Computers: a fundamental tool for supporting the instructional program.
Maryland's Washington County School District has long been nationally known for its leadership in education. Starting in the 1950s, the district developed a national reputation for curriculum innovation with major support from the Ford Foundation. This reputation continues today as the district breaks new ground in the use of technology for classroom management, assessment, instruction, and administration. "Since 1982 ... computers have become a fundamental tool for supporting the instructional program at all levels," according to the district's instructional technology advisory committee.
Springfield Middle School math teacher Dennis Smith uses a commercial instructional management and skills development program, ABACUS, to keep track of the progress of his students on curriculum elements in mathematics and to help prepare them for the Maryland Functional Mathematics Test. He believes the system helps free him of tedious, time-consuming clerical work, helps him pinpoint just what a student needs and how to help him or her, increases the effectiveness of his instructional planning, and helps students prepare for, and practice taking, the state examination. According to his studies, an ABACUS-generated test accurately predicts passage (or failure) of the state competency examination 84 percent of the time.
As the world shrinks, getting students interested in the study of foreign languages is a pressing problem for most educators. Washington county is trying to address the problem through the ICONS Project, an interdisciplinary program developed at the University of Maryland that combines technology and simulation techniques to teach international negotiation and intercultural communications to high school and college students.
ICONS helps students create and test negotiation strategies, improve skills in several foreign languages, understand global interdependence, work in teams, and use computers under simulated conditions of high stress. Each country team is provided with three basic capabilities: the ability to receive messages, send messages, and conference. Students work in country teams on scenarios such as conflict in the Middle East, German reunification, the spread of nuclear weapons among nonnuclear states, and global environmental treaty disputes.
As messages are received, student translators work on them and, under tight timelines, forward English versions to the appropriate country teams. Scenarios typically last about five weeks with as many as 3,000 messages flying amongst country teams in that period. ICONS students may not really solve the world's problems, but they certainly learn a lot about international negotiations, the possibilities of technology, and the importance of language skills.
The district is also heavily into the use of technology for other uses: connecting classrooms with classrooms in other locations; CD-ROM and cataloging techniques in libraries and media centers; easing administrative and food service operations; and instructional development and networking through the Regional Education Service Agency of Appalachian Maryland.
For additional information:
Dr. Wayne Gersen
Superintendent of Schools
Washington County Board of Education
P.O. Box 730
Hagerstown, MD 21741