Leyden teachers learn technology tips from coaches
District 212 technology coaches Mark Emmons, left, and Todd Veltman, right, work with teachers Jan. 16 at West Leyden High School in Northlake. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 6:17AM
LEYDEN TOWNSHIP — When Leyden District 212 distributed laptop computers to all 3,400 of its students last August, it gave them a variety of options in learning.
Teachers, however, found themselves with challenges.
“The initial problem was walking into the classroom for the first time and every student has a computer in front of them,” Mark Emmons said. “How am I going to manage this?”
The district offered two days of professional development to teachers in June but decided teachers also needed ongoing assistance. So Emmons and Todd Veltman became full-time technology coaches for the district.
Emmons taught honors sociology and economics in District 212 for nine years. His background also includes schooling in curriculum and development using technology and time in the private sector developing applications for the financial service industry.
With all students having computers, teachers at a minimum have to develop a new communication strategy, Emmons said.
“How do you deliver assignments, how do you capture assignments, how do you communicate what is upcoming, what is due, tests, the notification process?” Emmons said.
Then comes classroom management.
“If the students are not engaged, they’ll find something else to do (on the laptop),” Emmons said. “For teachers, how do you manage the classroom effectively with this environment?”
Todd Veltman has taught physics and chemistry at Leyden for 19 years. The last ten he’s taught two classes and assisted teachers with incorporating technology into their lessons the rest of the day.
Before he became a teacher, he worked as a programmer at the National Center for Super Computing in Champaign.
“In the past I’ve helped with a project here, a project there,” Veltman said. “This year, now that they have (laptops) every minute of the day, its gone from a project a semester with kids to being the main tool in the classroom. It’s their new pencil.”
Veltman and Emmons hold weekly coaching sessions with department liaisons as well as working one-on-one with teachers.
Student curriculum has been centralized on the computers.
“Now kids can log on,” Veltman said. “They can see their physics class and English class. Right there the teacher will list the assignments. The readings, the video for the kids to watch. There will be quizzes they can take. It’s a central hub.”
“It is now the students who can make the determination on what they need to study,” Emmons said. “As compared to an individual standing in front of the room and saying, ‘This is what you need to know.’”
So far, math and science teachers are doing the most with the new technology, Veltman said, though teachers who started with less understanding of technology have also been taking advantage.
Veltman cites an auto teacher who hadn’t really used technology before. He decided to create a video about how to put a lug nut on a tire.
“You have 20 or 30 kids huddled around you and only the front row can see you,” Veltman said. “Only half the kids do it right. He showed the video to the kids. He said now all the kids were able to do it.”
Traditionally, teachers lecture and students listen. That information flow has changed somewhat with computers on every desk.
“I think that has changed a lot,” Veltman said. “I think the kids are providing a lot more input.”
“You wouldn’t recognize it from the time you went to school,” Emmons added. “Students have projects they are working on. The teacher who has embraced technology is now walking around the room as a mentor rather than a font of information.”