Michigan’s Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District is emphasizing computer usage in its classrooms to improve digital literacy among economically disadvantaged students and families in Chippewa, Luce, and Mackinac Counties. The School District is providing families with new computers to support students’ academic achievement, and educating teachers on how to integrate technology into their lesson plans and homework assignments. As of December 2011, the School District conducted digital literacy training for approximately 5,800 students, parents, and teachers, and distributed more than 3,700 Netbooks to families across 24 schools.
A key component of improving digital literacy among students is expanding the use of technology in their classrooms. As part of the program, the school district hired an Instructional Technologist to help teachers identify ways to incorporate digital technology into their classrooms. The schools now use cloud computing, educational websites, online lesson plans, and web-based software to administer quizzes and facilitate student-teacher communication outside of normal school hours.
In the past, the district had difficulty finding specialty teachers, such as Spanish instructors, given its rural location. Now, several schools use a variety of Internet-based applications to teach students. For example, one Spanish teacher educates students at three small high schools using a web-based course created by the Florida Virtual School that includes audio files for students to listen to and record spoken assignments.
Schools in the district have also integrated web-based applications as educational tools. For example, english, math, and science students use their Netbooks to complete class assignments, music teachers teach students using online music composition tools, and industrial arts students use Google Sketch Up to design playgrounds for a class project. Barbara Light, the district’s BTOP Project Director, is excited by this paradigm shift, where both new and veteran teachers embrace the ways technology can promote student learning and creativity. “The impact of BTOP has been huge!” comments Light. “It has provided both a catalyst for change and the means to make change. Due to the commitment of our teachers and administrators to 21st century teaching methods, the provision of the computer netbooks, the support of our technology consortium staff, and the work of the Instructional Technologist, BTOP is transforming the way education happens in our classrooms.”