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Maryland Science Teacher Testifies to Congress

Industry and Obama administration heavyweights present, but lawmakers want to talk to Ms. Short

by Mary Ellen Flannery

In a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, tech-savvy members of Congress asked themselves: What exactly does an innovative 21st century classroom look like?

Probably an awful lot like Lisa Short's.

Short, a Maryland State Teachers Association-NEA member and science teacher at Gaithersburg Middle School in Maryland, testified before the U.S. House of Representative's Education and Labor Committee in the first of a series of hearings about "The Future of Learning: How Technology is Transforming Public Schools." Their point? Find out how technology-based education tools can best be used in U.S. classrooms.

"Today's students use technology in everything they do," noted U.S. Rep. George Miller, the chairman of the committee. (Think of it: Texting, instant messaging, Facebooking, listening to iPods...the life of a teen!) But most schools ask kids to put all that stuff away. "School today, for far too many kids, does not look like the rest of their world, and does not capitalize on technology's potential to engage students and improve learning."

On Tuesday, the expert witness testimony -- which included Short's engaging demonstration of an interactive classroom white board -- pointed the members of Congress to a few new exciting developments in ed tech. They heard about students equipped by school districts, like Bryan, Texas, with their very own laptops. Or teachers, in states such as Delaware, who can log into their home PCs and watch high-quality professional development videos. At the same time, the committee members also learned more about the development of adaptive, online assessments for students.

But it was Short who commanded the stage, like only a teacher can. Since getting the interactive white board, her classroom has been transformed, she told committee members. "I've only had this kind of technology for one year, but I can't imagine teaching without it," she said.

The board allows Short to combine visual and auditory lessons -- like flashy 2-minute videos projected onto a large screen -- with tactile and kinesthetic engagement, accommodating different learning styles in her classroom. For example, after showing a short film about tectonic shift, Short might invite her students to approach the board and actually push land masses around the screen with their hands. Her students are so eager to answer questions now, Short had to develop a random number generator to give everybody a fair shot.

In a twist of roles, Short distributed wireless, hand-held "Activotes" to the members and gave them a quick multiple-choice quiz: What percentage of American classrooms have the kind of technology she just showed them? Lucky for them, every committee member answered correctly: Just 16 percent.

But the key to student improvement isn't just more, fancier stuff. To make technology work for students, many of the committee members recognized that teachers also need high-quality professional development. With $650 million in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated for educational technology, some of that money should go to teacher training, suggested U.S. Rep. Rush Holt.

Although Short sat alongside Aneesh Chopra, chief technology officer for the White House, and other education heavyweights, lawmakers clearly deferred to her classroom expertise. "Let me turn to Ms. Short -- and others, if there's time," Holt began one question. And it was a good thing they were listening to her. Consider the Texas technology officer sitting two seats down who suggested to the committee that reluctant teachers could be made to use technology if their administrators were convinced it's a good idea, "because teachers do what their administrators tell them to do." (Hint: Teachers are a lot more eager to do what's best for their students.)

Said Rep. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawai'i, to Short: "Sitting here, I thought, 'I would have liked to be in your class!'"



View Short's Congressional testimony.

Learn about techno gadgets for teaching

Read our beginners guide to integrating technology

NEA Today article: Mind the technology gap