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$1.3 million grant funds technology in local schools

By : By Ryan Yarosh

Amber Archer-Zumo, a sixth grade integrated math and ELA teacher at Binghamton West Middle School, works with Alexander King on a data unit using baseball to collect information. The computer and wireless capabilities were provided by the E2T2 grant.
Binghamton University professors Paul-William and C. Beth Burch have made it their personal goal to see that every middle school student in the Binghamton City School District is armed with a wireless notebook computer. “We wanted Binghamton’s students to have opportunities equivalent to those of students in the most advanced schools across the country,” said Paul-William Burch. “Why should our schools have less than the best? It’s very important for the life of the community that the schools produce the absolute best students ever.”

Sounds ambitious, but due to the first installment of a three-year $1.3 million dollar grant from the New York State Education Department to support the Enhancing Education Through Technology program (E2T2) at Binghamton University, the Burches are already seeing their e-learning goals materialize. E2T2 integrates technology into instruction to improve the learning and teaching methods of middle school math and English students. The Burches look to improve test scores such as math and ELA exams taken by eighth graders. The long-term goal, according to Beth Burch, is “to create a climate where students are engaged in learning so they come to school, stay in school and do well in school. We want them to be better prepared for high school and we want them to be able to engage their environment through technology.”

The grant has funded 120 iBook laptop computers and dozens of specially equipped carts at Binghamton’s East and West middle schools and the Broome County Urban League. In addition to the wireless laptops, each cart has a wireless hub, projector, printer and digital cameras, creating a mobile, wireless environment. Students can type their essays in Microsoft Word, take digital pictures and create slideshows in iPhoto, design and present PowerPoint presentations, conduct Internet-based research, generate and understand graphs and charts in Excel, create and edit movies in iMovie and more.

As students study with the help of their iBooks, the Burches study them; specifically, how the new technology changes the way they learn. Many teachers note that students who tend to be the most disruptive also tend to be the most productive when engaged in the E2T2 program.

John Whalen, a sixth grade teacher at East Middle School, has integrated E2T2 into his classroom and is already witnessing improved attendance and participation. “My students really look forward to using the computers and are more focused when they are used on a given assignment,” he said. According to Whalen, positive effects may also be evident outside the classroom. “Students are given the opportunity to use state-of-the-art computers which are used in the professional world on a daily basis,” he said. “They are using the computers to display knowledge, share information and enter data, the same skills expected of them in the workplace.”

The Burches hope the E2T2 collaboration will strengthen ties between the University and the community. “We learn more about one another the more we work together. We go into the schools, and local teachers and administrators come to campus; it’s an exchange in more ways than one,” Beth Burch said.

Part of this exchange involves Binghamton University graduate students who are preparing to become teachers. Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students Christopher Compson and Rachel Bell serve as research project assistants for the E2T2 grant. It has given them an intimate understanding of the schools where they work and has increased their contact time with students and teachers. “As a result, I have many ideas about how I will integrate technology into my own classroom to prepare my students to enter the work world or the world of higher education — ready to use the tools necessary to excel in either environment,” Bell said. “(The graduate students) have had the unique opportunity to be ‘in’ the classroom without being ‘of’ the classroom — that is, they can observe and learn and then draw apart and reflect,” said Paul-William Burch. “They have the luxury to be somewhat objective, but they are still able to be right there and work directly with students.”

In return, the graduate students have helped teachers learn about new technology, conducting mini-sessions to teach teachers how to incorporate technology into their lesson plans. They also provide technical support. “Teachers have cited this as critical to their use and success with the computers because constantly available troubleshooting relieves them of the feeling that they are left alone with unfamiliar, and at times confounding, technology,” said Compson.

This training is just one facet of support E2T2 offers local teachers. In addition, after-school workshops, a daily listserv, on-line participation in Blackboard and technical and educational support provide building blocks for teachers. So, while students learn computer skills that will help them prepare for the future, teachers learn to combine curriculum demands with the increasing influence of technology.
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Last Updated: 10/14/08