Training to tune Arizona teachers in to tech

2009-03-19T00:00:00Z Training to tune Arizona teachers in to techBy Rhonda Bodfield ARIZONA DAILY STAR Arizona Daily Star
March 19, 2009 12:00 am  • 

It's almost enough to make teachers grind their teeth: a classroom full of 35 students, each one fixated on a hand-held gadget, thumbs flying.

Unless it's being done on purpose.

In a program sponsored by the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, 60 teachers across the state will receive training in early June on ways they can use technology, from podcasting to videoconferences to text-messaging, to better hook their young audiences from kindergarten through high school.

Schools have been notoriously slow to adapt to changing times, with today's classrooms still looking remarkably like those from decades back, even though many have chucked the chalkboard in favor of interactive whiteboards. And many have banned hand-held devices altogether during the school day.

But in the classrooms of the future, local students might run group projects with students in other parts of the state or even other countries through videoconferencing.

Students might race each other to text the right answers to the teacher.

Their parents might be able to download a podcast of the teacher's lesson so they can know more about what their children are learning.

Faculty from ASU, the UA College of Public Health and the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the UA College of Medicine will conduct the TeachTec training for teachers from Pima and Maricopa counties, as well as the Hopi and Navajo reservations.

Gail Barker, a co-director of administration and finance at the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona, said teachers so far have been open to the possibilities, especially because the focus will be on affordable technologies.

"Not all students are excited about school, so you have to use things they are aware of and that might have the 'cool factor' that will get them excited about learning," Barker said. It also might encourage participation from students in the back of the room who are too shy to speak up in class, she said.

In talking with districts, Barker said, she's getting the sense that cell phones and sites like YouTube, while banned in many schools, are not universally taboo. School leaders have said they would be open to letting kids text or watch videos in controlled settings with a clear educational connection, she said.

The Arizona Board of Regents provided the roughly $40,000 grant to expand distance-learning opportunities and work-force development. Teachers in the 12-hour program will work together to complete a lesson plan that they can take back to their schools. The work products will then be posted on the TeachTec Web site for teachers across the state to access.

Facilitators will launch a blog following the workshop and will follow up with the teachers every three months for one school year after the workshop to see if the teachers are incorporating the technology.

Teachers also will learn tech etiquette, such as being careful in a virtual setting to make sure everyone is introduced and that participants don't talk over one another.

Tad Bloss, the principal of Sierra Vista's Buena High School, said he was looking forward to hearing more about the workshop.

Sometimes, he said, new technologies get an instant negative reaction because of their potential for disruption or facilitating cheating. But they can be a positive force for learning, he said. It helps stimulate creativity and helps students get exposure to skills they'll need in the future, he said.

"Students this age always want to know why they have to learn something. So any time you can use the tools of their culture to help connect with the curriculum, the better.

"It's still new, but we're going to be seeing it more and more to get kids engaged at a higher level."

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Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or

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