I just got back from facilitating a professional development day with a small group of middle school teachers in Miami who recently began using handhelds with their students. It was the second day I’d spent with these teachers over the last few months.

Whenever I come back to work with teachers for a second or third day after they’ve been using handhelds with their students for a while, we start with a discussion of how things have been going. What have been the successes? What have been the challenges? Often, especially in middle schools, the conversation centers on classroom management challenges. At the school I just visited though, there were no classroom management issues that were troubling the teachers. Instead, they were having success and wanted to focus on new integration ideas.

Why was this school different? The answer is in planning. Here are some things this school did in the planning phases of their project that made a big difference there:

  • They got the administrative staff involved early. The first basic training included administrators, who were also given handhelds to use. When I’m at a school and the administrators take time out of their busy schedules to stop and say hi or even sit in the workshop, I know that school has good support that will help make them successful.
  • They planned for professional development. This included several days spread out through the year, giving teachers a chance to try things and then come back and ask questions and learn more.
  • They started small, choosing just four teachers and about 25 students with whom to begin. This is a manageable size group. I find that using handhelds with a smaller group the first year often leads to success. And when a small group is successful, it’s a lot easier to find funding to expand. (This school is conducting this as a pilot in hopes of expanding to a larger number of students.)
  • They chose a group of enthusiastic teachers and students who had a high chance of success. Giving teachers a choice to participate in a project like this is a key to success. I am often surprised how many programs are set up at the district level with little or no consultation with the teachers who are going to be involved. This can be a recipe for disaster.
  • They arranged for a self-contained classroom with a dedicated use implementation model for this pilot. Some of the biggest challenges with using any technology in the classroom are time and classroom management. This school made their handheld pilot a self-contained group with their teachers for each subject rotating into the handheld-using classroom. This means the kids have the handhelds all day; they can take them home; and all the infrastructure is set up and ready to go in their classroom. These all save time and make management easier. In many middle schools, handhelds are shared among several classes of kids. This on top of short class periods creates many challenges for teachers. If you can’t afford one-to-one initially, limiting the program to a smaller number of kids is often a more effective way to go.
  • They have a wonderful technology coordinator at the school site who is acting as the “champion” for this project. This not only give the teachers extra support, but it also gives the project a higher profile.

A little bit of smart planning goes a long way to building a successful technology program!

Planning makes all the difference
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