Derry Teachers Win Grants For Technology Programs

Teachers within the Derry Cooperative School District who seek to widen the technology horizons of their students were recently awarded with Game Changer Grants from the 21st Century Learning Community Corp.

Two initiatives, one led by a single teacher, the other by three working in concert, were together given $25,000 to continue their efforts in more fully integrating technology into the classroom.
The recipients were announced at the Oct. 8 meeting of the Derry Cooperative School District school board by Joel Olbricht, chair of the 21st Century Learning Community Corp.
Steve Lebel, a second grade teacher from Barka Elementary School, was awarded $8,085 to allow him to continue work with the Imagineering Club, a club he set up to get kids excited about the STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Lebel said he took to heart research that indicated that many kids in elementary school don’t understand what an engineer is or does, and noting the importance of those fields, he wanted to connect the kids in a fun but educational way to the subjects.
As a doctoral candidate at Northeastern University, Lebel said he is studying education and STEM subjects.
The Imagineering Club was piloted last year. About 60 Kindergarten through fifth grade students signed up.
“It was just a phenomenal exploration, where students could solve real life problems,” said Lebel, explaining some of the projects the kids undertook.
Lebel was also the recipient this summer of a Raytheon “Engineering is Elementary” grant, which he is also using to bolster his teaching of STEM subjects.
Holly Whitney, computer teacher and integrator at West Running Brook Middle School, earned $16,915 for her project, working in conjunction with West Running Brook science teachers Stephanie Burke, eighth grade, and Angela Barber, sixth grade.
The three are working together on a “Flipped Classroom.” This idea sees kids listening or watching lectures at home, and then using their classroom time for more hands on activities and more teacher interaction.
Whitney noted that she often thinks about how teachers can reach kids better and how to get them more hands-on work and more one-on-one teacher time, and the flipped classroom idea was a great vehicle for that.
Burke and Barber extolled the benefits of the project from both a student and teacher perspective. Both said the project was working out very well so far, and that their kids loved it.
Both Burke and Barber create videos of their lectures that kids can access at their home computer, or via DVD if they don’t have access to a computer. Not only can kids go at their own pace through the lecture, pausing and rewinding at their leisure, but it also allows teachers new ways of getting their points across.
“The advantages for the teacher have been amazing so far,” said Barber. “Something that I’ve struggled with is that I have all of these ideas for hands-on things I’d like to do in class, but I have to teach all the standards. It’s really hard to get all the direct instruction across and to get the inquiry-based activities in as well.”
“They’re (students) excited to do it at home and it gives me more time in the classroom to do the inquiry-based, higher level depth of knowledge type activities,” said Barber.
After hearing of the projects the teachers were spearheading and asking a few questions about how they’re run, the school board and district administration thanked them for their efforts at finding new ways to reach the students.
The 21st Century Learning Community Corp. was established in 1991 as a way to reach technology goals within the Derry school district. “There has always been the thought that technology is a hard thing to fund for school districts, so it would be great if there were foundations or outside money that could do that,” said Olbricht, noting the impetus behind setting up the fund. But he was clear that the effort has always been looked at as a partnership involving the foundation, the district and the teachers who seek to reach their students.
“Our partnership has been that we get good ideas from teachers and they think about how to implement technology in their classrooms; new and innovative ways. Things that nobody else is thinking about. And we let them sort of try it,” said Olbricht. He noted that most of the projects have been wildly successful.
The school board will hopefully look to keep the successful ideas going in subsequent years, said Olbricht.
The teachers are also asked to return to the school board next year with reports on how their initiatives performed.