[Ed. Note- Katherine Goyette was one of the finalists of the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship Program at this year’s CUE 2016 National Conference. This will be the first in an on-going series checking in with LeRoy’s Big Idea winners. Applications for next year’s LeRoy Finkel Fellowship will open in September.]
#TigerTechTeam is a student led technology club, affecting positive change beyond the doors of Jefferson Elementary, a rural school in California’s Central Valley, with 100% socio-economically disadvantaged students. #TigerTechTeam student leaders manage a website and blog, tutor younger peers, and participate in community nights to teach parents and families how to leverage technology to promote learning at home. While #TigerTechTeam has led to increased technological proficiency on the Jefferson campus and in the surrounding community, perhaps the most rewarding result of the student-led team is the leadership development of its members and their impacts on our school’s culture. The existence of #TigerTechTeam has facilitated cross-age tutoring relationships, built pride in our school, and given students an avenue to make a difference in their community.
The idea for a student tech team arose from a need to prepare students to be college/career ready in an increasingly technological society. Jefferson students live in a neighborhood with poverty at three times the national average, resulting in limited access to technology in homes. A year ago I witnessed 3rd-5th grade students visibly frustrated as they vainly attempted to adequately express their thoughts on desktops and tablets. While these students had worked for an entire school year with positive improvement in reading, writing, and math skills, the knowledge was not transferring to the technology-based state assessments. Students painstakingly chicken-pecked out a word at a time, unfamiliarity with the mouse resulted in irritation, and the consequent stress negatively affected the entire testing environment.
We began the school year with a greater emphasis on daily technology use by students and saw promising results. However, technology integration in classrooms was new to many and funding and time constraints made it difficult to either increase staffing or provide additional professional development for teachers regarding effective technology integration. How could we maximize our time and resources to build capacity of students and teachers in regards to technology use?
Our answer came as a solution to a completely different challenge. In order to provide needed support for struggling readers, smaller groupings for 4th and 5th grade students during Response to Intervention were needed. Simultaneously, our grade level and advanced readers needed more practice on technology to assure they could show content knowledge on the upcoming state assessment. Perhaps we could meet the needs of both groups of students during our daily RTI time block?
Thus, the tech club was born.
Students teaching students. Learners becoming leaders. A noble idea, but who would facilitate this learning? Could it be a student-led learning environment? Students would be responsible for completing work projects independently, with me acting as a facilitator of learning rather than a dispenser of knowledge.
The #TigerTechTeam came to the computer lab eager to learn, and full of ideas on spreading digital literacy. We started off strong and inspired, with student-led websites, video tutorials, and community nights. Tech team members’ motivation rose when they learned that thanks to the CUE LeRoy Finkel Fellowship, they would be receiving bluetooth speakers with microphones to support their presentations, extra USB chargers, and styluses to raise their efficiency. When these became reality, challenges arose along the way that I had not anticipated. As an instructional leader, I had often preached the power and importance of student-led learning and of student choice to teachers. Again and again I asked them to allow students to struggle before providing them with assistance, to move away from direct instruction to a model in which students own the learning.
While I remain convinced of the power in this shift in instructional strategy, my experience leading the student tech team showed me how difficult this expectation can be. The student members of the #TigerTechTeam were not accustomed to designing their own learning experience. These were high functioning academic students who excelled in the traditional school structure. They were excellent at following directions and working within guidelines. I flipped the model of instruction for these students. Students would ask me what I wanted them to work on. “What will make a difference in your school? What do your peers need to learn?” The students looked at me baffled. Slowly, mindsets shifted. #TigerTechTeam members began to realize that their mission was not to complete an assignment for teacher approval, but to create solutions for their peers, teachers, and community.
In time, the student tech team stopped asking me for direction to guide their work, and instead began owning the vision. These students became observant learners of their environments, telling me stories about family members who needed to learn how to fill out job applications online and peers who struggled to use web tools effectively. The #TigerTechTeam members’ emerging leadership was a catalyst for positive change, affecting the culture of the entire Jefferson campus. Leaders created learners who in turn became leaders themselves. The bluetooth speaker/microphone sets funded by the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship gave confidence to students who typically feared public speaking. And as student technological proficiency increased, teachers were more willing to integrate tech into their school day, to take risks in trying new tools, confident that student leaders would be available to help troubleshoot technological glitches. #TigerTechTeam has resulted in greater technological skills on campus, but its largest impact has been on the pride it has helped to create for the campus and surrounding community. #TigerTechTeam is not about the tech, it is about creating leaders of learning.
Katherine Goyette is an Educational Technology Integration Consultant at Tulare County Office of Education. Formerly, Katherine was a Curriculum Support Provider in Sanger Unified, where she coached teachers to promote digital literacy. Katherine was a finalist for the 2016 CUE LeRoy Finkel Fellowship for her creation and implementation of a student-led tech team, #TigerTechTeam. Katherine thanks CUE for their support through the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship award. Please connect with Katherine on twitter, @kat_goyette.