When Robert Pronovost started teaching at Belle Haven Elementary in 2007, the only tech in his classroom was three aging desktop computers.
Now, his classroom collection includes a class set of MacBooks, four iPads, a class set of iPod touches, an eBeam interactive whiteboard, a Mac Mini, a projector, an Apple TV, and numerous other small pieces such as speakers and a Bamboo tablet.
The East Palo Alto teacher was named an emerging leader by the International Society for Technology in Education. The national award recognizes educators under the age of 35 who use technology to improve teaching and learning in his or her classroom.
Pronovost is a second grade teacher at Belle Haven Elementary School in the Ravenswood City School District, where 95 percent of students are English-language learners and 90 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program. He said he has helped bring advanced technology to his students to engage them and support their learning.
His efforts are rooted in his belief that it is important to integrate technology into the classroom to engage and support students.
"Students are connected with technology in much of their day outside of the classroom," Pronovost said. "It's important to help them see school as an extension of the rest of their day, not as completely separate."
Additionally, he said technology can support students while the teacher is assisting others who need extra help.
He has faced plenty of challenges in his quest to tech-ify his classroom. The school district had no resources to help Pronovost, so he funded his efforts to support his teaching through a combination of donations and grants.
Starting by searching Craigslist for cheap or free laptops and asking friends for donations, Pronovost began to utilize Donorschoose.org, an online charity dedicated to donating funds and materials to students in need.
Pronovost wrote grants and contacted local businesses like Tyco Electronics, Facebook, Luidia and the Apple education department to secure free or cheap tools for his classroom, as well as other classrooms at Belle Haven. Within a year, he received five new laptops from Apple's education department. Over the next five years, Pronovost developed an array of classroom tools including class sets of laptops, interactive whiteboards and wireless Internet access.
Throughout the school day, Pronovost implements a variety of technologies. Using an
iPad and an AppleTV connected to a projector, Pronovost leads the students in lessons while roaming around the room freely to answer questions and provide clarification.
"If a student is confused or needs support, I can open any of hundreds of other apps that can give them the specialized support he or she needs," he said.
He also uses iPad applications like Doceri and Class Dojo to annotate the whiteboard and keep track of student behavior.
Surrounded by technology from an early age, Pronovost has had an interest in technology since his childhood.
"My dad chose to invest in keeping up with the latest technology, so I was able to play with and learn from all the tools around me," Pronovost said. "While I definitely had a lot of time reading with my mom as a child, I also distinctly remember using a predecessor to the LeapPad (portable learning device)."
Pronovost chose to become a teacher to give all students equal opportunities. After attending two different high schools during his youth, he began to notice some of the inequality. However, his desire was sparked by his work with St. HOPE Public Schools in Sacramento, where he was struck by the inequity he saw at the school.
"I witnessed parents and children fighting for an education that so many others were already receiving," Pronovost said. "I don't think anyone should have to fight for the education they desire."
A graduate of Stanford University and the Stanford Teacher Education Program, Pronovost was looking to teach in a place where he could have a great impact in supporting students in an underserved community.
He was deciding between East Palo Alto and Oakland, but ultimately chose East Palo Alto because his wife grew up on the Peninsula. Pronovost chose to teach at Belle Haven after meeting some students.
"I met several students who really desired a strong education, but in many ways were not receiving this education. I hoped that by teaching at Belle Haven I could help more students achieve their potential," Pronovost said. "I chose to teach at Belle Haven because it felt like the perfect place to make an impact."
Though getting technology to the students took a mammoth effort, he said it's easy for them to adjust to using the new technologies.
"While most of the students have entered my classroom with very little use of technology in an educational setting, they quickly adapt to use the tools successfully in our classroom," Pronovost said.
His efforts have been met with fanfare from both his students and colleagues.
"My students love it. They jump at the chance to work at their own instructional level. The students become experts at using the tools as well, supporting their peers whenever they need help," he said.
For the past couple of years, Pronovost has helped his colleagues integrate new technology in their instruction by assisting them in their classrooms after school.
"I have heard much more interest in integrating technology in their own classrooms, which I have tried to support with one-on-one mentoring and securing technology," Pronovost said of his colleagues.
Also serving as the Ravenswood City School District's STEM Coordinator, he is focused on mentoring teachers in technology integration in both one-on-one and small groups settings, while conducting some district-wide professional development as well.
"My hope is to build a team of teachers who are champions for accelerating student achievement using technology, a team that would eventually help move our entire district to utilize technology to support our students in the best ways possible," he said.
Pronovost said he already has big plans for this coming school year. His goal is to spread technology use amongst the entire Ravenswood school district. He hopes to create a database of tools and videos that work in the classroom, as well as test out some free applications.
"There are already other amazing teachers utilizing technology in their own classrooms in our district, so I plan to capture those teachers in action and create a database of tools that work in the classroom, teachers who are experts at it, and videos to support implementation in other classrooms around the district," he said.