LA Unified principal shares secrets of technology school’s success
Mike Szymanski | September 29, 2015
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Most of his teachers never checked their school emails. Many of them were “seasoned teachers” who never before touched an iPad. The school’s computer lab was rarely used.
Yet, in the past year, Griffin Avenue Elementary School principal Leonel Angulo managed to inspire teachers and students to use computers in their classrooms, and the school became an Instructional Technology Initiative School, eight of which are serving as technology models for other district schools.
At a recent ITI Task Force meeting, Angulo shared some of his secrets with other principals and teachers on how to overcome fears of technology in teaching. Most of the advice included involving students in the education process, and some of it involved encouraging his teaching staff into using online media.
“A lot of times we don’t always take the time to share a success story, so I wanted this to be shared,” said ITI Task Force chairperson Frances Gipson.
Griffin Elementary is a relatively small school of about 550 students Transitional Kindergarten through fifth grade in Lincoln Heights. Angulo is a second-year principal who grew up in a Title I-eligible Latino family with a single parent, and he was designated “gifted.” He was happy to take over as principal in an 80 percent Latino school with 90 percent Title I-eligible families. A lot was going on at the school, with a new principal coming in, as well as an iPad for every student.
“They were all overwhelmed, and I made it clear not to be afraid of these devices,” Angulo said, holding up his iPad. “I made sure I was seen with it all the time.”
One of the first things he did was establish a Technology Committee at the school, comprised of teachers and ITF consultant Allison Jonas. Students involved in helping with the technology wear sashes, and many of them helped come up with the apps used to help with instruction. They held Digital Citizenship assemblies in both English and Spanish, including parents, and then spent two days distributing the devices to all the students. Teachers were trained to find Common Core exercises for the computers.
Angulo asked teachers to sign up for committees on Google docs and shared with them a link where they could access individual feedback when he visited their classroom. Every staff meeting starts now with a student presentation using the tech devices. The students and teachers also make movies for instruction and about their school activities (including this one).
How did he deal with different comfort levels? “First, it was important to have no problems with the wi-fi and connectivity in the school,” the principal said. “Then, allow the kids to help fix problems and feel free to instruct the teachers and collaborate activities.”
How did special education students fit in? Angulo mixed special ed students with the general population, and even found some autistic students thrive while using the devices. Some of them used different apps than the rest of the students.
Was every bit of instruction using computers? No, Griffin still spends only 30 to 40 percent of teaching time using the technology.
So far, their test scores are not exceeding the rest of the LAUSD school population, nor has everyone embraced the devices, but the principal said things have vastly improved.
Favorite apps and websites at Griffin have included: Typing.com, Padlet, StarFall.com, Ticket to Read, Raz-Kids, Skitch, Animoto, Notability, IXL Math and Common Sense Media.
“We can learn from what schools like this are doing to improve their use of the technology,” Gipson said.
* Corrects description of the Tech Committee, apps used, misspellings and how Google docs were used.