Context - Teaching and learning at Armstrong Middle School,
Kearsley Community Schools, Flint, Michigan
This project will be implemented in my Focus Computers class with 8th grade students. Focus Computers is a required class for all 8th graders at Armstrong Middle School and our main topic is Using Technology for Career Exploration. I have the students for a 10-week marking period and am the only teacher who teaches this class. While ten weeks never seems to be enough time to accomplish all that I’d like to with the 8th graders, I do have them for a dedicated 55-minute block of time five days per week. In addition to this class, I also teach a Tech Lab exploratory class to 8th grade students and a Computers 6 exploratory class to 6th graders. All three classes are offered each marking period, so I “change hats” frequently throughout my workday.
My classroom for Focus Computers is a 35-station Internet connected computer lab. We operate under the constraints of an Internet filter that is provided to all Genesee County schools by our Genesee Intermediate School District. The lab has 34 student stations and one teacher station that is connected to a CTX projector. I use the CTX projector and a screen for whole group instruction. The computers are seven years old and have Pentium 4 processors with 1 GB hard drives. I was also recently able to purchase seven digital cameras plus memory cards for classroom use. Our district employs two computer technicians and one technology applications specialist. They are responsible for coverage of seven different buildings (including Armstrong Middle School) and can assist with technical problems that arise in the lab.
Kearsley Community Schools are located in Flint Township. It is a blue-collar, working class community. Residents in the school district have been hit very hard by the prolonged downturn in automotive manufacturing that Michigan has experienced. Approximately 45% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Some of my students have a computer with Internet access at home, some have a computer without Internet access, and some have no computers at all. With the exception of a three-week keyboarding requirement in third grade, our K – 5 curricula does not include any standardized computer literacy instruction. My students come to me with a diverse range of technology skills. On the low end of the continuum, I usually have two or three students each marking period who will ask me how to get to the next line in a word processing document. Too many of the students have had very little experience with using the Internet as an educational tool.
Focus Computers is a required course for 8th graders at Armstrong Middle School. My classes include all 8th grade general education students, as well as academically talented students, and students with intellectual and learning disabilities. In some cases, a classroom aid is assigned to work with me to provide extra support to intellectually disabled or learning disabled students. Due to budget constraints, the aids hours have been cut by two hours per day for the 2011 - 2012 school year, so this extra support for these students in my classes most likely will not be there next year. I am planning to use assistive technology solutions like text-to-voice and concept mapping tools to help extend access to students with disabilities.