Ravenswood teacher brings tech into the classroom
Robert Pronovost honored by International Society for Technology in Education
When Robert Pronovost started teaching at Menlo Park's Belle Haven Elementary School in 2007, his classroom had three aging desktop computers.
Now, there are MacBooks, iPads, iPod Touches, an eBeam interactive whiteboard, a Mac Mini, a projector, an Apple TV, and numerous other small devices such as speakers and a Bamboo tablet.
The infusion of technology, which Pronovost has spearheaded in the past five years, led his being honored as an "emerging leader" this summer by the International Society for Technology in Education, an Oregon-based membership organization for educators. The national award recognizes those under the age of 35 who use technology to improve teaching and learning in the classroom.
In the Ravenswood City School District, where Pronovost teaches second grade, the large majority of students are English-language learners and about 90 percent of students qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.
Technology engages students and support their learning, he said.
"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."
He has faced plenty of challenges in his quest to equip his and other classrooms with technology. The school district had no resources to help, so he sought donations and grants.
He searched Craigslist for cheap or free laptops and asked friends for donations, then turned to Donorschoose.org, an online charity dedicated to donating funds and materials to students in need.
Pronovost wrote grants and contacted local businesses, including Tyco Electronics, Facebook, Luidia and Apple, 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 secured class sets of laptops, interactive whiteboards and wireless Internet access.
Now when Pronovost teaches, instead of being tied to the chalkboard or whiteboard in the front of the classroom, he uses an iPad and an AppleTV connected to a projector and roams the room 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.
Pronovost has been surrounded by technology from an early age.
"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)."
After attending two different high schools during his youth, he began to notice some of the inequality in education. His desire to become a teacher, however, was sparked by his work with St. HOPE Public Schools in Sacramento.
"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 sought to teach in an underserved community, where he could have a great impact on students.
He was deciding between East Palo Alto and Oakland but ultimately chose East Palo Alto due to his wife's ties to the Peninsula. Pronovost chose to teach at Belle Haven after talking with students there.
"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.
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.
Also serving as the Ravenswood City School District's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) coordinator, he is focused on mentoring teachers in technology integration in both one-on-one and small groups settings, while conducting 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. In addition to increasing technology use throughout the district, he hopes to highlight teachers' work with technology, as well as test out some free mobile 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.
In addition to the International Society for Technology in Education award, Pronovost was also honored this spring by the California Computer-Using Educators, another membership group for educators, for expanding the use of technology at his school.
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