An Update on Pennsylvania's ITEC Project

Article excerpt

"America's prominence in the world economy rests to a large extent upon its technological competitiveness. We are no longer so much of a nation rich in industry as a nation rich in information. Our future industrial strength depends on how effectively we can use computer-based technologies."(1)

During the early 1980s technology was not making much of an impact in K-12 classrooms throughout Pennsylvania. Microcomputers were scarce. "Too expensive," administrators said. Software packages to support day-to-day teaching were practically non-existent. A common phrase heard among even the most friendly toward computers was, "Good educational software is hard to find." Inservice opportunities for teachers were rare. The few that were available focused on programming, primarily because the technology was in its infancy and there was not much else to do. Unfortunately, programming often turned off all except staunch microcomputer advocates. In most schools, microcomputing remained a luxury not a necessity. But change was coming, and like most changes, it came from a surprising source.

Background

In 1982 the Pennsylvania Science Teachers Association (PSTA) recognized that science education in the Commonwealth was in dire straits. Teachers had few opportunities to keep up with the rapid advances in science and technology. President Reagan had cut off all federal funds for the inservice education of science teachers. There were few professional development programs at the state and local levels. PSTA, under the leadership of Dr. Ken Mechling of Clarion University, conducted a statewide survey of elementary and secondary teachers to determine their perceived needs for inservice training in the sciences. Amazingly, both groups of teachers ranked ability to use microcomputers among their top three needs. The essence of their remarks was, "The children know more about microcomputers than we do." Teachers, growing increasingly uncomfortable, were willing to admit they needed help. And help came.

Mechling and another PSTA leader, Donna Oliver, sought funds to support teacher education improvement programs in the sciences, including microcomputer technology. State Representative David Wright arranged a meeting with Kenneth Reeher, executive director of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), a state agency dealing in grants and loans for college students. Wright, who believed Pennsylvania's students should not become educational dinosaurs in an age of science and technology, and Reeher, a former junior high science teacher, recognized the need for improvements in science and technology education. In 1983, PHEAA agreed to spend $250,000 on inservice for teachers. Called the Pennsylvania Science Teacher Education Program (PA STEP), the program included a computer orientation program for reshaping education in the schools.

CORES, the name for the new microcomputer education program, was designed by a cadre of science and mathematics educators drawn from among those recognized as Pennsylvania's finest teachers of teachers and who geographically represented the entire state. These leading educators, almost all self taught on microcomputers, designed a practical, useful and friendly graduate-level course in microcomputer education for inservice teachers in Pennsylvania. Included were the fundamentals of computer use with heavy emphasis on hands-on experience, preview and evaluation of science software for classroom applications, and some programming in BASIC.

PHEAA provided funds for the acquisition of microcomputers for CORES site labs, software for class use and tuition scholarships for participating teachers. CORES courses taught at Wilkes University, West Chester University, Harrisburg Area Community College, The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, The University of Pittsburgh and Clarion University received rave reviews. New applications poured in and long waiting lines developed. …

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