Thanks to a grant of more than $830,000, Tennessee Tech is working with five rural counties, two private schools and private businesses to ensure teachers know how to integrate technology into any subject they teach.
"We're changing the way we prepare teachers," said Maggie Phelps, Tennessee Tech's director of rural education, who co-directs the program with the university's director of instructional technology Carl Owens and assistant professor Pat Jordan. "We're teaching the use of technology in arts and sciences classes like history, biology, math so teachers are able to cross over with their computer skills."
The primary goal is to make sure all student teachers, no matter what their subject specialties, have technology training before going into the community to teach. Other goals include preparing mentor teachers in Upper Cumberland schools who have student teachers regularly assigned to them. School administrators, coordinators and principals also look to TTU for training to blend their efforts with those of the teachers they receive.
Gainesboro Elementary School hosts several student teachers each year, and its principal, Chuck Breidert, says students and teachers are reaping the benefits of Tennessee Tech's new emphasis on technology preparation.
"Our school has computers and Internet access in every classroom, but Tech is going the next step by helping us get the real value of the equipment by training teachers to integrate technology into every subject," said Breidert.
One project Breidert points to is his school's "City Mouse, Country Mouse" interactive project with a Nashville school. Gainesboro Elementary students gathered information and photos about local dairy farming and sent it off electronically to the Nashville students. In turn, those students sent a project on dairy processing in their city.
Phelps says while training teachers to make choices with their use of web pages, the Internet and e-mail, she stresses the urgent need to apply their knowledge to help students who need special attention.
"Learning to use technology to teach every subject becomes critical when serving economically disadvantaged or non-English speaking students," said Phelps.
Breidert doesn't need to be told of this application. When a non-English speaking child from South America transferred into his school earlier this year, Breidert and his teachers scrambled to find resources and lessons on the Internet to help them communicate with the child and the parents.
Another important feature of the grant program involves area businesses. Cookeville's Multipro Computers and Ben Lomand, an area communications company, are offering discounts to teachers on Internet services and equipment. Apple Computers is also offering equipment discounts to participants.
"Teachers need to be able to practice at home because they are so busy during the day with all their other duties," said Phelps. "That's where the business support really helps by giving teachers a break on the cost of purchasing and using the technology.
"This is an extrodinary partnership among TTU's College of Education, the College of Arts and Sciences and the school systems in Putnam, Overton, Jackson, Fentress and Warren Counties," she said. "The cooperation allows us to integrate technology into every classroom and every subject."Participating schools include Capshaw, Algood and Parkview Elementary, Prescott Central Middle School, Avery Trace Middle School, Cookeville High School, Upperman High School, Uffelman Elementary, Heavenly Host Lutheran and Gainesboro Elementary, as well as other schools in Jackson, Fentress, Overton and Warren counties.