Dominican program helps teachers better use technology

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, September 4, 2016

Dominican program helps teachers better use technology

Matthew Anderson and Josh Reed, students from Chicago Jesuit Academy, review the projects they took part in as part of a summer program at Dominican University on July 29. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
Teacher Alejandra Govea-Lopez high-fives Bryan Benitez, a student at CICS West Belden Charter School, as partcipants in the program met following presentations to their parents at Dominican University on July 29. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)
From left, Michael Allen, Ryan Rodriguez, Carolyn Rutili (teacher) and Matthew Anderson work on making a video earlier this summer. (photo courtesy Ryan Pagelow/Dominican University)

Ever seen kindergartners record a video in front of a green screen? Or choose work for their parents to see — and explain what they were doing — in real time?

Both things happen in Michele Doyle’s kindergarten class at St. Celestine School in Elmwood Park, and she’s helped other teachers in the school learn how to use technology both to enhance their lessons and communication between school and home.

That was exactly the kind of outcome Ben Freville, associate dean of the School of Education at Dominican University, was hoping for with the Blended Learning Initiative, a program to help Catholic school teachers learn about and use technology along with traditional instruction in their classrooms with funding from the Skokie-based John and Frances Beck Foundation.

“This is really kind of a trainthe- trainers model, so we hope the teachers work with other teachers in their schools,” he said. “The real goal is to look how technology is being used in schools.”

Dominican is trying to stretch the $350,000 grant over four years, he said, and trying to have two teachers from each school to attend at the same time so they can work together and support each other.

Teachers who take part each receive a stipend and either an iPad or a Chromebook. They attend classes for seven Saturdays in the spring, where they learn about, experiment with and discuss a variety of computer applications that could be useful in the classroom. Then, during the week, they try them and discuss what they found.

When the initial email about the program came out in December 2014, Karen Zaccaria, a sixthgrade teacher at St. William School, said she applied as soon as she could. With 29 years of experience teaching in elementary schools, including time as her school’s computer teacher, she does her best to keep abreast of the best ways to use technology. Even with her background, she learned a lot.

“It was hands-on from the moment we walked through the door,” she said. “We had the class on Friday, and we were working with the students on Monday.”

The applications the teachers used included everything from ways to assess student progress to applications that allowed students to make and share their own stories, Doyle said.

“Maybe a kindergartner can’t write a story,” she said, “but they can draw it, and they can tell you what’s happening in their story, and we can upload the pictures and record their narration.”

The teachers get more hands-on time in the summer, working with students in the Summer Reading Academy, Dominican’s literacy enrichment program, before designing their own projects, trying them out and reporting to the group in the fall.

Karen Zaccaria said she and another teacher did a blended-learning in-service session for other teachers at St. William, but her main project was working on and getting her sixth-graders at St. William to use and become comfortable with a number of Google products. Each student received a school-based Gmail account that could send and receive email only from other St. William accounts. Then they used Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides and other applications to collaborate on their own projects.

“That way they can work on a project at school and it’s not one person sitting there typing,” she said.

It also makes it easier for students to work at home and share their work at school without having to circumvent software incompatibility problems.

She also spent time talking about how to find and properly use pictures and other materials students find online, she said, including how to write an email to request permission to use something. “We tried to instill a little bit of ethics,” she said.

Doyle used an application called Seesaw to create student portfolios. Items — photos, drawings, videos — can be uploaded at any time and parents get notifications.

Parents said the notifications gave them a way to jump-start conversations about school.

“It got around the ‘What did you do at school?’ ‘I don’t remember’ conversation,” she said. “Now the parents can say, ‘I saw that pattern-building project with blocks. Tell me about that.’”


  • catholic schools
  • dominican university

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