The most affordable (and if used correctly, most effective) resource you have are the professionals you already know. The goal of this page is to help you find and develop these professional contacts into valuable resources that benefit you and your students.
I generally break down my collaborative resources into 3 groups: Peers, Mentors, and Experts. Below, I’ll define each group and share what I’ve learned about tapping each and developing a mutually beneficial relationship with them.
When I first starting teaching Tech Ed, I was teaching “out-of-field” on a Physical Education certificate. I was one of a handful of teachers teaching in these new “modular” technology education lab. Many of my peers were experienced shop and graphics teachers who were equally unsure of what they were getting themselves into. The county supervisor set up a week long training workshop to show us all the ropes and teach us how to manage a Technology Education lab. During this workshop we spent a lot of time working together on the projects and activities. As a result, I was able to develop professional working relationships with other teachers in the county that had the same or similar labs. We became “critical friends” for each other, observing each other in class, and developing lessons. We began to rewrite the curriculum for the modules, sharing strategies, reflecting on the module projects, and developing new curricular resources for other teachers in the county. We developed a sort of “support team” for each other and shared our resources and insight freely.
This unofficial, casual team eventually reworked nearly every module in the lab. I developed new forms for managing the lab and student documentation, and created new assessment tools and resources for students to use in completing their work. Another teacher and I developed an entirely new “Multimedia & Web Page Development” modular learning activity for all the labs in the county that only cost $79! We sent the documentation and resources to the county office where they were duplicated and sent to every Tech Ed Lab in the county for people to use if they were interested. It was an exciting first year, and I found the insight and experience of the other teachers invaluable. I had worked as a computer trainer and consultant and an Audio/Visual systems designer, and was able to give some insight from that perspective to the rest of the team. It was a great time of give and take whenever we got together.
Quite honestly, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to teach technology education without a group of peers to rely on and share ideas with. It is so easy to start this kind of partnership- all you have to do is call a Technology Education teacher at a local school and ask if you could stop by and take a look at his or her lab. Strike up a conversation about how they manage a particular problem in their lab or what they feel is the best part of their curriculum, and ask if they would mind sharing some of their expertise. Maybe they could critique a piece of your curriculum you’ve worked on. Let’s face it, everyone loves to be asked their advice on something. Make it a point of getting together, even through e-mail or the phone, once a month or so. Just having someone there to bounce ideas off of is a great benefit. Be sure to pass on any neat resources you stumble on as well, you want to make sure that you’re giving as well as receiving from the relationship.
Quite honestly, mentors are hard to find. I’m just going to share with you three of my own mentors and let you know how I met them. The bottom line is that you have to just keep your eyes open for people that you really look up to, and that are willing to share some time to guide you. The best place to find people that can be mentors to you will be the professional organizations that represent your profession.
My first mentor is Jim Kale. Jim is the county supervisor who hired me originally. I was a little nervous about being a Technology Education teacher and relied quite heavily on Jim’s insight at the beginning (quite honestly, I didn’t know anyone else who had done modular Tech Ed at the time). Most likely, your county supervisor knows a few tricks and has some valuable insight as well. Jim is the one who originally pointed me toward a design and problem solving approach for my curriculum. He was always very supportive when I tried something new, and was always available to offer suggestions or give feedback about what was going on in my lab. Jim taught me to let the kids have more control of their projects and to really let them learn on their own. His insight into curriculum development, lab management, classroom management, and professional development basically guided me through my first few years of teaching. Jim also made it possible for me to meet the other to gentlemen who I look up to as mentors in the profession.
The second person whom I look up to as a mentor is Alan Paul. Alan presented a workshop on Design and Problem Solving at my first ITEA conference. To this day, I still use the same rubric that Alan shared with us at that workshop. The concepts and principles for design and problem solving that he covered are the basis of my curriculum. Alan also served as the head for the Design and Technology section of the ITEA for the first few years I was involved. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had more information and experience in design and problem solving than Alan. It was that workshop, in 1998 that really started my gears turning about using problem solving to teach Technology Education. There was so much information I felt like I was on overload for a month. I learned the concepts and now had to learn to put it into practice.
The third person I look up to as a mentor is Mike Skocko. Mike is another teacher like myself who doesn’t take on a mentor role in any sort of traditional way- but he is inspiring as a techer. I first found his site when students were using his videos to learn some more tips and tricks for using flash. I contacted him and asked permission to use his materials in class and he agreed. It almost stopped there for a few years, and then somehow we connected again to work on curriculum for CS4. I had always checked in on his page to see what was happening in his classroom, and we began to talk via email. Soon, we were incorporating each other’s ideas and both of us were challenged and energized to improve our own class websites. At this point (Sep. 2009), Mike Skoko would probably be my biggest influence as a teacher. The way he works and the way he uses his website to reach beyond the walls of his classroom is impressive. Few teachers can rival the innovation and dedication of the guy. Check him out here.
When I talk about experts, I’m talking about the people in your community that are experts in their fields. These are the people that you might meet that are in a related technological field, or teachers of other subjects that are master teachers.
One of the greatest untapped resources for your lab are students. More specifically, the parents of your students who may be involved in industry realted to your curriculum. For example, I have had students with parents who work in the fields of Signage, web page design, screenprinting, networking, promotional graphics, radio, and television. These parents have been involved in the development and review of my curriculum many times. It’s amazing how much information can be gathered ovver a 10 minute phone call about your curriculum, and most parents are more than willing to help.
Another great place to find expert help is local industry. When developing the curriculum for my class, we asked local industry professionals what they expected an entry level person to be able to do on the job, and wrote the specifications for the projects around that. We also asked about the tools and software used in their facilities to be sure that our students would be learning how to operate industry-standard hardware and software. Most large companies have a public relations division that would be more than happy to find someone inside the company that would be willing to offer some input and advice on the curriculum.
In conclusion, opportunities to rub shoulders with other professionals and experts abound. It doesn’t take a lot of time to simply make a call. The worst case scenario is that someone isn’t willing or able to help you out. If that’s the case, try again next week.
Set up a schedule to meet with or phone one of your professional contacts once a month, and also try to contact an industry expert once a month for input on your program. You’ll be suprised how much it will help your program, and it will make for a more effective learning experience for your students.
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