consequences
Present a summary of your project to your group.
6 C featured: Consequences