There is little debate in today’s schools about who is quicker and more agile with a tablet or smartphone, much less a gaming controller. Tracy Castoe, the tech director for Central Middle School of Science in Anchorage, Alaska, said the reality is many students are excellent at playing with mobile devices, yet many leave high school incapable of using technology as a tool to build a career.
This highlights a new digital divide in education—not a gap between those who have and don’t have cell phones or computers; but between schools with and without teachers trained to effectively use technology in the classroom every day. Without built-in professional development that gives teachers the time and training to integrate technology-based lesson plans, instructors may see the arrival of high-tech hardware as an uncomfortable hindrance; something that may even diminish their credibility with students, Castoe said.
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) jobs are growing almost twice as fast as non-STEM jobs while the percentage of U.S. college grads with STEM degrees is decreasing. Students who lack working technology skills may struggle in the global economy of the 21st century.
To address this challenge, Verizon and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) kicked off a two-year Innovative Learning Schools training program this month at Central Middle School of Science. Through the program, teachers in underserved areas receive professional development opportunities to incorporate mobile technology in their classrooms to support teaching in the STEM subjects. The program is designed to make learning more appealing to students and to set them up for success in the digital world.
Central Middle School serves a diverse student population with one third of students coming from military families that move frequently. Castoe said despite the challenges, many teachers say they are enjoying specialized training as the school year begins—knowing they will provide students with more individualized instruction that will help them prepare for their future.
The Verizon Innovative Learning Schools program is in its second year and serving 24 U.S. schools across the country.