As a parent, is it out of line to ask my District about their technology plans?

Hello,

I'm a parent in a school district on the northwest side of Chicago.  We are happy with the schools in the district and its programs.  One of my primary concerns however is their use of technology.  The schools have several Promethean boards, Ipods, computers labs and all sorts of relatively new technology.  Some teachers are comfortable with new technology and regularly try to engage it in their activities. However there is a large percentage that doesn't.  In my opinion, in this day and age, being familiar or exposed to new technology is no longer a luxury but a necessity for the success of our kids in the future.  Currently the "technology curriculum" is very vague and having worked at one of the school's as an aide last year, I know that including opportunities to use technology of any kind is very inconsistent. 

As I mentioned earlier, technology is no longer a luxury and I'm worried that they aren't receiving the age appropriate knowledge.  I've sat at the computer with both of my kids (ages 16 and 6) to get an idea of what they do know and found their skills to be fairly basic.  I'm not looking for my kids to become cyber genius' but at the very least I would like them to become responsible cyber-citizens and have some familiarity with technology and social media.  How do I respectfully ask what their technology plan is and how they're using it?  I've asked before and was referred to the standard curriculum info for each grade as I copied below.  But what do I say or ask for further or more detailed info? 

As I said before, this district has many resources available to them but can most times get defensive when asked about specific issues.  They are so strict that even the PTO's aren't allowed to run their own websites and have to submit content to the Librarian/Technology Teacher for upload.  What can I do as a parent to help them without offending them?

Any suggestions and advice is extremely appreciated.

 

Warmest regards,

Sylvia

Below is a statement from the district brochure regarding curriculum for

1st GRADERS:

Technology
Demonstrate basic computer skills.
Understand the procedure to properly save a file.
Use beginning shortcut keys.
Create a product using a variety of media (KidPix, Kidspiration, etc.).
Know basic menu commands (i.e., File-Quit).
Understand the Internet is a form of communication and a source of
information.

5th GRADERS:

Technology
Introduce the use of technology resources for problem solving.
Use productivity tools and peripherals to facilitate learning.
Understand the basic uses of spreadsheets.
Cut and paste using simultaneous programs.
Use productivity tools to develop a product to present.
Demonstrate keyboarding mastery.

 

8TH GRADERS:

Technology
Identify and apply appropriate technological terminology to modu
le activities and projects.
Identify and apply appropriate technological skills to module
a ctivities and projects.
Identify different types of media and technology available in the
w orld today.
Utilize a wide variety of current and emerging technologies and
m edia with module activities and projects.
Demonstrate meta-cognitive skills and interdependence in group
work and time management.
Apply effective cooperative learning techniques in problem solving
w ith a partner.
Identify and select a need, want, or problem to solve and design
s olutions.
Utilize brainstorming, creativity, investigating, diagnosing, planning,
testing, and evaluating skills to provide possible solutions to
p roblems.
Apply specific module technologies to real-world and authentic
s ituations and applications.
Compare and contrast technology center modules to workplace
p rofessions and skills.

Assess individual understanding and impact of technology on
s ociety.
Utilize effective and appropriate computer technology applications
for intended outcomes, documents, products, and projects
(Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Publisher, FrontPage, Photoshop, Pinn
acle Studio, iMovie, etc.).
Create, edit, and insert multimedia files and objects into docu    ments
and projects.
Identify presentation technologies, then select a mode or modes
and incorporate multimedia technologies and learning content
i nto module presentation projects and activities.
Produce documents and projects using appropriate and effective
d esign elements and criteria.
Enhance computer skills and technological awareness.

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Yes I think it is appropriate for you to question the current implementation and also appropriate to offer suggestions for new directions. Naturally you need to be sensitive to the avenues you use. Also be sensitive to the roles people have in this decision-making. I am sympathetic to your goals.
As a parent nothing is out of line for you to ask your district.

That said, I wouldn't expect to get very far. Teachers, in general, are quite slow moving and districts even more so. It seems that in many cases we do technology just to make it seem like we do technology. Maybe if we had more parents like you getting involved that might start to change.

Thank you Alan and Kev for your advice. It is greatly appreciated. 

Yes, I agree and am well aware of the sensitive avenues =).  I'm also very familiar with the slow moving districts.  However, mine isn't so much slow moving as it is strict.  This district feels the need to control practically everything and information technology is on the top of that list.

 

Do you know or can you recommend a source that offers a list of skills that kids should know by age/grade?  I would love to help.  I don't want to go to the school with this question and then not help be part of a solution. I feel like they feel the need to defend themselves against any questions and that's not my intention.

 

Thanks!

At this point in time I wouldn't leave it up to the schools.  I would definitely like to use more tech tools in class, but the time it takes to set up and teach using all the new tools available makes it a very slow process (getting one kid to work through some tech can be difficult, that teachers have to have nearly 100 kids understand to do anything useful with it can be a daunting task).  Add to that that some kids can't access several things from home still and it makes the process even slower.  Even though my kids are still young, I plan that they too will not be able to access all the available tools in a classroom setting that can be beneficial .  Of course, it depends on the learning style of the kid as well, you need to figure that out first.

So I would get to know these things yourself and use them at home.  Even if an assignment that comes home doesn't call for tech, I would be excited to see it come back to school with some extra thought towards connecting it with useful tech. Or have your child ask the teacher first if they could present something in a way of their choosing.  That is always exciting for a teacher and it shows the student really is thinking about their responses to an assignment.

I also would ask the teacher themselves instead of the district.  Like was said, some are more knowledgeable then others and you would get a more accurate response.  Just because the district has tech standards doesn't mean they are being enforced in any way.  We just see checklists come around that say "what technology standards have you been teaching", but we never get any response afterwards.

As our district has begun to, schools should begin with the organization of Google Apps for Education and see how it goes from there.  Other than that right now it is up to the individual teacher in my district.  

Great point Paul.  And you're right, I do have access to some of those items here at home and can use them here. Actually, now that I think about it my kids know how to Skype because we do it often with family in another state. 

Oddly enough, my thoughts come from regularly participating in Twitter chat sessions with teachers.  I've learned so much in the last couple of months just from "lurking" tags like #edchat or #lrnchat.

Thanks again,

Sylvia =)

I definitely think it is your right (and responsibility) to question your kids' teachers and administrators regarding tech integration. Unfortunately, many teachers and districts are unwilling to change their procedures -- due to money, training, politics, lawsuit fear, and other issues. But when parents demand change, districts will often listen. Especially if you bring your concerns to a school board meeting.

 

It sounds like your district has invested in technology, meaning someone sees a need for it. The problem sounds like they haven't invested in training and teacher buy-in, which makes all the money they spent on hardware pretty pointless.

 

Because technology is so ever-changing, it's hard to find an up-to-date list of things kids should learn. (For example, it's arguable that elementary students should learn to use social networking sites, but that's a new phenomenon that may not be reflected in educational materials for a while.) However, there are good places to start, one of which being the International Society for Technology Integration, which offers student standards, as well as teacher standards and admin standards.

 

If your district has all this technology, I'm assuming there's a district technology specialist. Find this person, and speak to them. If your district doesn't have one, push for one. Some districts hire ed tech specialists who are very tech savvy but who lack any classroom or education experience. It's really important to have an ed tech specialist with an education background, someone who is informed and capable of hosting/organizing classroom integration trainings. (Most ed tech specialists push for more open use of technology with fewer restrictions and increased training of students; meanwhile, tech savvy computer specialists in this role are more strict, more concerned with keeping networks closed.) Best would be to have a district ed tech specialist, as well as one teacher who plays the role at each school site. (There's definitely grant money out there that could pay for this extra duty.)

 

Katy Scott

http://digitaldollar.edublogs.org

One more additional resource, if you want to take specific suggestions to your district. This article contains 6 important lessons the state of Maine learned after going 1:1 with laptops in all their middle schools. Although it's focused on a 1:1 program, the 6 lessons primarily translate to good lessons for tech integration in all schools: http://news.yahoo.com/s/mashable/20110104/tc_mashable/school_tech_6...

It would be interesting to know how do they measure what the students have learned. Do all students "Demonstrate keyboarding mastery" in fifth grade?

I giggle when I read that they teach Word or FrontPage. How would you react if someone told you that they "will Ford you to the mall" instead of "they will drive you to the mall?"

The two years when I taught high school technology I changed the curriculum so I was not teaching a specific computer language but Introduction to Computer Programming. The course name would not dictate to the next teacher what had to be taught. If I felt comfortable teaching using C++ it wouldn't be difficult for the next teacher to use Visual Basic or Java. The curriculum was a reference to the concepts that needed to be taught.

The point I am trying to make is that they should say that students learn word processing skills instead of Microsoft Word.

 

Just my thoughts.

 

Evaggelos

Online School Records

Blog

Wow. I cannot thank you enough for your advice and information to resources!  This issue has been nagging me for over a year now and was becoming more and more discouraged until I found this site and the teachers on Twitter. 

I do feel like it's my right to ask them what they are doing specifically but do not want to be disrespectful.  I stepped "out of line" over a year ago when I discovered (by accident) that the district's "network" was easily accessible just by sitting on a bench across the street from a school.  At that point I didn't even have the network password and didn't get it until I became a technology aide. That's when I discovered that the password had not been changed in years so former employees still had access to the school's files. I also surprised the principal when I told him he didn't need to give me a file on a thumb drive and walk it over to me because I could just grab it from his file on the network.  He thought his files were secure and no one could access them except the two tech guys that maintain the entire district.  Needless to say, things changed really fast and the tech guys went into full CYA mode.  While I did not intentionally become the bearer of bad news, I was almost immediately targeted and going to work to help kids learn what I love was no longer very fun.  That's when I learned of the long-armed reach of the then superintendent. All of a sudden I wasn't allowed in my son's Early Childhood/Kindergarten school unless I had clearance and specific reason to be there and my family began to have strange experiences with other people in the neighborhood.  Let's just say that the parent's in this neighborhood have a tendency to over involve themselves but it isn't always at the benefit of children inasmuch as a "social status".  I am not kidding you.  Mind you that for two years prior to that point I practically lived in that building and loved to volunteer whenever or wherever I could.

Since that time I have completely stopped volunteering in our local district but serve as the computer board member on the parent board at my daughter's HS and even that's a little dicey.  The school is great about pushing technology and encourages parent organizations to explore ways to increase visibility or promote a school function.  It's the parent's from the old school district that have been indoctrinated into the old way of thinking.  Katy hit the nail directly on the head when she said "(Most ed tech specialists push for more open use of technology with fewer restrictions and increased training of students; meanwhile, tech savvy computer specialists in this role are more strict, more concerned with keeping networks closed.)"  Their are two tech savvy computer specialists and they've lorded over this network for years. They know all the ins/outs and secrets as they should. And their relatively recent boss was an Assistant Principal turned Technology Director. Really nice man with more than basic computer skills and at the time was going for a Master's in something education and pretty clueless as to the havoc his direct reports could reap if they wanted to. 

In any case, I went and am still relatively under the radar but as I said, this is an issue that just keeps nagging at me. Thank you again for the support and info and if anything else comes to mind, I would greatly appreciate you forwarding it to me.  Let me clearly state that my intention is not to work against the school or its administrators but I would love to work with them. They are after all with my kids more than I am.

 

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