Lewisville ISD Education Foundation (LEF) partnered with the Verizon Foundation and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) to award Lewisville ISD's Lewisville High School Killough (Killough) Campus with the Verizon Innovative Learning School Grant.
The application process was rigorous, only 12 schools were selected nationwide, but the payoff was amazing. Over the last two years a total of $75,000 - $65,000 from Verizon Foundation and $10,000 from LEF - was invested in students and teachers at Killough through this grant.
"The rules of the grant say that the money absolutely can't be spent on technology," Killough Verizon Technology Coach Natalie Spangler said. "At first that sounds odd, but then you realize what a tremendous growth opportunity this is for the educators involved. Rather than funding a product that will go by the wayside with the next big release, the grant funds an investment in the teachers who will educate Killough students for years to come."
Beginning in the summer of 2012, math and science teachers from Killough are participating in intensive professional development to help them leverage innovative
technologies to improve student outcomes in STEM : Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Strong STEM education is widely viewed as the key to producing future-ready learners who are prepared to meet the challenges of the ever-changing global community they will lead as adults.
"The professional development offered through this grant is both excellent, and plentiful," Spangler said. "We are offered multiple webinar choices on a daily basis as well as seminars over the summer."
Technology has always been a fast-changing field, but those changes have become bigger and more frequent in recent years, leaving even the newest and most technologically-inclined teachers with a steep learning curve on how to use new products, and more importantly, how to utilize new technology to increase student engagement and create educational environments that are more flexible and student-centered.
Professional development topics led teachers to implement big ideas including flipped classrooms, digital student portfolios, Project Based Learning and global interaction using technology. It also led to smaller and more obvious ideas - like increased student choice.
"The loss of rigidity, of telling students, 'Everyone will make X,' is a tremendous benefit," Killough Chemistry Teacher Catherine Eckert said. Instead she outlines the lesson objectives and instructs learners as to what they need to demonstrate in their work, but they are allowed - even encouraged - to do it their own way. "The level of comfort increases tremendously, and so does the quality of their work, when students are allowed to use their own tool. And, the freedom leads again and again to students finding a better tool for the job."
Teachers note that students are much more invested and engaged when using technology during the day, and technology use leads to much faster feedback, allowing teachers to adjust lessons to meet student needs more quickly.
The impact of the Innovative Grant sponsored by the collaborative efforts of the Verizon Foundation and LEF was good news to Killough Principal Pam Flores, but it didn't surprise her. "We already had amazing teachers and great kids," Flores noted. "Seeing where they took their learning and teaching was a challenge and encouragement to me. They went above and beyond what any of us expected when we started."