Teachers dive into new technology tools

Summer Tech Camp drew hundreds of educators to training sessions

9/4/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

There’s no shame in being a beginner.

That’s one lesson Tacoma teachers learned at Summer Tech Camp, which brought together nearly 200 Tacoma educators for a three-day-long deep dive into technology led by the school district’s Instructional Technology team.

Teachers said they gained more confidence in how to use the growing number of tools they have at their disposal through the district’s partnership with Microsoft. 

Instructors also led a summer technology track at the Whole Educator Academy at Mount Tahoma High School—demonstrating that new technology benefits students best when teachers become adept at using it.

Tech Camp organizers received plenty of feedback from participants:
  • “I was concerned since I have limited knowledge with computers. The help was so supportive. I can do this!”
  • “We got the help we needed every step of the way. Not ashamed at all to be on Step 1.”
  • “I learned so much. I can’t wait to learn more.”

Cynthia Bleckert, a math and social studies teacher at Mason Middle School who attended Tech Camp, said she liked that expert teachers taught the sessions. 

 “I like how it is just teachers helping teachers,” Bleckert said. “It’s a lot easier to talk to somebody who is a teacher. They understand what we are going through on a daily basis.”

At the camp and at the academy, participants chose from a menu of classes, everything from an introduction to Office 365 to classes on how to use the applications contained within it. 

Some examples of those: 

  • Sway: This digital storytelling app lets teachers or students quickly incorporate images, text, videos and more into their presentations.

    “You can put together a presentation quickly that doesn’t look like you put it together quickly,” said instructional technology facilitator Matt Barkley.
  • Forms: Teachers can use this app to create surveys, quizzes, and polls for students. Then, they can analyze the results as they roll in.

    Jamila Jones, a college and career counselor at Lincoln High School, wants to try using Forms to gather information on students’ college interests.

    Bleckert envisions using Forms for quizzes: “A teacher can make a quick quiz. Students could take it on their phones quickly.”

    Students could get immediate feedback on which concepts they grasp and which ones need review.

    “It’s a way to check your standing super quickly—instead of killing trees and passing out paper,” Bleckert added.
  • Skype in the Classroom: Manitou Park Elementary kindergarten teacher Katie Felix uses this video communications app to take her students on virtual field trips and talk to experts around the world.

Skype screen
Skype can take students on virtual field trips
Last year, they visited Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where a ranger answered questions on fossils. Students also chatted with an expert in South Africa who told them about that country’s warm-water penguins. 

Felix—a designated Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Expert and trainer—said that while some may question the use of technology in kindergarten, she’s convinced of its value.

“Kids are walking in with their parents’ phones,” she said. “They are digital natives.”

She believes educators must transform what some may view as a toy into a powerful learning tool.

The MIE program helps educators tackle that task. Kim Williams, who oversees MIE training for Tacoma educators, said the program begun last year has produced at least one MIE in almost every Tacoma school. These highly trained teachers serve as resources for colleagues who want to engage students and enhance learning through technology.

Tacoma Public Schools provides students with technical tools to enhance their learning. The district purchases many of those tools—along with the infrastructure to support them—with funds from the district’s technology levy.

Voters last approved a four-year, $10 million-a-year technology levy in 2014. It expires in 2018.