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Citizenship in the Digital Age
 
KnowledgeWayWORKS
Initiatives Matrix
Workforce Report
Citizenship
 
Introduction
Administrator Focus Group Summaries
Instructional Technology Specialist Focus Group Summaries
Teacher Focus Group Summaries
Next Steps
Teacher Focus Group

The purpose of the Teacher Focus Group session was to gain a greater understanding of their views on the current environment in which schools are operating, the ideal environment for undertaking a collaborative effort and potential challenges and opportunities in undertaking this project. A summary of the findings follows below.

Current Environment

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the current environment in which teachers are working:

  • Technology used in a variety of ways

    Teachers are already using technology in a variety of ways. Mainly, technology is used for Internet research and to access current events or archived information, such as from CNN or other media sites. CD-ROMs are used in the classroom. Social studies, however, has not incorporated technology in the classroom to the extent that other subject areas have. This slow acceptance was explained in part by the fact that there have been very few software packages targeted to social studies compared to the sciences and math. Only recently has the educational technology industry produced packages relevant to social studies teachers.

  • Technology integration is influenced by classroom space, teacher knowledge, and students' prior exposure to technology

    Some teachers pointed out that the traditional classrooms are not designed for computer integration. Only in newer schools does one find technology-friendly classrooms. There was a consensus that the technical skill level of teachers is mixed, but most teachers are proficient in Microsoft Office applications.

    Teachers report that students have a mixed level of technical abilities and knowledge. In some cases the students know more about the technology than the teachers. In other cases, the students have had no exposure to technology. This latter case challenges teachers to advance the curriculum while simultaneously teaching the technology to those not yet familiar with it.

  • Access to technology in the schools is a challenge

    Although many classrooms are wired for Internet access, they may not have a computer or enough computers to allow for integration into lessons. Most of the access to technology occurs in computer labs or the media centers. In some cases, computers that were once in the classroom have been redeployed to computer labs for broader access, further reducing the number of computers accessible to teachers. In one school's case, the computers were taken from all teachers and moved to a lab for SOL drills.

    Currently, access to computer labs is a challenge. Often schools have more than one computer lab, but it is tied up most of the day for technology classes. If only one computer lab is available, teachers often have to sign up early in order to ensure a space. This means that the teachers have to try to integrate the technology into just one lesson during the year. In some cases there are dedicated labs, like in the science classrooms, but that scenario is due to technology requirements having been built into the science curriculum over the last few years.

    Oftentimes the hardware is centrally located in a few computer labs. These labs have very little available time for teachers to bring in their classes; thus, many teachers opt not to use them. Also, the technical support within the labs is not sufficient for teachers to have a productive class period. Teachers lamented that if they did want to have a technology session in the computer lab, they would often have to prepare two lesson plans: one for the lab, and one for the class if the lab broke down.

    Internet access is limited in the classrooms because often only one computer is available - usually on the teacher's desk. The technical support available to the teachers could be improved. Currently, there is a vast amount of information on the Internet about integrating technology into the curriculum or about social studies topics in general, but it is too time consuming to sift through it all.

  • Access to technology at home is a challenge

    Equity was one of the most challenging issues cited by the teachers. Equity among students in their knowledge of and access to technology was at the forefront of their concerns. Because student resources differ between families and because students come into the classroom with differing abilities to use the technology, implementing it into the curriculum is hindered.

  • Professional development is needed for social studies teachers

    Teachers want more opportunities to learn about technology. Some suggestions were to use countywide or departmental meetings as opportunities for professional development. Other suggestions included weekly, quick training periods on technology. A good learning environment should be created for teachers as well.

  • School leadership and district standards need to reflect technology

    As districts and states set up standards, technology needs to be integrated or teachers will not be able to focus on it. Achievement on the standards will drive what teachers focus on in the classroom. The teachers from Virginia particularly mentioned the SOLs and the importance of tying SOL achievement to technology.

Ideal Environment

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the ideal environment in which teachers would like to work:

  • Integrated technology in social studies

    In the ideal environment, students would be taught citizenship through a number of social studies areas including civics, history, and economics. They would be taught from lessons that build on the social aspects of collaborative learning. Lesson plans would be tied to state standards and available on the web for all teachers to access. This way, teachers could teach students the required information for standardized tests, but also have access to innovative ways to integrate technology into their presentations. Furthermore, there would be a wide selection of social studies internet sites that provide have received approval for meeting and surpassing state standards.

  • Internet is a tool for learning

    The Internet would become a research tool for students to look up current events and maps, to analyze data and resources, as well as to solve problems and find information. The combination of technology and teaching would help students develop a true motivation for learning as well as responsible decision-making skills. All students would have equal access to technology at home or in the community.

  • Access to technology in the school

    The availability of hardware within the schools would not hamper technology implementation.

Examples of useful instructional ideas supporting "Citizenship in the Digital Age"

When asked for ideas on how the Internet and technology could be used in a civics or social studies classroom, teachers provided multiple ideas for incorporation and examples of actual lessons. The main ideas stressed included the development of a technological toolbox for citizenship and responsible decision making in the 21st century.

Some of the instructional ideas provided by the participants are listed below:

  • Student elections-Technology could be used to run the next school-wide student election. Students could campaign through web pages, develop presentations of their platforms, and the student-body would vote on computers.

  • Data analysis (demographics, population, commerce-impact on society)-using the Internet and technology to explore how populations are changing in their neighborhood and around the nation and what that may mean for society.

  • Diversity of ethnic heritage/citizenship-As the population changes, more diverse backgrounds are represented by our nation. Teachers thought technology could be used to learn more about the different home countries and cultures of new American citizens

  • Policy study groups on current issues-The Internet could be used to establish on- going policy study groups of students who could explore issues in-depth, using technology as a research and presentation tool.

  • Research tool to solve civic issues-In a broader framework, using the Internet to research current issues and help students develop solutions. This idea was further expanded by the suggestion to use technology and software to problem-solve through simulations.

  • Government activism-Some teachers proposed using the Internet and technology in active, service-oriented projects, such as citizenship drives or "Get Out the Vote" campaigns. Students could use the technology to actively pursue any issues that are important to them and leverage the technology to reach and influence as many stakeholders as possible. Furthermore, students could learn about the government process and how this process affects their community and others.

  • Economics-Teachers felts subjects like economics could benefit greatly from the Internet and access to information, as it makes the subject more real and relevant to what students may see daily.

  • Local elections and local representatives-The region provides schools with a wealth of government representatives that students and schools could reach out to for projects and lessons. Following local elections, or any election using the Internet, this type of exercise could be a spring board for multiple research projects on election issues.

Challenges to the Ideal

The following essential themes emerged during the discussion of the challenges to the ideal environment in which teachers would like to work:

  • Access to current technology

    Although teachers stressed that they and their students may be motivated to use technology; they are often limited by issues of access. As mentioned before, not all schools or classrooms have access to technology. Some teachers mentioned that teachers who have worked to gain technology in their classrooms treat it as private property and are unwilling to share. Schools that do have technology find that maintenance and upkeep are expensive propositions. In some schools, there has not been an adequate or consistent investment in the technical infrastructure required to maintain these computers. Finally, locating good software for social studies continues to be an issue.

  • Access to technical support and resources

    Teachers indicated that schools do not have the resources to provide the technical support needed to maintain the hardware and software, and support or train the teachers. Currently, technology coordinators or instructional technology staff perform these support duties that consume enormous amounts of their time, and consequently reduce the amount of time spent on developing technology integration lesson plans and training sessions.

  • Challenge of collaboration among stakeholders

    Not enough collaboration is occurring between teachers and other interested parties. Teachers do not have the time or the opportunities to network with other professionals or pursue partnerships with local businesses. There appears to be a lack of trust between board members, businesses, higher education teachers, and public education teachers. Furthermore, collaboration on more concrete items, such as state instructional standards, will be difficult across the districts represented.

  • Leadership and investment from businesses needed

    Teachers felt that businesses need to reach agreement on what they want and need in terms of citizenship from their future employees (today's students). Some teachers suggested that businesses could help by providing professional development opportunities for school teachers in technology. Others indicated that businesses should play a part in reviewing state standards, such as the SOLs, and possibly have input on future standards developments. A recurring theme was the current dearth of and pressing need for financial and tangible investments in schools by businesses.

  • Providing a summer institute for training and learning

    Teachers stated that some help was needed in learning how to incorporate technology into social studies lesson plans. If such training were offered, it should provide technology components in each lesson, strategies for using the Internet with different age groups, and opportunities to share teacher expertise in the Greater Washington Region. Ethical uses of technology constitute another topic that teachers should address in a summer institute.

Priorities and Opportunities for Action

Teachers were asked to prioritize what actions should be pursued first to advance the proposed initiative. Below are the results of this exercise:

  • Provide thorough and continual training to teachers at all levels of technical expertise-teachers have varied levels of expertise and need to learn how to use the technology.

  • Provide training participants with a laptop-there would be more incentive to participate if teachers were rewarded with technology and had constant access to it. In addition, rewarding teachers for providing materials, and attending or conducting training sessions was a high priority.

  • Tap into existing professional development available in school districts-some districts already have regular professional development time that could be converted to technology training.

  • Enlist administrative support for lesson plan development-teachers felt those who were providing model lesson plans or ideas for technology integration should be rewarded.

  • Provide a resource for locating and understanding what technologically-integrated social studies curricula are available now-both on-line and elsewhere.

  • Teachers identified a shared interest among stakeholders -- achieving student empowerment throughout the educational process - as an incentive for the stakeholders to join forces behind this initiative.

  • The idea of using the Internet as a tool for collaboration was seen as a critical method to increase cooperation and collaboration on this project as it evolves. Because of the inherent difficulties in correlating standards across states and districts, a common web site where teachers could share resources was mentioned. Some teachers stated that they did not have enough time to collaborate, so this setup would provide them a place for sharing instructional methods when they actually had time, such as on weekends or after school.
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