Technology for Learners
Spotlight on Steve Williams, Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School
Author: Rick Phelan
Steve Williams is the science and mathematics teacher at Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School. Treasured by students and colleagues, he is recognized professionally for his ability to teach and engage students. Technology is integrated ubiquitously in his classes. Students participate in many different extracurricular learning activities, including the First Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, and Sonoma County Robotics Challenge.
Pictured: One of Steveís students programs a robot made with Lego Mindstorms.
How do students learn most effectively?
- Students learn most effectively from one another. Iíve learned that teaching is not telling and that the role of a teacher is to develop tasks where students learn from one another. A teacher models what they want students to do. The sequence of modeling, practicing, and asking questions can be very effective for math and science.
As teachers, we need to create situations where students work together and cooperate for a common outcome. I try to move away from self-centered competitive actions (I got it first; Iím better than you) to more cooperative work where students see the value of collaborative actions. This is important work that is critical for our future.
What technologies have you used in the span of your teaching career?
- Technology is integral to both science and math. I incorporate technology as a learning tool in my classes. Students learn best by receiving hands-on experiences using all types of technologies, including scales, balances, calculators, glassware, data loggers, spreadsheets, microscopes, sampling equipment, manipulatives, and building materials.
Students learn from making and testing their ideas. Iíve found many ways to employ Lego Mindstorm materials for designing, building, and programming to generate increased engagement. I encourage student reflection and writing with word processors. I find that electronic writing tools are helpful as students revise and edit their writing.
What tips can you offer to help teachers effectively integrate technology in learning?
- Decide what you want students to do and how youíre going to assess their learning. If youíre vague in these areas, there will be problems. You need to be very clear with students about what you want as a learning outcome.
What guidance do have on designing learning tasks integrating the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?
- There is a danger in over simplifying the CCSS. Studying the new standards, I recognize the depth of learning for both students and teachers. At this point in time, Iím studying the math practices. Iím blown away by what weíre asking students to do. My sense is that, at first, I will only have a handful of students that will truly be able to carry out the grade-level CCSS tasks.
Work with CCSS will grow over time among students and teachers. We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize our professional development needs. Differentiated professional development opportunities can help. Policy-makers and leadership groups need to support and sustain long-term work in this important area. It will take time for students and teachers to get there. We should not be panic. Working together, we can do it.
What motivates you as a teacher?
- Seeing students learn. Inside of a year, you can see significant growth with students in the areas of cooperation, working on a common project, getting along with others, being open to making mistakes and learning from them, doing math, asking questions, developing responsibility for learning.
All kids are exceptional. You take all children from where they are and work to help them move to the next level.
What observations do you have about preparing students for their futures?
- We need to help students develop abilities in areas that matter. Some of these areas include responsibility, respect, collaboration, and patience. We need to cultivate active engagement in the world and promote the importance of communication and cooperation. Students need to be aware of the big issues that are facing us as a people and know that they are part of the solution. Weíre not separate; weíre together part of one human team.
Santa Rosa Accelerated Charter School (SRACS)
As a dependent charter school operating in the Santa Rosa City School District, SRACS serves approximately 125 students in grades 5-6. It is recognized as one of the highest performing schools in Sonoma County. The schoolís Academic Performance Index (API) for 2013 was 964, the highest of any elementary school in the county. Over 89% of SRACS students measured proficient or advanced on the last STAR in both English-Language Arts and mathematics. Steve Williams has worked at SRACS for 10 years. Prior to that, he taught at Cook Middle School in Santa Rosa.