‘igKnight-ing’ professional development at Bishop O'Connell

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Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington has rolled-out the "igKnight" program - an embedded professional development network designed to help teachers share best practices and make use of instructional technologies in their classrooms. The program supplements O'Connell's existing "Bring Your Own Device" initiative by enhancing the school's tech-friendly teaching environment and offering a variety of other services.

The program is directed by English teacher John Meehan, who spent five years as a social media strategist for Catholic University in Washington prior to becoming a teacher.

"Recent advancements in mobile learning apps, programs and devices have led to a spike in technology initiatives in schools," said Meehan. "With new instructional technologies emerging every day, training teachers on how to make best use of these innovative teaching tools remains a challenge."

The igKnight program is not just about technology. Latin teacher Adriene Cunningham and social studies teacher Drew Edmondson hosted a session on game- and project-based learning that can be implemented on block schedule days when instructional time in each course is longer.

Sister Tracey Uphoff led a session on the "flipped classroom," a teaching tool that uses class time more effectively for student practice. In another session, six teachers shared how they use Socratic seminars and college-level discussion techniques to engage students and decentralize classroom dialogue.

Over the summer, Meehan worked with the school administration to set up an office space equipped with mobile learning devices, overhead projection screens and device-mirroring monitors that teachers can use as a "practice" room for training workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions. The result is a renovated room adjacent to the faculty lounge where teachers can drop in during normal office hours to collaborate, connect and improve their craft.

Meehan describes the igKnight offices as a "teacher sandbox," where faculty can receive hands-on training on classroom use of mobile technology like Twitter, Chromecasts, AppleTV, Google Drive, and interactive online polls.

"By giving the faculty a physical space where they can learn new skills and hone their craft, we're able to work one-on-one to implement all sorts of new teaching tools, apps and computer programs specific to their individual classroom needs," said Meehan. "It's really a game-changing resource."

Other igKnight summer projects included: making changes to the school library, including removing outdated materials, rearranging shelving to maximize open space, updating the digital catalogue and creating two new physical areas for student research, including a soft-seating "learning lounge" area and a self-contained "study bubble" devoted to quiet research. By strengthening its digital holdings and moving to a more modular layout of the physical space, the school hopes to encourage better use of its library holdings.

"The igKnight program is a direct investment in the O'Connell community and in the mission of our school," said Assistant Head of School Carl Patton. "Today's learners are tomorrow's leaders, and they will be entering a world where technology is a part of everyday life. We owe it to our students to prepare them for what life will look like after high school, and we owe it to our teachers to support them with the resources to ensure our students continued success."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015