County teachers going to school to learn about technology, industry


With a fun mix of fantasy genres, instructor Shannon Black uses a smartphone app and his “sorting helmet” to help Rhonda House find out if she’s a Sith Lord, Rebel, Wookie or Clone. / W.C. Mann

FAIRVIEW – Cullman County teachers are going to school themselves this week, with opportunities to learn about the use of technology in the classroom, and a chance to visit local businesses and industries that have partnerships with the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE).

On Wednesday morning, middle and high school teachers from all over Cullman County gathered at Fairview High School for the Cullman County Education and Technology Conference (CCETC); elementary and preschool teachers will attend Thursday.  All county teachers have been issued MacBooks, and the system is preparing to increase the number of Chromebooks in local schools, supplementing Chromebooks and iPads already in use.  Teachers attended workshop sessions on how all those high-tech devices can best be put to use to benefit students.

CCBOE Director of Technology Bruce Ellard, who led the conference, explained, “We are providing professional learning opportunities to our teaching staff on the use of technology, but it’s really not centered on technology.  It’s centered on using technology as one of the resources during the day, during their instructional practices, that help to engage students at a higher level, and differentiate instruction to every student at their level of need.”

Differentiation was a keyword at the conference.  As defined in a session led by Fairview HS teacher Shannon Black, “Differentiation is a way of teaching; it’s not a program or package of worksheets.  It asks teachers to know their students well so they can provide each one with experiences and tasks that will improve learning . . . Differentiating instruction means that you observe and understand the differences and similarities among students and use this information to plan instruction.”

“One thing I will say that we all agree on as a district,” added CCBOE Superintendent Shane Barnette, “is that everything we do about technology is not just about technology.  Our technology initiatives are to help our teachers be better instructors, and to be better teachers.  Technology is a tool that we ask teachers to use to be better teachers.  As much as we love technology, that’s still not our focus; it’s still good teaching.”

Teachers were also learning specifics about how to use the devices that they and their students will be handling during the coming year.

According to Ellard, “Those that have never worked in Google Classroom will have a better understanding of Google Classroom.  Those that are uncomfortable still with their MacBook–there may be a new teacher who never worked with a MacBook before–there are more in-depth sessions on using the MacBook in the instructional day.”

When school starts, the county system will have 7,000 Chromebooks and 700 iPads, plus an undetermined number of desktop systems in school computer labs.  With 9,500 students in the system, the ratio of students to devices approaches one-to-one, but Barnette and Ellard don’t focus much on that.

“A lot of people focus on one-to-one being the end-all that solves all educational problems,” said Ellard, “and it’s not.  We don’t say we’re one-to-one as a school system–and maybe we should, because our students almost all have access to a device all day long–but the key thing is, they have access to devices when they need devices for the instructional process, not just to play games on or say we have a one-to-one.  But what we do in technology truly is for the engagement of the students and seeing that they achieve the most they can as a student in the educational learning experience.”

Industry tour

On Thursday, as elementary and preschool teachers head to Fairview for their technology conference, middle and high school teachers will be heading out to tour local businesses and industries that have created partnerships with the CCBOE. 

Barnette explained, “All of our middle school and high school teachers are meeting at Daystar (Church); from there we’re going to branch out and visit several different businesses and industries, so that they can see the relationship between what the industries need and what we need to prepare our students to go into those jobs when they graduate.  And then we have a lot of partnerships, and we’re really proud of that; and we really continue to build on those partnerships between the industry and our school system.”

The tour will include stops at Advanced Heat Treat, REHAU, Louisiana Pacific (Hanceville), Wallace State, Sequence Health (Hanceville), Alabama Cullman Yutaka Technologies, Cash Acme / Reliance Worldwide (manufacturing and distribution), Royal Technologies, Cullman Cabinet, Webb Wheel, Topre America Corporation, Cullman Regional, Perfection Chain, West Rock and Inland Buildings.

According to the Cullman Economic Development Agency’s Susan Eller, who with the CCBOE’s Dr. T.J. Franey coordinated the event, businesses and industries will share with the teachers:

History of company
Who are their customers
Skills required to work at their facility
Basic wage and benefits provided

Eller shared the idea behind the tour.

“Our educators spend a lot of time with our students and have a great impact on their futures.  The Cullman Area Workforce Solutions Committee (CAWS) discussed ways to get information to students on what is available for them after high school or college in their community.  We felt that with our educators having so much time with this age group, they would be great recruiters for future jobs.”

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