WENDELL — Try to create and share a document using Google Docs, Kari Wardle told a group of Wendell teachers.
The content doesn’t have to be creative, Wardle said Friday, pointing out a couple of teachers working in Wendell Elementary School’s computer lab. “Those guys are busy putting clip art in over there.”
About 25 teachers were learning how to create and share digital documents. It’s a tool they can bring back to their classrooms to share information and collaborate with fellow teachers, or have students submit assignments digitally and provide quick feedback.
The training was part of a PBS pilot project, the Teacher Community Program, launched last year.
It operates in five states with rural areas: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota and Iowa. A full-time certified teacher for each state is working as a teacher ambassador.
“What they’re trying to do is really figure out how they can support teachers in states that are largely rural and have fairly large populations of low socio-economic students,” Wardle said.
Training focuses largely on helping teachers implement technology and digital media in a meaningful way in their classrooms.
Teachers are navigating challenges such as poverty among their students and a lack of devices such as iPads or Chromebooks to use in their classrooms — or a lack of training on how to use what they have.
Wardle, who has been a teacher ambassador for Idaho Public Television since January, is working with teachers in rural communities across Idaho. She was previously a fifth-grade teacher at White Pine Elementary School in Burley for eight years.
She works regularly — with visits at least once a month — with four Magic Valley schools: Wendell Elementary School, Wendell Middle School, Gooding Elementary School and Popplewell Elementary School in Buhl.
Wardle has also partnered with elementary schools in Marsing and Emmett to provide teacher training, but doesn’t visit on a regular basis.
She wants to increase awareness of free, standards-based resources from PBS and Idaho Public Television available for teachers to use in their classroom.
Wardle said she has learned is there’s often a lack training for teachers on how to use technology in their classroom. Schools and school districts invest money in devices, roll carts of iPads and Chromebooks into classrooms and say, “See you later,” she said.
As a result, some teachers don’t use the equipment or use it ineffectively, she said.
Using a phone or iPad as an individual is “a way different ball game than putting it in front of 30 second-graders,” Wardle said. “I think districts take that for granted.”
Also, the playing field for school technology isn’t level, she said, adding many Boise-area schools have one device per student, a ratio often lower in rural districts.
At Wendell Elementary School, Wardle comes to campus twice a month for “Tech Talk Thursdays.” She provides training to small groups of teachers during their 40-minute preparation time.
Wardle connects well with teachers and shares stories from her own classroom experiences, Wendell Elementary Principal Paula Chapman said, and that keeps training sessions engaging and relevant. “Teachers benefit most from when it comes from another teacher.”
It’s also beneficial to receive on-site training focused on smaller schools, she said, without having to drive to Twin Falls. In addition to training and curriculum resources, Wardle can also help with co-teaching or watching a lesson.
“She has really become a wealth of different resources,” Chapman said.
Last school year, Idaho Public Television started by looking at seven potential Magic Valley school districts to serve, including the percentage of children living in poverty and test scores.
“We felt like surrounding the Magic Valley area would be a good place to start,” Wardle said, partly because Twin Falls is a nearby hub that could help with finding community partners.
Wardle conducted a needs assessment with six schools interested. She narrowed down the pool to four schools.
Chapman found out last school year Wendell Elementary was among the schools selected for the three-year Teacher Community Program. Now, it’s in the second year.
Wardle said she has discovered teachers are hungry for training on how to use technology in their classroom, and to make technology-driven lesson plans.
“Teachers see the value of using it,” she said. “They just don’t have the training they need.”