At the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year, three fourth grade teachers started an enterprising new path in their careers. Kristen Fudale, Nancy Marquette, and Jenifer Maddox all applied and were accepted to be Academic Technology Integration Specialists (ATIS) for Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools, a new position for the district.
Armed with a combined 54 years of experience and a passion for technology, the teachers divided up the district’s six elementary schools so that each class gets 45 minutes of facetime with a specialist every week.
“I really like technology and I figured this would be a great way to share knowledge across buildings and grade levels,” says Fudale. “We show students and teachers how easy it is to use technology in the classroom, such as Big Universe.”
Until the ATIS position was introduced, only one of the elementary schools in the district was using Big Universe. “They enjoyed Big Universe and used it so much that the rest of the district got on board,” says Marquette. “We needed an online resource with no limitation on how many kids can look at the same book at the same time.” Big Universe fit that need.
During the first year of their subscription, classrooms throughout the district instituted a multitude of creative uses for Big Universe. Some have integrated it into their “Daily Five” as an option for independent reading or listening. Older classes have partnered with younger ones to help them write their own books. Teachers project Big Universe onto a SmartBoard.
The ATIS team keeps track of the students’ curriculum, touching base with teachers, and tailoring their lessons the pace of each class. “Sometimes we model co-teaching,” says Maddox, “and other times we can act as the lead teacher. If I know the students are learning about habitats, I help them find books on the topic on Big Universe, give them time to read it, show them how to do the quizzes. Then, I know they can use it on their own time.”
Getting the students enthusiastic about reading proved to be fairly simple. “They definitely have a love of reading,” says Fudale. “And they love devices. Put any sort of technology in front of them and they get excited.” This, in turn, became a popular method for helping familiarize teachers with Big Universe, as well. “Kids are quick,” Marquette explains, “and when teachers realize that the kids can be pretty independent [on devices] fast, they’re more willing to do it.”
Maddox elaborates: “The last thing you want to do to teachers is put more on their over-crowded plates. It’s up to us to bring them [the technology] and get them comfortable.” The ATIS team realized quickly that one of the greatest motivators for implementing Big Universe in the classroom was help with multitasking. Teachers can work with groups while still being able to track the progress of students doing independent reading.
The ATIS team is still earning their stripes but they feel confident that they are beginning to accomplish their goal of helping students and teachers with 21st century skills. “As teachers, we’re lovers of reading. We’re always advocating,” Fudale says. “Big Universe is a great resource.”