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Robeson County teachers optimistic about the use of technology as a teaching tool
April 2004

LUMBERTON , NC - Carroll Middle School teacher Kathy Smith has just wrapped up a class presentation using a new technology tool - and she is beaming. "The kids really enjoyed it," she tells principal Penny Britt, "and no one missed anything."

Smith is talking about a story called 'Faithful Elephants.' She has read the book to her classes before, walking around the room and holding up the pictures to try to give everyone a look. This time, she used a document camera and a projector to show the whole book to the entire class. The technology worked perfectly, and to Smith's delight, a fellow teacher was watching the whole thing.

"That's the key, seeing it," Britt tells a visitor. "When (one teacher) uses technology and it goes smoothly, and the others see her, they're more likely to use it as well. Just from last year to this year I've seen tremendous improvement in the use of technology and the integration of technology. Too many times teachers don't teach technology, and that is part of the Standard Course of Study."

The document cameras are one of several pieces of new technology available to Carroll Middle School 's teachers this year, and more than half of them have been through a new program called "Quality Teaching & Learning" or QTL™ to learn how to make the most of the new tools. The program, offered by the Public Schools of Robeson County in cooperation with the Raleigh-based education non-profit ExplorNet, de-mystifies technology and shows teachers how to use it in conjunction with research-based teaching strategies.

Those strategies, such as cooperative learning, project-based learning and differentiation of learning styles, have been proven to improve student achievement in schools where they are put to use. This school year, Robeson County Schools has launched an ambitious effort to offer the intensive QTL™ program to all its elementary and middle school teachers. More than 200 have already taken advantage, and participation is having an impact on schools like Carroll Middle where teams of teachers have gone through QTL™ instruction and returned to class with new ideas.

Smith says after 27 years of teaching she is still a student, and sometimes the young people in her classroom know more about certain software programs than she does. "I didn't grow up with technology, and I've had to be pushed or force myself to learn to use it," she says. "But the few things I've been made to do, I've been glad I did. It's been worth it."

That's exactly the attitude QTL™ instructors hope to foster. The program encourages teachers to return to class, plan together and work in collaborative teams, and continue to learn from each other. Britt says that continuation of the professional development process is crucial. "We learn from each other, and the kids learn from us. They are the final beneficiaries."

That means much more than learning technology for its own sake. The school's primary goal is to improve student achievement - with particular attention to raising reading and math scores. For that reason, it's important for teachers to think of technology as a tool for teaching the core curriculum.

For instance, an assignment that requires students to create a PowerPoint presentation and deliver it to their classmates forces them to investigate the assigned topic, learn to use the software to produce their slide show, and work on their communications skills in order to 'teach' their classmates what they have discovered. Along the way they pick up teamwork and other life skills - a far cry from the old days of simply listening to a teacher's lecture.

Kathy Blades, one of two ExplorNet instructors implementing the QTL™ program for Robeson County's teachers, says this technology integration is critical for helping teachers reach every child, regardless of different learning styles. It can help schools meet the challenges of No Child Left Behind legislation, but may be even more important for another reason.

"This makes children happy," she says. "They get excited, and they want to come to school." She's thrilled to see the way teachers at Carroll and many other Robeson County schools are putting their new knowledge to work in the classroom.

Carroll Middle purchased a great deal of new equipment - including computers, digital cameras, software and more - in preparation for participation in QTL™. Britt says the school's PTA has been tremendously supportive - even raising thousands of dollars to help equip a brand new technology lab.

Teachers appreciate the extra resources, and say QTL™ is helping them learn how to use them wisely. Belinda Carter, who has been at Carroll Middle for 23 years, says she has been impressed with the program. "I did use (technology) before," she says, "but not as much. I used it as a teacher more than students used it. Now the students use it."

That includes not only computers, but digital cameras and other tech tools. All of that is important, says Robeson Schools' technology director, Todd Russ.

"Schools are obligated to provide students with access to technology, instruction on how to use technology, and the integration of technology into classroom instruction," Russ says. "Technology is a resource for students in how they learn and what they learn.  It also provides teachers news ways to address the various learning styles of the students in their classroom."

Russ says Robeson County's system has spent millions of dollars providing access to technology, and it's important to get the most out of it.

"There is no doubt that technology can be a valuable tool for student learning," he says. But professional development is as important as the equipment itself. "We owe it to the teachers and students to show them effective ways to utilize this technology.  The QTL™ program has provided around a thousand of hours of instruction in the last year for  Robeson County teachers on how technology can be used to enhance student learning." 


For more information, contact Robin Fred via e-mail at or call him at 888.507.3800.

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