Students Step up to Lead Tech Implementation at Their Elementary School

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Students Step up to Lead Tech Implementation at Their Elementary School

By Taryn Handlon and Tiffany Costa     May 25, 2018

Students Step up to Lead Tech Implementation at Their Elementary School
Students test out a flying saucer Snap Circuit

As Maggie opened the door, a pair of first graders yelled “duck!” and luckily she did. The 7-year-olds had just launched a flying saucer and it was headed straight towards her. Maggie moved cautiously, sidestepping to avoid two students chasing down a runaway Sphero and was approached by a student about becoming a guest star in her latest stop motion movie, which was currently in production. Finally, she made it to the charging station and her shift at the learning resource center (LRC) officially started.

Maggie is a fifth grader at Roosevelt Elementary School in Park Ridge, Illinois and in Fall 2017, she was trained to become a “TechXpert” at her school so she could coach fellow students daily during the tech lab at the LRC. The TechXpert program wasn’t something we had initially planned to build. It came about because students like Maggie were willing to help us solve some problems we encountered when we started our journey to roll out a collection of new tools we didn’t know much about.

In January 2016, the parent teacher organization at Roosevelt Elementary generously purchased a number of new tools for our school including Spheros, Dash and Dots, Cubelets, Snap Circuits, Osmos, Marble Mazes and a 3D printer. This was a great enhancement to the district’s 1:1 initiative, which provides Chromebooks for students in grades 3-8 and iPads for students in K-2. The problem: there wasn’t a plan for implementing these new tools.

This issue really hit us in the spring when we opened up some cabinets in the tech lab and found that many of the boxes hadn’t even been opened. Our teachers had full schedules with loaded curriculum and they lacked the time to learn to use the tools or to figure out when to visit the lab.

As the instructional technology coach and the library information specialist, we wanted to develop a sustainable strategy for implementation. Our goal was to give every student the opportunity to work with these new tools without creating more work for our teachers.

To create a sustainable program, we needed to build a team that included teacher leaders, and since one of our priorities was to avoid inundating our teachers, we carved out dedicated time and incentives to contribute to the program. We utilized our district’s club stipend position to recruit teacher leaders that could share the responsibility of managing the program.

With so many classrooms to involve and so many hands on the technology, we knew that scheduling and organization would be key for our community. We organized the tech tools into labeled containers and developed a schedule in which students in first through fifth grade were given the option to come to tech lab during the recess portion of their lunch hour. This allowed us to offer a week of access to the tech lab to two classes at a time. By the end of the year, each class had gotten the opportunity to visit the lab for about three weeks.

Roosevelt Elementary tech lab tools,
Image Credit: Roosevelt Elementary School

A few weeks into the program, it was clear that students were excited to be in tech lab and have their hands on the equipment. Kids were showing up full of energy and ready to explore, however, the teacher club leaders were exhausted. Although they were paid a stipend and supported by the district to serve as club leaders, it was a lot to manage. They spent mornings in the lab and afternoons teaching in their classrooms—there was no down time in between.

As winter came, the club leaders, with their gradually deteriorating energy, noticed that a small group of fifth graders had taken a deep interest in the program and started asking to come on days when their class wasn’t scheduled. They were allowed to visit the lab, but they were asked to help out while they were there. This group set the robots and tools out before classrooms arrived, did small demonstrations for visiting classes and made sure the materials were put away after each class. Their help made it more manageable for the club leaders, and the student leaders loved the additional time to explore. The technology team took note and started thinking about the following year.

Roosevelt Elementary students collaborating in the tech lab, Image Credit: Roosevelt Elementary School

Many elements of the program were going well. The schedule of rotating classes was working out; we were able to accommodate just over 3,400 student visits to the tech lab and the club leaders had a refreshed sense of energy with the consistent help they received. Most importantly, the team had met its initial goal to provide all students with access to the technology without placing more demands on their teachers.

We had found our groove, but we had concerns about the upcoming year. What would tech lab look like when the dedicated set of student helpers moved on to the middle school? Fortunately, after an initial survey, it was clear that the upcoming fourth-graders were eager to take the lead. We planned a one day summer training for them and the TechXpert program officially launched.

TechXpert studies stop motion animation so she can assist others, Image Credit: Roosevelt Elementary

For training, the technology team created learning paths for participating students using the Gooru platform. TechXperts were able to prioritize the technology tools they wanted to master first and work at their own pace. They watched videos, explored each tool and learned to troubleshoot through trial and error. With the program becoming more formalized, the new TechXperts were asked to choose one day a week to commit to working at the lab. Each day, two to five TechXperts spent their lunch hour in the LRC, eating lunch in between their responsibilities. TechXperts were confident and prepared to demonstrate new tools, troubleshoot issues as they came up and do basic repairs.

As the program continued to thrive, we made many tweaks to be more inclusive. We found a way to engage our youngest learners from the half-day kindergarten class during their weekly library visits, and our instructional technology coach collaborated with our instructional special education teacher to bring the tech to the students, providing additional time for direct instruction. A supplemental grant from the PTO added Ozobots, Makey Makeys, Osmo coding and Sphero Minis, and recently, our student leaders began tweeting to share their stories with their parents and the community.

Many of the teachers at Roosevelt Elementary were intrigued and started brainstorming ways to bring the technology from the lab into their classrooms. Students had developed a foundational understanding through hands-on work during lab visits, so the thought of integrating the use of these tools into curriculum was less daunting for teachers. They brainstormed how Kibos, Osmos and Ozobots could fit into their curriculum to promote not only math and reading, but also fine motor skills, collaboration, creativity and perseverance—and we supported them by building a shared rotation structure to give each classroom access.

As we move into our third year of the TechXpert program, we are focused on expanding beyond our school. We are collaborating with the middle school staff to develop continuity so TechXperts have opportunities to grow their skills and we are also refining the process for recruiting and training the next cohort. With more than 7,200 student visits over the last two years, the tech lab has become an integral part of Roosevelt Elementary, and we think the best part is that when you enter the lab, the people who know the most about the tools are under 12 years old.

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