Name: Ben Grey
District: Oak Lawn–Hometown
District 123, Oak Lawn, IL
What are some of your big-picture tech goals for your district?
It’s my second year here, and we’re focusing on shifting our culture of learning from the traditional model of education, rote recitation, to teaching students how to be learners. We’re looking at 21st-century skills: collaboration, creativity, and so on. Last year we created a curriculum plan with this approach to learning embedded; now we are developing it into specific learning experiences to be implemented.
We’re implementing a one-to-one program we’re calling Forward Learning in grades five through eight, thanks to an incredible superintendent who is driving the curriculum plan.
The board approved a program for transferring money from our construction fund to implement the Forward Learning program, and we bought grade-level netbook carts for first through fourth grades as well as individual notebooks for each student in grades five through eight. We also have one iPad cart in each of our elementary schools to allow our primary students to address emerging numeracy and literacy skills.
Tell me about your STEM program.
We’re looking at a variety of inquiry-based opportunities to incorporate into our program and get kids interested in these fields. For instance, we have Scratch (scratch.mit.edu) on the netbooks; it offers creativity and problem solving and makes math more intriguing. We’re at the beginning phase of focusing more specifically on how we address STEM in our district, and we have excellent instructional coaches and teachers developing these experiences for our students.
Why do you think it’s such a challenge to get children into STEM fields?
They have to see the bigger picture. It’s fascinating, but we can’t reduce it to disconnected rote memorization. We have to interest them and encourage that excitement. We need to offer them the chance to solve real-world problems through these disciplines.
What are your teachers working on?
In regard to technology, we have two instructional-technology coaches who started in their positions this year. They are providing job-embedded professional development for our staff as we implement our Forward Learning program, and they are creating a rich repository of learning resources for our staff to utilize.
The focus of our technology implementation is not solely on consumption but also on creation: digital storytelling, podcasting, multimedia presentations. We’re teaching students how to critically consume, communicate, and create using the new mediums of the day. We’re seeking to define and identify what changes with the learning landscape as we engage it in a digital context.
Where do you go to keep up-to-date on tech happenings?
I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some incredibly brilliant folks by reading blogs, magazines, and Twitter and by attending conferences. The friendships and professional connections I’ve made during the past three years in the edtech field have been invaluable to my personal growth and the resources and programs I’m able to offer my students, staff, and community.