When Alamo Heights (Texas) Independent School District opened in 1909 as a rural, two-room wooden-frame school, who would have thought that 96 years later its students would become teachers to their own parents?
In fact, officials in this 9.4-squaremile district, which serves Alamo Heights and several surrounding communities as well as part of San Antonio, couldn’t have imagined the scenario before Jennifer Faulkner was hired three years ago. As the district’s director of instructional and information technology, Faulkner implemented the AHIS D “Technology Showcase,” a springtime technology extravaganza where K12 students strut their electronic stuff and invite parents, grandparents and neighbors for an afternoon of seeing just what it is they’re learning in their classrooms.
The Teacher Perspective
Faulkner had begun a similar program in New Braunfels, Texas, where she was the district’s technology director for nine years and a classroom teacher of math and science for 15 before that. “Having the teacher perspective is really critical in this position,” says Faulkner, who oversees everything that’s plugged in. “You have to understand who the client is”—largely, teachers her age who didn’t grow up with technology. “Teachers my age are in an awkward stage where we don’t feel like we’re experts.” The district’s superintendent, Kevin Brown, adds, “Jennifer has the ability to develop relationships with teachers. A teacher at heart, she can sit down with them and get technology in the classroom.”
Brown also credits Faulkner with helping teachers bring new experiences to students rather than just imparting information. “The showcase allows us to see very relevant examples of technology,” he says. “Its best practices for the teachers has generated a lot of excitement in the district.”
As Alamo teachers learn the tech skills with which most of their students were seemingly born, Alamo students learn how to teach during Faulkner’s showcase. Paid for by contributions from local businesses seeking inclusion on flyers and a student-designed T-shirt, both of which drum up community interest in the day, the conference is completely student-led and features three hours of consecutive 15- to 30-minute presentations during an afternoon each May. Presentations include everything from showing robots that high school students built, to podcasts created and explained by elementary kids. The Technology Showcase is not a competition, and with nary a vendor in sight, the only thing to pay attention to is what the kids are doing.
On February 3 in Austin, Faulkner will give a presentation on her program’s history and success at the Texas Computer Education Association’s (TCEA) annual convention and exposition, which models effective use of technology in instruction for teachers and other educators. Entitled “Campus Community Involvement: Student Technology Showcase,” it will cast a bright light on the academic successes of her K12 students.
“It’s great for Alamo Heights to share as well as learn from what other districts are doing in the classroom,” she says of presenting at the TCEA conference. “We all face the same issues with state mandates, lack of funds, social issues, etc., but it is great to hear how other teachers are engaging and inspiring students to learn to use technology effectively and wisely.”
Jennifer Chase Esposito is a contributing writer for District Administration.