SYLACAUGA -- More than 150 school teachers and administrators crowded classrooms at B.B. Comer Memorial High School during the first-ever iLearn Summer Technology and Project-Based Learning Institute offered by Talladega County Schools July 28-30.

The institute featured 18 technology-themed breakout sessions where participants received instruction from presenters and assistants who showed them how to use applications such as GarageBand, iMovie, Edmodo, social media apps and many other resources for educational purposes.

Individuals who wanted to learn more about project-based learning were given the option to attend the daily PBL 101 courses designed to simulate projects while incorporating the eight essential elements of PBL while focusing on project design, assessment and management.

According to Craig Bates, the school system’s coordinator of instructional technology, nearly one-third of the teachers and administrators came from outside the system, with some coming from as far as Limestone County to participate.

Bates explained out-of-county participants paid $75 to attend six of the breakout sessions or $150 to attend PBL 101 — approximately 21 total hours of instruction — with the money going to help offset the cost of the materials for the institute.

“The goal is to offer teachers and administrators the opportunity to come in and learn about technology tools so they can take them back to their respective schools and integrate technology into the classrooms,” Bates said. “We’re a system that’s known throughout the state as a leader in technology and project-based learning, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to make connections, meet other people and share knowledge.”

At the end of the three-day institute, a drawing was held for a variety of door prizes including iPad cases and iPad Minis for educators to use as part of classroom instruction.

Bates hailed the institute as a successful venture for all who participated.

“We really didn’t start planning this until sometime in April,” Bates said. “Based on feedback we’ve received and the fact school starts next week, we’ll have the institute earlier in the summer next time. With any initiative, no matter how great it is, you have to have a starting point. This is our starting point, and I’m very pleased with this institute.”

Approximately 16 presenters and assistants helped direct the three-day institute leading breakout sessions and PBL 101.

Childersburg High School digital learning specialist Ashley Kean, one of the presenters at the institute, stressed it was important to know where the teachers and administrators were in terms of incorporating technology into their classrooms before introducing new concepts and ideas.

“You don’t want to give them anything that’s going to overload them, because then they won’t use it in the classroom,” Kean said. “So you want to know where they are. If there are people at different levels, then you just plan for that. You let them help each other, grow together and learn from each other that way because your advanced teachers will help the novice teachers. They’ll teach them how to use the technology and how they use it in the classroom.”

Misty Mitchell, a biology teacher at CHS, discussed how the institute helped enhance her teaching prowess while adding new tactics to her educational toolbox.

“The institute taught me how to help make education we’re providing to the students more meaningful,” Mitchell said. “This allows them to make something or do something they can actually use in their everyday life, or they can help others to use to help better their world.”

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