Jeff Elliott, past principal, reconstructed sixth grade from five teams of three to four teams of four. Language arts, math and social studies and science are taught by three traditional teachers. A fourth unites the subjects through technology.
Mike Collier, CMS principal, supported the change going into this school year.
“InTech teachers take all of the subjects’ standards and incorporate them into a technology base to build on what students are already learning,” said Richelle Shelton, CMS student services coordinator.
Each team holds meetings to ensure InTech teachers know what is being taught. Everything from math ratios to literary characters can be brought to life in the InTech classroom. Applications, software and various websites are used to engage students.
Shannon Cline, InTech teacher, said her students respond well to technology-based learning.
“I think it is because they have grown up surrounded by technology,” Cline said. “They are just used to things being fast, colorful and collaborative.”
Students in Cline’s class are encouraged to explore new technology.
“When I teach them something new I tell them to just play with it. When I say ‘play’ I mean for them to explore,” Cline said. “Once they figure out how to use the program then I give them an assignment.”
These assignments are in line with what students have been learning in their core subjects.
Recently, students were introduced to Voki. Through Voki students can create speaking avatars which can be placed on any blog, website or profile. Users dictate their avatar’s physical appearance, what is spoken and who’s voice is heard.
Voki can also be used to highlight lessons learned in language arts.
“They were studying characters and figurative language in language arts. So next week, I can assign them to create a Voki character who uses figurative language,” Cline said. “They could also model their Voki after a character from a story in language arts.”
All technology is a two-way street in Cline’s classroom. She spends hours each week honing her knowledge of current and upcoming programs. These hours of research become classroom lessons.
Students explore the new tools and report back with their findings.
“Students are able to pick up new technology fairly quickly. ... What is really fun is when they show us aspects of the program we were unaware of,” Cline said.
Educators are expected to increase collaborative lessons in support of project-based learning, as mandated by Tennessee’s department of education.
Interaction through groupwork is actively encouraged at CMS. Every sixth-grade class is currently working on a virtual field trip to Hershey, Pa. The assignment accomplishes several goals: project-based learning, technology skills and real-life applications.
Students are in charge of planning transportation, accommodations and an itinerary.
“We can incorporate math, writing, and their other subjects throughout the project,” Cline said.
InTech teachers are also responsible for administering SchoolNet benchmark tests.
“We give those every 4 1/2 weeks,” Cline said. There is a lot of data we can get from the tests. We work with the math and English teachers to see the strengths and weaknesses of the students.”
Time is carved out for the SchoolNet tests in most schools. Schedules are rearranged until all students take the tests in computer labs. Sixth-graders at CMS have the benefit of taking the online tests during InTech class time.
“For example, we may give the children the districtwide math test on Monday and then they will take the language arts test on Wednesday,” Cline said.
The InTech setup is one of three programs being sampled by CMS.
According to Shelton, eighth grade is set up in a traditional format with three teams of four teachers each. Students attend a computer class and teachers integrate technology into their lessons. Seventh grade has four teams with four teachers each.
“The fourth team is a virtual learning academy, or VLA. It has two teachers, one for ELA and another for social studies,” Shelton said.
School administrators and teachers are waiting to see which program fits best for the students.