Osseo School District Earns Seal of Alignment for Technology Education

District 279 is the only school district in the nation to earn honor for its professional development program.
Fifth-grade teacher Heather Beavens helps Edinbrook Elementary students with an iPod Touch activity, just one of many technological tools used in the district.

Osseo Area Schools has joined the elite company of Adobe, Verizon, Intel and the Public Broadcasting Systems.

The thread between the school district, the multinational corporations and public institution is that each have received the Seal of Alignment from International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) for its professional development program.

“We feel really proud to be in that group,” says Tim Wilson, the district’s chief technology officer. “It validates the work that we’ve done.”

Osseo’s achievement – the nation’s only K-12 school district to earn the honor – is more remarkable given the approximately $300,000 federal stimulus grant the district had to spend compared to the larger budgets available to the corporations, Wilson says.

“What it means is that they are a leader in developing their own professional development,” says Carolyn Sykora, a project manager at ISTE’s Oregon office. “It’s quite unique in the sense that the school district is developing a comprehensive professional development in-house as opposed to purchasing off the shelf from a company or having teachers go through university courses.”

Lisa Sjogren, the school district’s project lead, says the focus is on the difference the program will make inside the classroom. About 70 teachers completed certification last summer to be aligned with the national educational technology standards in their program called C4 or Communication, Creativity and Collaboration Embedded to Make Explosive Content.

“When you think about it, it’s really not about technology. This is about better teaching,” says Sjogren, a technology integration specialist with the district.

The course helps teachers attempt to improve learning outcomes by incorporating technological tools into their lessons and classroom environment.

“I never went to the teachers and said, ‘OK, this is technology professional development,’” Sjogren says. “I really went in and said, ‘This is about teaching best practices and becoming a better teacher.’”

Tom Brandt taught English at North View Junior High for 26 years. When he’d plan lessons, he would think about paper tools. What worksheet he would use, for instance. He says C4 taught him how to shift his thinking to digital tools that could enhance his lesson.

“Digital tools tend to be a bit more engaging for kids because many kids are exposed to video games, or they are doing lots of social networking,” Brandt says. “They are comfortable in that space, so when learning is presented that way, they perk up a bit.”

Brandt used Moodle, an open-source learning management system, to upload a poem that his eighth-graders would then answer questions about in small groups in front of computers.

Moodle worked, while not all tools do for all teachers or circumstances. And that’s why Sjogren says the program doesn’t point to certain tools to meet certain objectives. Some tools such as the iPad didn’t exist when the program was being formulated a few years ago.

“We present the idea to them, and they take the best tool that will meet the standard,” Sjorgren says. “The goal there was to teach them the transferability of skills, so they could take the skills learned in the professional development and transfer it to their own teaching for their students.”

In another example, a third-grade teacher had her students do oral assessments by having them call a Google Voice number and leaving their homework as a recorded message. “She saw the power of using Google Voice for her students,” Sjogren says.

Now, the Seal of Alignment is a benchmark Osseo and few others have reached. In a few years, Sjogren and Brandt, who moved to the technology integration team this year, say the goal will be to make technology and teaching cohesive.

“When we talk about good teaching, people will just know that technology integration is just there,” Brandt says. “We won’t have to call it out anymore.”