Friday, December 16, 2011

Using Limited Resources Strategically, Reflection on a K-12 Grant Program

At the district where I work financial resources for technology purchases and professional development are limited.  Luckily, last year some community members took on fund raising initiatives to bolster our tech coffers.  Even with their help we were far,  far away from being able to set up all district classrooms as “ technology rich 21st century” in the way that we had defined it.  As the district technology committee pondered how best to spend what funds we did have, a proposal to distribute the funds to teachers as grants gained favor; the logic being that teachers who were willing to write a grant proposal to get technology in their classroom were likely to use it effectively and provide model classrooms for teachers less comfortable or motivated to use technology for instruction.  A decision was made to move forward with this plan and to hire 2 district technology coaches (at .25 fte each) to facilitate the program and to provide targeted professional development to support grant recipients as well as other interested teachers.  I am one of those coaches.

Today marks the end of the first semester in which we offered the grants (we will be offering them again next semester).  By our submission deadline we had tremendous response to our request for grant proposals with almost 5 times the amount we had to distribute being requested.  While it was great to see so much enthusiasm, the vetting process was extremely difficult as the committee and coaches clearly would have liked to fund every teacher that took the time out of their already extremely busy schedule to write a proposal.  After a great deal of discussion, negotiating, etc.  I feel we were able to identify grants for funding that would have a strong impact on student learning.  

Next came the determination of what each grant recipient really needed, as well as ordering, configuring and distributing, all of which took somewhat longer than expected leading us to move our submission deadlines back for second semester. In addition, we initiated a rigorous offering of 2 hour, after school, technology courses taught by the tech coaches and other district tech experts throughout the district to support the grant recipients as well as other interested staff.  Attendees were given the option of receiving hourly pay or credit toward lane advancement. These courses were well attended the impact was evident as participants shared with us the many ways they had used tools such as Google Docs, Voicethreads, Wikis, and others tech tools in their classrooms.  

Once they received their equipment the teachers and students were ecstatic.  We funded a diverse group of grants including;a classroom set of iPod touches for home podcast viewing, software that supports instrumental instruction, numerous classroom iPad stations, MacBook stations to support the creation of a year long summative elementary portfolio for 5th graders, a Mac with a large screen for a vision impaired students, and many others.  It has been rewarding to see the teachers try out the new technology and see the curiosity and excitement of students!

With the objective of the program being to use financial resources strategically to place technology in classrooms where it will make the most difference, I would say that initially it has been a success; although it may be too early to tell as most teachers have only had the new hardware in their classrooms for about 5 weeks. We did come up against some challenges, one being that the tech coaches often got bogged down in technical trouble shooting which detracted from the time they could spend supporting teachers in instruction and planning.  Another issue was that our network is not optimaly set up to support iOS devices. This is something we are addressing but it would have been nice to have taken care of it before it caused problems with devices being used by students.  All in all I would say that the program is off to a great start but we will continue to observe and gather data as we evaluate its effectiveness.  It has been great to see so many inspired projects funded and put into action.

If you are interested, here is a link to a website we used for the program with links to our grant proposal form, schedule of courses, and other supporting materials. 

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