The National School Boards Association’s 20th annual Technology + Learning (T+L) Conference opened Nov. 8 with a salute to an exemplary Arizona school district that is using technology to support student achievement–and a keynote speech by futurist, author, and inventor Ray Kurzweil, who talked about the huge impact that rapid advancements in technology are having on education.

In the opening general session, NSBA recognized the Kyrene Elementary School District in Tempe, Ariz., as one of its three “Salute Districts” this year. The awards are bestowed on districts that effectively use technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Kyrene, which has 18,000 students in grades K-8, was selected for its Kyrene Teaches with Technology Project (KTTP), an innovative curriculum project that uses technology to foster a collaborative, team-based approach to instruction within each grade level. Each KTTP classroom is supplied with five wireless laptops and a projection system. This model takes the concept of the mini-lab and leverages it with a grade-level, team-based teaching approach to create new possibilities, as laptops flow seamlessly to where they are most needed at any given time, district officials say.

KTTP is “a curriculum project, not a technology project,” said the narrator of a short film about the project that was shown to conference attendees. One of the keys to the project’s success is that district leaders started with the question of what students need for learning–and then designed an environment around these needs, instead of the other way around. Another key to its success is that teachers can draw upon the support of a “technology mentor” to help them integrate the laptops into instruction.

“What has made KTTP very successful for teachers is that we get to work together as a grade-level team, and we have a mentor,” said first-grade teacher Carla Fisher. “This support group has meant that many of us who would never have taken the risk of using technology on our own have not only been successful, but have become just as enthusiastic as out students about learning with technology.”

The other Salute Districts, which were to be honored later in the week, are Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools and Indiana’s Kokomo-Center Township Consolidated Schools.

During the opening general session, NSBA also recognized the winners of its 2006 Student Moviefest, a student video production contest sponsored by Apple Computer. Three teams of students–one each in grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12–were chosen as first-place winners for their outstanding creation of 90-second videos (in movie trailer format) promoting their vision of the role technology will play in the year 2026.

The winning teams are:

•Grades K-5–Central School, part of California’s Escondido Union School District, for “Technology: Use It or Lose It.”

•Grades 6-8– Hebrew Day School SMS of Maitland, Florida, for “2026.”

•Grades 9-12–Eastwood High School of El Paso, Texas, for “Today’s Generation.”

Perhaps fittingly for the day after an important mid-term election, the Nov. 8 keynote speaker, Ray Kurzweil, noted the “democratizing” impact technology has had on our society.

Back in 1994–the last time Kuzweil spoke at NSBA’s technology conference–“you couldn’t have done these types of movies,” he noted, referring to the Student Moviefest creations. “This type of technology is very empowering; it’s very democratizing.”

Kurzweil added: “In 1994, if you wanted to make a full-length motion picture, you had to be a Hollywood studio. You had to command a multi-million dollar recording studio if you wanted to make an album. That’s no longer the case.”

The power of technology is increasing at an exponential rate, Kurzweil said–and this phenomenal rate of change has important implications for schools.

“The first industrial revolution extended our physical reach; we’re now expanding our mental reach,” he said. Such rapid advancements in technology are taking away many low-skill jobs–but they’re adding high-skill jobs in their place. And that makes education more important now than ever before.

(For more on Kurzweil’s keynote speech, watch the four-minute video clip “Explosive growth” here.)


2006 T+L Conference