Mount Markham Central School District - Engaging Teachers and Students Using Instructional Technology
Mount Markham Central School District is a high need rural district that uses an instructional technology specialist to introduce instructional technology to teachers and students to increase teacher comfort with new technologies and to enhance student engagement and learning. Allison Blackwell, Instructional Specialist working with the Madison Oneida Regional Information Center (MORIC) and Mount Markham Central School District, has collaborated with classroom teachers in grades one through eight to increase teacher comfort with and use of instructional technologies such as BreakoutEDU, Google Classroom, Chromebooks, iPads, and the Internet. Mrs. Blackwell has influenced dozens of teachers to incorporate instructional technologies to engage students and increase their focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and deeper understanding of content. Teachers have reported higher levels of comfort with use of instructional technologies and have reported strong student engagement and positive learning outcomes.
What is happening in this classroom?
Walking into the fifth grade classroom during open house, groups of parents are observed using iPads and Chromebooks. Their children stand around the groups guiding and encouraging their parents to successfully complete the exercise. Watching more closely, the parents are working collaboratively in teams of four to six to interpret clues and discover codes that unlock content. The parents are using an immersion learning game platform that promotes teamwork and critical thinking skills. The parents are excited and frustrated; they are challenged and then elated to finally unlock the puzzles. Their students, age ten or eleven, are proud and happy to serve as teachers; they guide and facilitate their parent’s use of the technology and participation in the exercise, but are careful not to give away the answers.
Welcome to Mount Markham!
Mount Markham is a rural, high need, district located in West Winfield, NY near Utica and Herkimer in the Mohawk Valley of Central New York. The school district has worked collaboratively with three regional BOCES to support its 1,100 students and 200 staff members. The Mount Markham Board of Education is committed to leveraging instructional technology to support teacher and student learning. The board has encouraged the use of innovative practices and technologies as well as the use of digital media to engage teachers and students in learning. A district goal expresses the district’s desire to be leaders in the area of instructional technology integration. A strong and reliable network is supported by fiber and plentiful Wi-Fi access points. Teachers have access to classroom sets of iPads, Chromebooks, or PC computer labs to engage students in a wide variety of instructionally enhanced learning activities.
A Master Teacher and Professional Development Leader
Allison Blackwell is the Instructional Technology Specialist that supports the Mount Markham Campus three days a week. Allison was a former classroom teacher at Mount Markham; she has over a decade of experience as a teacher and provider of professional development for classroom teachers. She has worked for the Madison Oneida BOCES for the last six years. The fact that Allison was a member of the Mount Markham staff provides her with a great level of comfort and access to our staff. Allison works with small groups of teachers or works with individual teachers during the school day or after school. During the day, teachers are supported during their planning periods. Teachers make appointments with Allison using her online calendar.
Allison became hooked on the immersion learning game platform while attending a New York State Model Schools meeting. Already a fan and an expert of another free open source learning platform (Google Classroom) and its documents, forms, maps and other content, Allison believed that the marriage of the two would significantly enhance student engagement and learning in the classroom. She began to introduce a free application, BreakoutEDU, to teachers. The application encourages students to work together and to use unconventional thinking to dissect and analyze clues to literally unlock content. The content is discovered by solving either physical puzzles that open locked boxes or digital lock boxes that, once opened, reveal further clues or content. During the exercise, students are introduced to concepts, must dissect the texts provided to reveal the clues to unlock more detailed concepts. The process encourages students to work as teams using effective communication skills, listening skills, close reading skills, and critical thinking skills to unlock the information.
Before students can be confident using a new technology, the classroom teacher must also be confident and prepared to facilitate learning, help students work through problems, and troubleshoot. Allison spends as much time with classroom teachers as needed to help them feel confident about the technology. Allison employs a hand on technique, time and practice to develop the teacher’s skills in using the technology and the applications. During her three days a week at Mount Markham, teachers are able to reserve time with Allison by appointment. Once the teacher is confident; Allison will visit the teacher’s classroom to assist in the use of the technology, but will allow the teacher to take the lead.
Engaging students through BreakoutEDU
BreakoutEDU is an application program designed by teachers for teachers. BreakoutEDU uses a game format and platform to introduce clues and encourage students to use communication skills and critical thinking skills to unlock content. Taking advantage of the wildly popular escape room model, BreakoutEDU puts students at the center of the learning experience and challenges the participants to find and interpret clues in order to breakout. BreakoutEDU has recently transitioned to a fee based service, but remains a popular and innovative tool for classroom teachers. For the teacher, the ease of set up and integration of other content and applications helps to create a classroom learning environment in which the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning rather than the sole purveyor of content and knowledge.
Many teachers on the Mount Markham campus are now using the learning platform to actively engage students and become facilitators of learning. Student centered learning is at the core of activity using this platform and the complementary applications from Google Classroom. Members of the fifth grade team include: Kristen Casale, Sarah Brooks, Kyle McCarthy, Laurie Gonyea and Nicholle Catrombone. Stand and deliver has moved aside as a primary content delivery method. In its place, the use of applications like BreakoutEDU and tools within the Google Classroom suite empowers teacher to become facilitators of learning and students to guide and individualize their own learning experience. At Mount Markham, all fifth graders are asked to select a historical event, complete research and present their findings to their classmates and later to their parents. Students have used digital Breakouts to share detailed research on these diverse topics and they designed the activity that their parents enjoyed during the fifth grade open house.
Positive Outcomes Through Technology Innovation and Integration
It is so wonderful to see students having fun while they are learning! As a school district, we are committed to providing students with opportunities that will help them develop the skills to be confident, successful and competitive. To achieve these outcomes, we recognize that teachers must also feel confident and competent with the technologies. The district overcomes two challenges by using BOCES support to enhance teacher learning and confidence. First, the district uses a collaboration with BOCES to provide the support; as a result, the district is utilizing scarce fiscal resources and generating aid to support future work. Second, by employing a model that allows for flexible small group or even one to one learning, the teachers are given as much time as they wish to devote to learn how the instructional technology can be incorporated into the classroom. Additionally, because the support technician is on campus three days per week, follow up and tech support is just a text message, an hour or a day away.
At Mount Markham, we are using innovative practices and instructional technologies to support teacher and student learning. In our classrooms, we are finding that the practice is supporting happy students who are having fun learning; they are engaged in interesting activity using innovative instructional technologies. They can speak articulately about what they are doing, what they are learning, how they are learning and why they are learning. They are also connecting the dots between important concepts in their classrooms. These classrooms also find teachers who have become facilitators of learning, who are pleased to produce activities to engage their students in meaningful learning.