5 Steps to Fostering Technology Applications:TEKS Curriculum in Grades 6-8
Copyright 2003 Miguel Guhlin

The slides flash up on the screen. The basic expectations for technology integration for K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 are outlined to students. I can’t help but smile as the words come out of my mouth. “Folks, these are the minimum expectations for using technology in your classroom.” As I pause for effect, I emphasize the following words, “Note that these are classroom-based expectations regardless of your content area, not something that happens only in the computer lab. These expectations exist whether you are a kindergarten teacher or a departmentalized fifth-grade teacher.” The information in the slides is based on a presentation done by Patsy Lanclos in the 1990s at the Education Service Center, Region 20. As I sat in a two-day academy on Problem-based Learning--a replication of the TCEA PBL Academy shared at the 2003 State Conference--and saw those same slides shared with teachers, I was astonished yet again at the fact that they registered as something “new.”
Excerpt from Dr. Chris Moersch's Levels of Technology Implementation - http://www.lotilounge.com
LOTI 0: Non-Use
LOTI 1: The use of computers is generally one step removed from the classroom teacher (e.g., it occurs in integrated learning system labs (i.e. Jostens, CCC, IDEAL, Plato), special computer-based pull-out programs, computer literacy classes, and central word processing labs). Computer based applications have little or no relevance to the individual teacher's instructional program.
LOTI 2: Technology-based tools serve as a supplement to the existing instructional program.Student projects (e.g., designing web pages, research via the Web, creating multimedia presentations, creating graphs and charts) focus on lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (e.g. creating a web page to learn more about whale species). Greater emphasis on technology rather than critical content.
LOTI 3: Technology-based tools including databases, spreadsheets, graphing packages, probes, calculators, multimedia applications, desktop publishing, and telecommunications augment selected instructional events (e.g., science kit experiments using spreadsheets or graphs to analyze results, telecommunications activities involving data sharing among schools).
LOTI 4a: Technology-based tools are mechanically integrated, providing a rich context for students' understanding of the pertinent concepts, themes, and processes. Heavy reliance is placed on prepackaged materials and sequential charts that aid the teacher in the daily operation of the instructional curriculum. Technology (e.g., multimedia, telecommunications, databases, spreadsheets, word processing) is perceived as a tool to identify and solve authentic problems relating to an overall theme or concept.).
LOTI 4b: Teachers can readily create integrated units with little intervention from outside resources. Technology-based tools are easily and routinely integrated, providing a rich context for students' understanding of the pertinent concepts, themes, and processes. Technology (e.g., multimedia, telecommunications, databases, spreadsheets, word processing) is perceived as a tool to identify and solve authentic problems relating to an overall theme/concept.
Since September, 1998, the Technology Applications: Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TA:TEKS) have served as a tool to encourage content-area teachers. It is for that reason that I was perplexed that a school district might not have a TA:TEKS curriculum that addressed Middle School. When I began a search over a year ago, I could not find any but simple examples of Middle School TA:TEKS curriculums on the web. Some of the efforts that were graciously shared were focused on computer literacy, more at the 2nd Level of Technology Implementation (LOTI).
While the TA:TEKS may be integrated across the curriculum, in an informal data collection effort, I found that the majority of school districts responding preferred to have a separate class to address technology applications TEKS. Integration efforts in the content areas have failed in districts that neglected to provide extensive staff development for classroom teachers at a LOTI Level 4.
Another barrier also included the awesome task of tracking how teachers were addressing the TA:TEKS. This was a daunting task for the Campus Instructional Technologists I interviewed at a large school district.
Yet, the fact remains that fostering technology applications at Grades 6-8 is imperative. It is imperative for the very reason that a comprehensive TA:TEKS curriculum are not available to school districts. A quality curriculum is essential for the very reason that Technology Applications:TEKS are not about computer literacy, but rather, on the use of technology in support of real-life curricularly-based experiences.
So, how do we do more about writing TA:TEKS curriculum at Grades 6-8 that goes beyond the technology, that infuses information literacy strategies and focuses students on solving authentic problems?
Follow this 5-step guide to fostering TA:TEKS curriculum that bridges the gap between computer literacy classes of the past and the LOTI level 4 (and STaR Chart) target technology integration needed in Texas schools today. These suggestions are based on the process a large school district followed in constructing their own TA:TEKS Grades 6-8 curriculum.
STEP 1: Schedule a meeting to inform your principals and middle school computer literacy teachers.
In the example district used in this article, it was understood that there was no standard curriculum. In a dance of inequity, a dance some Texas school districts still participate in, the TA:TEKS curriculum is in the mind of the teacher. The quality of the program depends on the teacher. In recognition of this, principals would approach the district technology director, and ask, "What do I do now that Jane is gone? What curriculum can I give my new teacher?"
Another inequity came as a result of the software tools available to campuses. Some campuses were able to use discretionary funds to pay for site licenses of different software, while other campuses provided their students with only what came on the computers--MS Office. While some classes explored how to do desktop publishing with MS Office, others used Macromedia Flash in ignorance of the TA:TEKS for Grades 6-8. The goal of the TA:TEKS for Grades 6-8 initiative for this district was to standardize the hardware, software, and curriculum in use in schools. This frightened some teachers who attended the meeting, who were actually using High School Tech Apps course materials at the Middle School level (e.g. Digital Graphics and Animation or Webmastering) rather than the appropriate TA:TEKS. For others, it potentially meant the end of their job, or their vision of what TA:TEKS course at the Middle School level should look like. Yet, others were actually teaching CATE classes at Middle School level and saying that these were TA:TEKS courses. In short, it meant the end of an era for them and all the anxiety that involves.
This wide range of expertise and inequitable access was worrisome to the school district.
STEP 2: Ensure that your campuses have the hardware and software needed.
While an almost obvious step, it is important to recognize that with the end of TIF funding, if you have not yet equipped your Middle School labs, 2003-2004 budget shortfalls will get in your way. In planning which grade levels to focus their efforts, the district's administrative team decided that Middle Schools offered the best chance for success. The hardware refresh cycle in the district was not set, and the middle schools received "hand-me down" computers from the high schools. This had occurred for the last few years with the obvious result--the equipment and software at the Middle Schools was obsolete and morale abysmal among the teachers. With planning and TIF funds at the district level, it was possible to equip the middle schools in one district. Yet, as I've often quoted, "Hardware without software is just junk, but software without teaching is just noise."
But, which software to choose? Now that the district had the hardware, what software should they invest in? Adobe or Macromedia? In the high school Career and Technology Education (CATE) classes, students were using Adobe. It made perfect sense to choose Macromedia and purchase site licenses, diversifying the skills and approaches students could marshal as they seek to solve authentic problems. At under $3000 per campus under Macromedia's special pricing, the district was able to provide Dreamweaver, Fireworks, Flash and Freehand as a site license. Since MS Office was already present in schools, the addition of these tools heightened the level of excitement as to what the plan was for Middle Schools. With the new software and hardware came the expectation that they would not only learn to use the tools, but that they would be expected to implement the curriculum.
STEP 3: Provide the necessary professional development for teachers in HOW TO USE the tools.
As the second part of the quote above goes, "software without teaching is just noise." Without the right teaching, it would not have mattered if the district in question had purchased $1,000,000 worth of software instead of $3,000. To support this initiative, a one-week Macromedia Studio MX Institute was planned and delivered. Middle school principals sent their top three teachers, at least one of which would be expected to teach the Middle School TA:TEKS Curriculum. While different agencies were sought to deliver the professional development, it was finally decided that a consultant would be hired. In truth, while staff members of the district could have developed and delivered the MX Institute, the reality was that there just was not the time available to the staff to put together 4 different manuals and deliver the week-long training.
Since funding was tight, the Assistant Superintendent suggested paying the participants $100 per day for the first three days and providing lunch for the final two days of the training. Principal approval was also sought so that participants could earn two days of teacher choice; they were not compensated for the last two days of the training except for teacher choice. While teacher choice day--that allows teachers to take a day off during the year--is over-used in some districts, this still was recognized as a valid exchange for their time.
STEP 4: Establish the Technology Applications:TEKS Curriculum Writing effort with an emphasis on curriculum and support web site.
Another key concept was to establish web-based district resources (http://itls.saisd.net/mx) in support of the initiative. Not only was it important to do an initial training session, but to revisit the tools continuously over the year following the MX Institute. This continues as a goal for the district referred to.
As I mentioned earlier, the TA:TEKS Snapshots are often a cruel surprise to content-area teachers. Yet, the greatest secret a technology director can have--except perhaps how much of the technology allotment is held at the District level--is the expectation that Karen Kahan from the Texas Education Agency, shared in an email (09/2002) to me, "Technology Applications is all about curriculum integration!" To that end, creating a web site that addresses the Technology Applications:TEKS is really about building a curriculum web site that seamlessly, inseparably weaves technology into the content, from task analysis to evaluation, from posing the problem to evaluating the solution developed.
Yet, it will come as no surprise that web sites are already created to support TA:TEKS integration into the curriculum. Two of them include the Technology Applications Teachers Network (http://www.techappsnetwork.org/) and TEA's Technology Applications web site (http://www.tea.state.tx.us/technology/ta/index.html).
A focus on technology often leaves us wondering what a curriculum should encourage. With sophisticated tools like those available now, it is too easy to focus on Flash MX or In Design. It is for that reason that clear guidelines need to be set when your curriculum writers begin. To ensure a focus on curriculum, your curriculum writers--invariably chosen from among the ranks of computer literacy teachers--should be instructed in how to foster information literacy and measure the level of technology implementation (LOTI) for the activities proposed in the curriculum.
Some guidelines for curriculum writers include the following:
  • Curriculum writers will develop a TA:TEKS curriculum that provides a recursive curriculum prepared that progressively meets the Levels of Technology Implementation (LOTI) framework and addresses information literacy (e.g. using Big6 information problem-solving process). In addition, the following teaching strategies should be included:
    • Cooperative Learning
    • Media Literacy
    • Problem-based Learning
    • Rubric-based assessments
    • Other appropriate instructional practices and varied activity set from journals to sponge activities, etc.
  • Curriculum writers will develop a Scope and Sequence with the traditional columns including
    • TEKS/TAKS/Student Expectations,
    • Instructional Guidelines,
    • Instructional Resources) and
    • An additional column that explains in layman’s terms what the lesson is about.
  • with the Unit Structure defined as
    • Activity Structure
    • Resources
    • Assessment Components, including rubrics for products developed.
  • Units/Activities will reference approved software purchased for grades 6-8 TA:TEKS, including MS Office and Macromedia Studio MX
  • Correlates with existing grades 6-8 curriculum
  • Tech Apps TAKS Objectives Correlation when appropriate
  • Web Interface with introductory section (Cover page, TOC, acknowledgements), unit section
  • Make the materials available in Adobe Acrobat PDF and MS Word formats.
Aside from these guidelines, it was helpful for the curriculum writers to have a format they could follow. If you have had a chance to review the Viewing and Representation Strand of the TAKS, you will see an excellent format to follow. The last bit of advice one district mentioned is, "Make sure you pay them." After you go through the trouble of choosing quality curriculum writers who actually have the expertise to develop curriculum using the tools you hope students will learn how to use (e.g. MS Office, Macromedia Studio MX), make sure that you have them attend the MX Institute and compensate them for their time.
The district had budgeted $10,000 for the job and ended up paying about $8,000. Undoubtedly, the remaining funds will be spent duplicating the product--even if it is web-based--for campuses and other interested parties. The investment was certainly worth it since the district now has a Grade 6-8 curriculum addressing TA:TEKS that is informed by information literacy and LOTI.
And, finally,
STEP 5: Develop an Implementation Plan.
The process of implementing a technology applications course at the Middle School level is hazardous. At each step of the way, a myriad of problems such as hardware, software, curriculum revisions, and changing staff (among both principals and teachers) can decimate a campus program. The district written about in this article can offer little advice regarding implementation at this time. Yet, a few strategies that it is considering include the following:
  • Obtain approval from the district's Curriculum and Instruction Department.
  • Publish the TA:TEKS Curriculum in the district's curriculum management system to make it readily available to all parties
  • Publish the TA:TEKS Curriculum on the web and have a web site that is accessible and up to date. This will allow district TA:TEKS teachers to use the curriculum, as well as take advantage of an "open-source" type approach.(http://itls.saisd.net/tateks/ms/tc)
  • Share the curriculum with principals and appropriate superintendents.
  • Plan a district-wide professional development session that addresses implementation by Middle School teachers.

The keys to successful efforts are vision and desire. While the ideas found in the TA:TEKS curriculum are not brand new, it is important that a district's curriculum writers imbue their work with a real understanding of what can be accomplished in the district's schools. Implementing the curriculum must enable the writers and their audience to engage in conversation about the flexibility required, and the freedom, to use the curriculum as a springboard to something better. Rather than simply being a standardized, regimented approach, the curriculum serves as the beginning of a wonderful conversation between teaching professionals.

WRITE IT DOWN, Make I.T. Happen
As I meditate on what one district has learned, I know that our work as technology directors is far from complete. It will not be until a K-12 curriculum is available with adequate professional development to teachers and school districts--much more than "just the TEKS" on the Web--that the promise of technology integration, technology literacy will be realized. When I began searching a year ago for curriculum, it would have been nice to have found curriculum at the state web site that was as comprehensive as it needed to be. More importantly, the question arose as to why we, as technology directors, had not shared our district's curriculum more with each other. One large district was even selling their curriculum.
As an instructional technology director, I challenge fellow directors and coordinators to join TCEA in sharing K-12 TA:TEKS curriculum efforts at no cost to their fellow districts. It was this reluctance to share quality curriculum that started the district mentioned above down the path of curriculum writing. Imagine the cost state-wide if we all had to do this.
In her book, Write It Down: Make It Happen, Henriette Anne Klauser suggests that the first step in all of the successful, dream-ralizing efforts, is to write it down. I can attest to the veracity of this statement: In a year, my school district will have a standard TA:TEKS Curriculum for use in Middle Schools that serves as a bridge from computer literacy to classroom technology integration. I wrote that sentence a year ago.
So, how about you? Take a moment to write down what steps you will take to foster technology applications curriculum in your district, whether it involve using existing curriculum or sharing what you have already. I invite you to share them in TCEA's TechEdge magazine with others. Educators are waiting. So are Texas students.
Miguel Guhlin currently serves as the Director for Instructional Technology Services (http://itls.saisd.net) for a large San Antonio school district and TCEA Area 20 Director. He can be reached at mguhlin@yahoo.com or via his web site at http://www.mguhlin.net