Professional Learning

Students Teach Technology to Teachers

Children provide educators with tips about how they learn best.

September 1, 2001

Running Time: 6 min.

Editor's Note: The Generation www.Y program, profiled in this video, has evolved into a national program called GenerationYes, led by Dennis Harper. Although thestudents at Washington Middle School no longer spend time before andafter school to plan lessons with their teachers, they continue toparticipate in GenerationYes and help educators learn ways to usetechnology in the classroom.

When middle school students Alison and Nat confer with their teachers, it's to talk about the lessons the students are preparing for student teachers as part of a new Generation www.Y program. The young people are part of a growing group in schools across the country who are sharing their own expertise to help make prospective teachers more aware of how students learn and the best ways technology can be used to support their learning.

Why Gen www.Y?

Dennis Harper, former technology coordinator for the Olympia School District, in Olympia, Washington, won a federal grant that allowed him to develop a program that paired students familiar with technology with teachers who aren't tech savvy but who know their subjects well. Not only did Harper and his colleagues discover that students in their program, known more familiarly as Gen www.Y, needed to have a solid understanding of technology tools and how best to use them, they had to know something about working with adults.

Young students help teachers bring technology tools into their lessons.

Credit: Edutopia

Now, students in grades 4-12 routinely acquaint teachers in their own classes, schools, and other schools with appropriate and interesting ways technological tools can enhance teaching and learning.

In Harper's view, it hasn't worked to require that teachers take the time to learn such skills as HTML programming to develop Web pages, find valuable information on the Internet, or scan pictures for inclusion in Microsoft PowerPoint presentations. Much more effective, he says, is encouraging students to follow their natural interest in technology and then bring them together with teachers whose expertise in subject matter provides content for projects involving technology.

Teacher-Preparation Programs Participate

New this year, students in the Master in Teaching (MIT) program at Olympia's Evergreen State College meet regularly with middle school students. During the sessions, the young students demonstrate technology tools, instruct the teacher-education students in lesson-plan design that incorporates technology, and answer their questions about kids, technology, and learning.

Middle school students confer before offering an answer to Evergreen College student teachers.

Credit: Edutopia

"It's very exciting to get a student's viewpoint," says MIT student Betty Hicks. "I have learned so much from Nat. As a teacher, I'm amazed at the quality of these kids! They're self-learners. They do it on their own time. I feel like I'm in an equal partnership. It gives me hope that I can take technology and bring it into my classroom."

Student teachers from nine colleges of education who are working with more than 500 Gen www.Y students in 16 K-12 schools in Washington, as well as in Idaho, Kentucky, Nevada, and Ohio, participate in a variety of instructional models. As part of completing college courses, aspiring teachers are required to develop Web pages that include lesson plans, Web resources, and a journal of their sessions with Gen www.Y students.

The contract for the Gen www.Y students at Washington Middle School who work with the student teachers, on the other hand, lays out their responsibilities, including spending 10-15 hours of class time with an assigned Evergreen MIT student, participating in an interview, reviewing the MIT student's Web page to make it more "student friendly," and providing advice on infusing technology.

Middle school students Katie and Kiley worked together to plan and teach their lessons. During the semester, they moved from closely supervised sessions to working on their own with their student teachers. Early topics included such practical ideas as planning ahead for technology problems, acceptable-use policies, and appropriate technology for various age groups. Later, the girls encouraged the student teachers to work in groups to develop lesson plans that include technology, and were available to offer advice and help solve problems.

Kathe Taylor, project director for Evergreen State College's Student Teacher Technology Education Partnership (ST2EP), which brings together student teachers and Gen www.Y students from across the country, says she agreed to take the position because she was intrigued with the idea of college teachers, K-12 teachers, teacher-education students, and K-12 students becoming coteachers and colearners. "And I hoped we would challenge teacher-education students' ideas of what it means to teach," she adds.

Because most people enrolled in teacher-education classes today did not grow up with digital technology, those best suited to relaying how and which technology tools work are students, says Harper. Taylor concurs and takes the idea a step further: "A wonderful, unintended consequence of this project is that the relationships developed between the teacher-education students and the Gen www.Y students have helped the teacher-education students understand better how kids learn. Technology -- and how to integrate it into a lesson -- may have been the impetus for conversation. But technology has proved to be a discussion starter about something far more important -- what makes students sit up and take notice, what excites them, what engages them in learning."

Teaching, Learning, and Technology

At the heart of any Gen www.Y partnership between adults and students is a project in which technology is used to enhance teaching and learning.

Kindergartners develop KidPix insects with the help of a Gen www.Y student.

Credit: Gen www.y student

Last year, library media specialist DeAnne Barre's Gen www.Y students at Olympia's McKenny Elementary School helped teachers develop a number of projects. They produced school news with second and third graders using Apple iMovie, published student poetry on the Web for third grade, and did two library projects -- a PowerPoint project on heroes and heroism and an annotated photo album of the native garden at the school, planted and maintained by students.

Sometimes, the Gen www.Y kids take curriculum from the teachers and develop Web pages or PowerPoint presentations that teachers will use with their students. Sometimes, the student/teacher partnership results in a lesson, enhanced by technology, the teacher uses with his or her students, who then produce a report or presentation using technology tools. Sometimes, Gen www.Y students end up actually teaching younger students, such as Amanda, who helped partner-teacher Gail Santora's kindergartners learn KidPix so they could draw pictures of the insects they were studying.

In every case, Gen www.Y students develop a project proposal with their teacher partners that includes objectives -- for the partner-teacher's students, the partner teacher, and the Gen www.Y student -- as well as needed hardware and software, procedures, assessments, and links to state standards. A Gen www.Y consultant reads and comments on the proposal, and the student also produces a final report after the conclusion of the project.

Whether they'll be working with student teachers or teachers at their own school, Nat and Alison and Katie and Kiley and students across the country often come to school at 7 a.m. or stay late to become Gen www.Y students.

In a letter to his teachers at the end of the year, program grad Yogesh offered an explanation for such dedication: "You helped me a lot in technology but also improved my leadership skills." And he learned the power and joy that comes with collaborating to improve lessons created by veteran and prospective teachers.

Sara Armstong is a former Edutopia staff member.

The Generation www.Y program, profiled in this video, has evolved into a national program called GenerationYes, led by Dennis Harper. Although the students at Washington Middle School no longer spend time before and after school to plan lessons with their teachers, they continue to participate in GenerationYes and help educators learn ways to use technology in the classroom.

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