Florida’s Osceola County School District is using software from Portland, Ore.-based Learning.com to accomplish two important goals: teaching students–and teachers–meaningful technology skills. The program, called EasyTech, teaches these skills in the context of standards-based, core curricular lessons, making it an ideal technology training and integration tool for K-8 educators, district officials say.
“EasyTech is now our main vehicle to teach students technology skills,” said Rosalind Riser, the district’s director of media and instructional technology. “And it’s also the way we track their mastery, to be able to say, ‘This child passed these lessons and learned these skills.'”
Recently, EasyTech has begun to play a pivotal role in staff training as well, allowing teachers and administrators to improve their own technology skills, in private, by using the web-based software’s interactive lessons.
EasyTech’s lessons begin with the basics–such as the parts of a computer, keyboarding, or mouse skills–and then steadily progress up to using word processors, spreadsheets, presentation software, and more. The software explains what you’re going to learn and why it’s useful, then guides you every step of the way.
Best of all, though, students learn these skills in the context of standard classroom lessons in the key areas of language arts, math, science, and social studies. Students don’t just learn how to use software, they learn how to apply it to solve problems in the classroom and in real life. In a lesson on spreadsheets, for instance, students learn how to create pie charts, at the same time strengthening math, analysis, and communication skills.
“Students get totally absorbed by EasyTech’s lessons, which they do in the schools’ labs. They go back to class and tell the other kids what they’ve learned,” said Judy Edge. An instructional technology trainer for Osceola, Edge added that teachers also have been spreading the word. “Teachers are prompting each other to use it,” she said, noting that they really appreciate how it takes them step-by-step through applications.
“We do a lot of training here, but much of that is in a classroom setting, which doesn’t suit some teachers,” Edge said. Perhaps it’s the travel time, she elaborated, or perhaps they just don’t want to look foolish in front of their peers. But because EasyTech’s lessons can be done online, at home and at their convenience, “EasyTech is perfect for them.”
One faculty member who teaches trainable mentally handicapped (TMH) students wanted to move to electronic grading, but was unsure of how to go about it. “After going through EasyTech’s lessons on spreadsheets,” said Edge, “the teacher put together a customized spreadsheet to track her TMH students’ skills.” She was able to create charts out of the data to better track each student’s discrete skills level. “She told me she never would have tried that if it weren’t for her experience with the EasyTech lessons,” Edge recalled.
Osceola’s teachers and administrators can earn up to 24 hours of professional development credit in technology skills by completing EasyTech lessons. This helps them meet Florida’s recertification requirements of 120 hours per area.
“Most of Osceola’s teachers are flexible about how they use EasyTech” with students, said Edge, who has delivered much of the training on the web-based program to district staff. Some pick lessons according to what curriculum areas they are teaching at the time. Others use it during their lab block and have students complete a series of lessons based on their grade level.
Michael Cohen, the computer lab teacher at Boggy Creek Elementary School in Kissimmee, sees all of the school’s 900 K-5 students in the course of six weeks in his computer lab, and he says almost all of them go home and do more of EasyTech’s lessons or repeat ones they’ve done in the lab. Many even come to his lab to do their lessons when they’re excused from physical education for the day.
Cohen is just starting to explore EasyTech’s library of integration activities but says he plans to use a lot more of them next year because they supply “some really great ideas.” He agrees with Riser that EasyTech’s built-in tracking of students’ skills is a major highlight. “It gives me immediate feedback on the kids and automatically grades them, too,” he explained. “It’s the icing on the cake.”