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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Peekskill High School: Library Media Specialist Gets Technology into the Classroom

By using technology in class, these students realize new pathways to success.
By Eric Skjei

A Peekskill High School student completes an assignment for her business class by refining her ad for an imaginary company.

Credit: Peekskill High School

Wander through Peekskill High School and you'll see students at computers, in the classrooms, in the library, in the computer labs -- busily tackling a variety of class work.

"All of our students get online," says Judy Kaplan, library media specialist at Peekskill High School in New York. Kaplan, who also serves as the school's computer coordinator, is herself clearly one of the main reasons student access to technology is successful. Kaplan has the strong support of the high school principal, Richard Tardalo, and the superintendent of instruction, Dr. Sally Kuralt, both of whom are committed to integrating technology into all phases of the curriculum.

Kaplan has been involved in the online world since the early 1980s. "As soon as online databases became available, I went nuts about them," she says. She started with Dialog, one of the first commercial online databases, and branched out from there, moving into the ever-expanding world of information resources online and on CD-ROM.

Today, along with running the school library, Kaplan serves as the Peekskill High School webmaster, teaches research skills to Peekskill students and teachers, and generally helps see that kids and technology come together in effective and meaningful ways.

In another project, a student writes an imagined first-person narrative using words and pictures from the viewpoint of someone with an eating disorder.

Credit: Peekskill High School

Success Factors

Asked to describe what has made the difference for Peekskill students, Kaplan points to several factors. In the last two years, the school has:

  • Acquired enough computers, about 170 for its population of 775 students, to ensure that every student has time online and at the keyboard.
  • Built a computer network and secured T1 access to the Internet.
  • Placed computers in classrooms, not only in labs.
  • Ensured that teachers had the training needed to become comfortable with technology.
  • Integrated computer and online technology into the curriculum and student assignments.

"Until we had computers in every classroom, they were not used as part of the lesson," says Kaplan. Confining computers to labs, common in many schools, does not, she argues, make them sufficiently available, especially to teachers. By contrast, having computers in the classroom facilitates their integration into lessons, making it easier for teachers to put kids and computers together, on the spot. "It's made a huge difference in how teachers use the computer administratively, to keep track of grades, to prepare tests, and so forth," says Kaplan.

Many teachers were unfamiliar with basic software programs, the Internet, and the Web, and all had to be trained to use the network.

Four students develop a report on the American Dream, which includes writings and representative symbols collected from the Internet.

Credit: Peekskill High School

Real-Life Projects

The Peekskill strategy enables teachers to use computers in ways that make sense to them.

"They all have their own take on it," says Kaplan. Earth science teachers, for example, involve students in an ongoing project that requires visiting a weather-oriented Web site and writing about a topic or event there that they find interesting, an experience that helps bring the subject matter to life. "They see that this isn't just something in a textbook," says Kaplan. "They see that it's real, that it's happening now."

"One of our biology teachers brings up a different site every day, tied into that day's lesson," says Kaplan. "There are two computers in her classroom, and she has students take turns going to those sites and incorporating what they find there into a project." Students are also encouraged to use the online dictionaries and encyclopedias Kaplan has made available on the school's network.

Connecting to the Future

For another project called "American Dreams," students visited the Library of Congress Web site and created reports on what the American Dream has meant for different groups of people at different times in the history of this country. Students also draw from an AP photo archive service subscribed to by the school, and can sharpen additional technology skills by choosing, for example, to deliver their reports in the form of PowerPoint® presentations. Kaplan continues to expand the school's technology offerings. She plans to post student poetry and other projects on the Peekskill Web site, and wants to connect students to online mentors. "I also want each kid to become involved in an online research project of some kind -- science, language, whatever -- I just want them to connect with research that is in progress, that is actually happening right now."

She is beginning to see the results of her work on a larger stage, as Peekskill students graduate and move out into the world. "Students in some of the technology classes here who have learned graphics and multimedia skills are now taking them further, outside the school, and creating some very interesting projects," she says.

As far as Peekskill has come, there's always more to do. "I really want students to have a wide array of skills," says Kaplan. "We're not there yet, but we're working on it."

Eric Skjei is a former writer and editor at The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

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