Notebooks, iPads, laptops and desktops, oh my!

Just where to begin when using them in the classroom?

Maybe with the spin-off...

More than 450 educators from more than a dozen area school districts came to Chatfield Elementary last Monday, Jan. 20, to learn how to use technology devices as part of everyday classroom learning.

"The sessions offered were for all types of devices - iPads, netbooks, laptops and desktops, and the main focus of the day was to learn ways to incorporate technology into the classroom," said Kristy Cook, tech integrationist for Chatfield's school district.

Director Damon Lueck added, "Our district sent a couple of experienced staff down to a tech training day last January in Grand Meadow, and we decided that maybe all of our staff should be involved in the future. Once we determined we should involve all of our staff, we thought that including some other districts would be helpful as well, and Chatfield is a good central location where the technology needs of such a large group could be met effectively."

He also explained that this workshop, called Techspo, is a spin-off of one several area technology directors put on in June several years ago. The attendance was optional since it was during the summer, so the previous workshop wasn't quite as large as the one held last Monday in Chatfield.

It was previously held in Stewartville for a couple of years, but hadn't been held for the past four years. "We will be working with the other districts and waiting for feedback before determining for sure whether it will be held again," Lueck said. "As of now, I would suspect that we will be having it again, whether in Chatfield or another area school."

School districts invited and attending the Chatfield Techspo included Albert Lea, Caledonia, Chatfield, Grand Meadow, Glenville-Emmons, Kingsland, LeRoy, Lyle, Mabel-Canton, Plainview, Southland, St. Charles and Stewartville.

Cook said, "The original planning was done between 10 area schools, but we opened it up to other area schools that wanted to attend also. A few of the districts sent their whole staff, while others just sent a few representatives. Presenters were from all of the attending districts. Part of the day was assigned for teachers to collaborate with people that teach in the same discipline as them. This allows the teachers to learn what area schools are doing, as well as helps to establish a community of teachers that can network together. The rest of the day, teachers could move freely to sessions that interested them."

The benefits of the school districts sending their staff to the Techspo were numerous, as Cook observed, "It is important for teachers to continue to learn about new ways to incorporate technology. Anytime teachers can learn new tools and techniques to improve their teaching, it positively affects students. All of our students have access to technology throughout the day. Our teachers do a great job incorporating technology into their lessons, but it is always good to learn new ways to use the technology."

Cook added that since students are growing up in a digital world, technology becomes a way of life for them.

"It is our job as educators to find ways to teach content using technology in order to better reach our students," she said. "Teachers were able to see what other districts have available for technology as well as how they are using it. They also had time to collaborate with their peers to learn how they are using technology. It is important to get ideas from other educators - the Techspo is unique because it isn't just about learning new ways to use is also about collaborating and networking with other area teachers. Hopefully, some of the relationships built during the day will continue."

According to Cook and Lueck, the Techspo has been in the planning stages since the fall of 2012, and Lueck noted, "By February 2013, we had confirmed which districts had worked it into their calendar or would be attending, at which point the planning kicked into high gear."

Cook related, "This event was a big undertaking for Chatfield staff. It requires a lot of planning time in order for it to be successful. Although time-consuming, it actually makes the technology director's and technology integrationist's jobs easier by allowing staff to see numerous technologies at one time. This is more efficient than having us go room to room to spread ideas or share new technologies. It is a great way to do professional development for teachers, administrators and technology staff."

The biggest challenge in planning this big of an event, Cook noted, is setting up and organizing the schedule for a large number of people.

"However, it is exciting to see teachers and administrators getting together and learning from other professionals in the area," she added. "It was also nice to have people see our facility. We had numerous comments on the beauty of our elementary school."

Cook added that she hoped the teachers enjoyed collaborating with other districts as well as learning new technologies that they could implement in their classroom.

"The most rewarding part of the day, though, is hearing teachers say that they learned something new they can't wait to use in their classroom," she said. "We have teachers that were so excited about what they learned that they implemented a new technology tool the next day."

Lueck concluded, "Since our elementary school was the most high-tech in the state when it was built four years ago, it made it a logical fit for this first big Techspo event. Functionally, it went very well. If the other districts involved want to have it in Chatfield again, we would be open to hosting. If it fits better elsewhere, then we are open to that as well. The biggest thing is to get the technology in the hands of the teachers and share ideas on how to make it work in the classrooms."