Erikson program helps Chicago-area teachers understand how technology can facilitate learning

While use of digital devices has become more central to daily life, teachers of young children in Chicago’s’ second-largest network of schools were struggling with how to integrate technology into the classroom.

It was one thing to supply children with devices like iPads and computers but another for them to use devices intentionally, says Theresa Allen, director of instructional technology in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Catholic Schools. Feedback from teachers in the Archdiocese’s school network indicated that they saw the potential for technology to help children build important skills, prepare them for future grade levels, and carry them through the rest of their lives — but the teachers needed help making this happen.

Understanding teachers’ feelings about technology led the Office of Catholic Schools to partner with Erikson Institute’s Technology in Early Childhood Center on a program that is providing hands-on professional development to educators. The program is helping educators feel more comfortable with using technology as a vehicle for deepening instruction in preschool through third-grade classrooms.

Hands-on experiences

“Through this program, we are looking to empower teachers to use digital devices in a way that enhances classroom experiences for young children,” says Tamara Kaldor, M.S. ’11, assistant director of the Technology in Early Childhood Center.

The potential reach and impact of Erikson’s program, which was included last year in a White House fact sheet about innovative computer science initiatives across the country, is vast. The Archdiocese’s school network is the largest in Chicago after the Chicago Public Schools and includes a culturally and socio-economically diverse student population. During the first year, Erikson’s program will reach 6,000 preschool through third-grade students across 25 schools, and over several years, the project has the potential to reach 58,000 students across 200 schools in Cook and Lake counties.

This year, 50 teachers and administrators are participating in face-to-face trainings with the Technology in Early Childhood Center’s team as well as webinars. During the sessions, educators gain an understanding about the Center’s approach to using digital devices as tools to help children learn.

Sessions are often hands-on. “Our teachers like that Erikson staff are modeling behaviors they would typically see when using technology in the classroom,” Allen says. “They want the teachers to experience what the students are experiencing. For example, the Erikson staff give our teachers a problem and ask them to solve it by using technology.”

Using what’s available

The Office of Catholic Schools provides support and opportunities for network schools in the form of grants and professional development to determine what technology should be used in the classroom. The fact that the program focuses on how to integrate the technology that is available to them rather than the trendiest new gadgets means that teachers don’t have to worry about making new purchases — instead, they can focus on how the technology can facilitate learning, Allen says.

Over time, the Office of Catholic Schools is looking for the program with Erikson to have a “ripple effect.” Educators who participate in the Technology in Early Childhood’s sessions can share the knowledge they gained with their peers and even mentor new teachers in technology integration.

“The main reason we wanted to work with Erikson is to think about integrating more technology in classrooms to meet educational objectives,” Allen says. “We want teachers to be comfortable integrating technology in a way that suits the needs of students to become college- and career-ready.”