Reprinted from "The Desert Advocate", August 13, 2003
CCUSD 'Put more technology in the classroom' advised at kick-off event
By Alan Richardson
CCUSD - Over 600 teachers, administrators, and staff gathered in the Cactus Shadows High School Blue Gym on Thursday, August 7, for a kickoff to the new school year - which starts on August 13 - in the Cave Creek Unified School District. With a band, cheerleaders, and red, white, and blue balloons, the school employees were welcomed back by Superintendent John Gordon.
Upbeat and excited about the prospects for the new year, Gordon told the teachers, "Let's be the kind of school district we want to be, not the kind of district we have to be."
The superintendent went on to tell the teachers, and other employees, that people want to come to the Cave Creek schools. "This is the kind of district people want to be in," said Gordon as he announced the efforts by residents within the unincorporated area adjacent to the district to be annexed into CCUSD with a pending election in November. He also pointed out how parents on the west side of Cave Creek are continuing efforts to leave the Deer Valley Unified School District in favor of being part of Cave Creek Unified.
Lisa Davis, 17, CSHS student body president, joined Gordon in welcoming the teachers back to the campuses. A defensive specialist on the highly successful CSHS girls volleyball team, Davis said, "I've spent 13 years in this district and know most of the teachers." She thanked them for their commitment to teaching.
Among the dignitaries present for the two-hour staff pep rally were the mayors of three of the four cities within the CCUSD boundaries: Vince Francia, Cave Creek, Ed Morgan, Carefree, and Mary Mandross, Scottsdale. All joined with Gordon on the dais to welcome the staff. Only Skip Rimsza of Phoenix was missing.
Keynote speaker for the event was Gary Stager, a self-described computer geek since a seventh grade introductory class on computer programming in 1976.
Stager, combining humor and technology, set the stage to demonstrate to the teachers and school managers how much can be done with technology in the classroom.
"I'm not impressed with kids using Microsoft Office, or surfing the web, or even building their own web pages," declared Stager, as he emphasized over and over to the crowd how teachers and students working together with technology can create an environment of experimentation and learning. "Our goals are too modest, our imaginations too limited," he told teachers.
Stager's emphasis on the broad range of technology that can be used to teach students was timely, with the school district asking voters for approval of a capital equipment override election in November. The $3 million a year that would be made available by a yes vote on that override would benefit the classrooms of the district.
Stager encouraged teachers to use the full range of technology, from computers and digital cameras to handheld electronics like cell phones and personal administrator devices. He even demonstrated what could be done using Lego products, including the Lego programmable bricks.
In a reference to the speech by the Cave Creek Education Association president encouraging teachers to attend monthly union meetings, Stager said, "Go to the union meetings if you must, but if you want to be a terrific, ground-breaking educator, go to Toys R Us and spend $30 a month on electronic gadgets." He demonstrated many small electronic toys that could be used in the classroom to motivate students to learn.
Stager complained of what he termed "a systematic lowering of standards" in teaching technology, noting how his original nine-week introduction to computer programming was now nothing more than a course in how to use a computer keyboard. Said Stager, "I was amazed that the school was still teaching introductory computer programming as late as the seventh grade, only to find out that it was even worse than that."
Added to his criticism of technology use in instruction, which he described as "often little more than a field trip once a week to that strange bunker down the hall with all those computers lined up," was a condemnation of the approach to Special Education. "We put a child on the special ed track and the work gets dumber and more trivial," he told the teachers. He then went on to explain his work with students in Maine, and the excellent results gained by using technology to motivate and teach special needs students.
He also told the teachers to pay particular attention to some slides of the classrooms for the special education students in the Maine program. "Look carefully at the student and teacher here," he pointed out, "they are both learning, not a classroom with one dispensing knowledge." He saw that joint learning as a motivational tool for getting the kids to teach themselves by creating true "learner centers."
He illustrated his case with one child, whom he described as having "lost the parent lottery," that had been diagnosed as ADHD and evaluated as unable to read or write. The young man was soon to leave Stager's program because he had reached the mandatory age limit. "The week before he left," said Stager, "he sat at this computer and typed a 12,000 word autobiography." The student explained to Stager, "Oh, yeah, I can read and write. I just didn't like reading about bunnies. I wanted to read about NASA."
Quoting Alan Kay, "Technology," he said, "is anything that wasn't there when you were born." Stager then showed slides of children from small toddlers to kindergarten age using a wide range of various technologies. "Kids not yet in school have different expectations," he noted, and challenged the teachers, "Are you prepared to teach these children?"
He pointed to grandparents and great-grandparents learning to use technology from their grandchildren, so they could stay in touch with each other. "There were no special programs designed to pass on this knowledge, the kids simply gave it to their grandparents," he noted. "There were no federal mandates for No Nana Left Behind," he joked in referral to the new federal mandates for No Child Left Behind.
The district was urged by Stager to put technology in the classrooms that the students could use.
"We can get every kid to be a software developer, every kid an engineer, we can even improve math teaching by using computers," he said, and encouraged allowing the students to experiment with the full range of technology to develop creativity.
And, although his remark was tongue-in-cheek, he told the educators to stop using the "illusion of progress."
Continuing his message, Stager asked that schools give kids what they need to learn. "In Maine, every seventh grader is given a laptop computer," he said. "It's the state law." He repeatedly illustrated how putting technology in the classrooms would benefit the students.
Photo 1: CCEA board members Linda Arthur, Debbie Clement, and Jill Loveall hand out union resource kits to incoming teachers at CCUSD kickoff meeting for the new school year.
Photo 2: Lisa Davis, CSHS Student Body President