Saint Therese is a private PreK-8 school in Succasunna, New Jersey that serves approximately 300 students with a rigorous program and small class size. In 2010, St. Therese began a push to utilize technology to engage students in research, generate enthusiasm about the curriculum, make courses more inclusive for all students, and apply students' creativity to create products they can share with their peers.
The St. Therese staff saw Pixie at a diocese presentation on educational technology. "We were excited to find that this program could benefit students with varying abilities in writing and art, and would provide an avenue for creativity and self-expression via storytelling, video, flip books, and cartoon strips, and more," shares Principal Lisa Hirschfeld. The school saw Pixie as an opportunity to allow all students to shine in their classes without having an official gifted and talented program or special education program.
The school has one computer teacher, whose duties also include basic computer maintenance and teacher training. While the computer teacher could deliver staff training on Pixie, the leadership at St. Therese knew this type of one-time professional development would not provide the curriculum shift they were looking for. "While our teachers get excited from workshops, if there is no follow-up professional development, the concepts are dropped or forgotten" said Principal Hirschfeld. St. Therese decided to partner with Tech4Learning to develop a combination of whole-group hands-on workshops and "push-in" classroom projects led by a Tech4Learning trainer.
Training began with a traditional introduction of Pixie to both teachers and students, including how the software worked as well as how to use it to support the curriculum. Next, the trainer met individually with teachers to plan grade appropriate, curriculum-based projects. The Tech4Learning trainer returned to St. Therese six times to work directly with the students in grades 1-8 to introduce and complete projects ranging from animals to mythology, and folk tales to space exploration.
During this "push-in" process, teachers and students became comfortable with Pixie and its possibilities and the Tech4Learning trainer, Terry Rosengart, become "a quasi member of the staff," shares computer teacher Jean Hall. The trainer assisted with hands on lessons with the students and provided mentoring to the teachers. Research from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) suggests that without "long-term funding for sustainable technology coaches/integration specialists ... mentoring programs may address the professional development needs."
"Having the teachers learn with the students in the very first lesson, participate in additional class time with both the Tech4Learning trainer and computer teacher, and then participate in a culminating project celebration gave them time to get comfortable with facilitating and evaluating student work," explains Hirschfeld. "By the end, both the students and the teachers were excited and ready to implement another project."
The combination of software and professional learning helped St. Therese meet its goals for engaging all students through the creative use of technology tools. "Special needs students had the opportunity to work toe to toe with students who may outperform them in other classes. But what we found was that many of our students tapped hidden talents in art and writing," shares Hirschfeld. "The students went far beyond what we expected."
Trainer Terry Rosengart agrees , "This is a professional development model that works. Both students and teachers are winners. Using Pixie for specific curriculum projects helped students learn how to share information and express themselves in creative ways. They were excited as they designed their projects and were eager to share their work with their friends and teachers.