Making Classroom Connections
As an Instructional Technologist, Steven Anderson aims to enrich the educational experience of kids and teachers.
It’s a Monday morning, and Stokes County schools, in North Carolina, are buzzing with activity. Over in 6th-grade English, students are blogging; down the hall, 5th-graders make podcasts for the 3rd-graders; while in social studies, students Skype a senator who is hundreds of miles away. In classrooms throughout the district, kids are plugged in and turned on to learning. And the man responsible, District Instructional Technologist (IT) Steven Anderson, couldn’t be happier. “Kids want to be on the computer; they want to play games and to create Google Docs,” he says. “We are connecting kids to learning in the ways they want to be connected.” Anderson saw the signs of tech success at his first job, working at an alternative school for kids who had been kicked out of their home schools and had never passed state testing. Anderson decided to try to engage them differently. He knew that after school they were rushing home to get on PS3 and Xbox. “These kids liked to be on the computer,” he says. So he got businesses to donate old computers and worked on convincing the other teachers. At first, many feared it would be a distraction or another way for the kids to get in trouble. “I said, ‘They are already using online games and interacting with tech at home—why not bring this into the classroom as part of the educational process?’” His plan worked: The students thought they were just playing computer games, but they were learning. At the end of that school year, they finally passed the state tests. “Technology helped with that,” Anderson says. A District Goes Digital In the two and a half years since becoming the district IT for Stokes County, Anderson has turned many teachers into techies. Today 80-90% use a SMART Board, when before he couldn’t give them away. Blogs have become a popular tool to get students writing, and “I can’t tell you how excited teachers are with Google Docs,” he says. Each new program that he introduces seems to generate more and more interest. “When teachers see others around them using the technology,” he says, “they see [firsthand] how much learning goes up and discipline problems go down.” These days, Anderson’s tech workshops fill up quickly. His mission is to show teachers how easy it can be to use online learning tools on a regular basis. “I live, eat and breathe technology. It’s a passion for me,” he says. “I want to share this passion with teachers.” And share he does. Anderson writes Web 2.0 Connected Classroom, a technology and education blog. He is a big believer in connecting with educators throughout the country and is an enthusiastic member of Classroom 2.0, a social network for those interested in Web 2.0 and collaborative technologies. In addition, he is part of the team that created #edchat discussion sessions on Twitter. Anderson knows that the situation in his district is somewhat unique; access to online resources is relatively unrestricted. Still, he gets discouraged when he hears from teachers whose districts have been slow to tap into the wealth of available technologies. That’s why he has made it his mission to consistently strive to put resources in the hands of teachers. It’s not only good for the students; it can energize educators as well. In Stokes County, for example, Anderson worked one-on-one with a teacher in her 70s to prep her to use a SMART Board in her classroom. She was thrilled with the way the students responded. “She can see kids are learning how they want to be learning now,” Anderson says. “She says she can teach another 40 years.” By Kathy Satterfield Kathy Satterfield is an editor and writer with more than 10 years of experience specializing in educational media for children. Most recently, as Senior Editor for TIME for Kids magazine, she managed the content of the 2nd- to 3rd-grade News Scoop edition and researched, reported and wrote for the 4th- to 6th-grade World Report edition. Kathy has also written for Grandparents.com and Fairfield Parent magazine.