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Google, ed tech experts choose 11 Western Pa. schools for national pilot project

Natasha Lindstrom
| Thursday, July 27, 2017, 5:15 p.m.
Ellis School fourth-graders Beverley Oleka (left) and Madeline Mocker assemble a wooden robot at the IDeATe booth on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, at Google's Pittsburgh Geek Street Fair held for Pittsburgh schools at Bakery Square in East Liberty. IDeATe at CMU stands for Itegrative Design, Arts and Technology.
James Knox | For the Tribune-Review
Ellis School fourth-graders Beverley Oleka (left) and Madeline Mocker assemble a wooden robot at the IDeATe booth on Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, at Google's Pittsburgh Geek Street Fair held for Pittsburgh schools at Bakery Square in East Liberty. IDeATe at CMU stands for Itegrative Design, Arts and Technology.

Google and a global network of education experts have chosen 11 Western Pennsylvania schools to be part of a national effort to train teachers how to use technology more effectively.

Google partnered with California-based EdTechTeam Inc. and educational nonprofit Digital Promise to develop the Dynamic Learning Project , an initiative to cultivate personalized ed tech coaches at 50 "under-served" middle schools across the United States.

The announcement builds upon years of investments the all-things-internet tech giant has been making in public schools, in what the New York Times recently referred to as "a profound shift in American education: the Googlification of the classroom ."

"At Google, we believe in the power of educators. Technology is just a tool; it can only be transformative when it's in the hands of an educator who uses it to create meaningful experiences for students," Liz Anderson, head of social impact programs at Google for Education, said Thursday in a statement. "We're excited to support such a dedicated group in laying the groundwork for innovative use of technology in classrooms across the country."

Each school in the first year of the pilot will be assigned a coaching fellow — most of whom are former teachers — to provide one-on-one support to local educators.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet of Pittsburgh Public Schools — which has three school sites participating in the pilot — said he expects the program to "lead to stronger technology skills and better learning outcomes for our students."

At Yough Intermediate Middle School in Westmoreland County, the start of the 2017-18 school year will bring expanded uses of technology — including virtual reality, maker spaces , green-screen technology and robotics, said Kevin Smetak, principal at Yough Intermediate Middle School. John Cortazzo, a technology education teacher, will serve as the district's learning coach.

"Working together with recognized leaders in educational technology will enhance the skills of our staff and students," Janet Sardon, superintendent of Yough School District, said in a statement. "This exciting opportunity is another example of the cutting-edge authentic education our staff provides as we prepare our students for their future."

The concept behind the pilot project: Getting technology into the classroom is great, but it doesn't do any good if teachers aren't employing evidence-based ways to use it.

Program coordinators referred to the dilemma as a "second-level digital divide," meaning that even schools who have access to the latest tech gadgets are falling behind because some teachers don't have the same skills as others to use them as teaching tools.

The goal is to explore the research question: "What are the conditions necessary for instructional coaching to effectively foster powerful use of technology for instruction?"

The following schools in the region are among 50 participants nationwide:

• Pittsburgh Public Schools: King Pre K-8, Pittsburgh Langley K-8 and Pittsburgh Schiller 6-8;

• Penn Hills: Linton Middle School;

• Cornell: Cornell High School;

• Northgate: Northgate Middle/High School

• Gateway: Gateway Middle School;

• Highlands: Highlands Middle School;

• Carlynton: Carlynton Junior/Senior High School;

• Yough: Yough Intermediate Middle School; and

• McGuffey: McGuffey Middle School.

Also participating are schools from Alabama, California, South Carolina and Texas. School officials in the pilot gathered for a recent week-long summer workshop hosted by Digital Promise at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

"Seeing the commitment Google and Digital Promise are making to 50 middle schools from various locations across the United States is impressive," Smetak of Yough School District said. "We look forward to developing this partnership and continue to strive daily to provide our students with great educational opportunities."

Schools interested in joining the program in its second year can submit an interest form here .

Staff writer Jamie Martines contributed to this report. Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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