The 21st Century is rapidly emerging as the age of information technology. Though many school districts have worked feverishly toward the technology part of this equation, it is important to recognize that the technology is just a tool to acquire and, increasingly, produce and publish the first part of the equation: information. While we all recognize the validity of this statement, school districts in particular have difficulty in reconciling this fact with past classroom practices. This paradigm shift is captured elegantly by such thinkers as Will Richardson, who points out that the 21st century learner must master the change from “do your own work” to “work with others”; from “just in case” to “just in time” learning; and from “hand it in” to “publish it.” Likewise, to paraphrase last year’s keynote speaker at the Technology in Education conference, Dr. Jason Ohler , on literacy in the 21st Century: “Literacy is the ability to write in the medium in which one reads.”

In other words, if our students spend significant time on the web gathering information, which they do, can they truly be considered literate if they don’t know how to publish to the web in a safe, ethical, and thoughtful manner? This question cuts to the heart of the National Council of English’s recent statement about a shifting definition of literacy. The NCTE offers:

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

Nowhere is the need to impart this emerging literacy greater than with 9th graders. In their first year of high school, freshmen are at a critical junction in their education. Research indicates that ninth grade is an important point of intervention, and further research suggests that it may indeed be the most important time in a student’s high school experience. A recent article in Educational Leadership (The American Society of Curriculum Development) points out that 9th grade is “The Linchpin Year.”

Thus, the 2009-2010 Enhancing Education through Technology grant proposal from Englewood Schools and Littleton Public Schools seeks to redress these concerns. In a snapshot view, we propose to deliver a high quality, research-based professional development cycle to the 9th grade Language Arts teachers. Our outcomes will include that teachers will have a deeper understanding of electronic academic databases, information validation skills, the syntax of the Internet, a solid grasp of Copyright and Fair Use policies, and finally, a mastery of best practices with regard to safe Web-based publications. We will anchor our “technology-specific” professional development within the greater context of the Adolescent Literacy Workshop planned for this summer, and further, use the Professional Learning Community framework to leverage and extend our professional development. While we will give particular focus to the information side of information technology, we will provide technology, in the form of laptop computers, to the participating teachers and specialists. Without ubiquitous access to a laptop, the attempts to redefine classroom practice are hindered.

In short, we are offering a proposal that is based on identified needs, offers a research-backed professional development plan that addresses those needs, and then equips the participants with the tools necessary to effect 21st Century changes in their classrooms. Finally, in the spirit of continual improvement, participants will share lesson plans and experiences to the betterment of both Englewood and Littleton students.

This program is supported by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education under
Title II, Part D of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB) – Enhancing
Education through Technology to the Colorado Department of Education.

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