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These days teachers need more than great penmanship and knowledge of the academic subjects they teach.

As new technologies enter the classroom, teachers must be able to integrate these new tools into their course work.

To assist them, Niagara University has formed a collaboration with four area school districts aimed at training teachers -- both those who have been in the field for years and those yet to enter the profession -- to become more proficient at using the new technologies, such as laptop computers.

Niagara University this summer was awarded a three-year grant by the U.S. Department of Education worth over $850,000 to fund the project, which is being administered by the university's College of Education and its College of Arts and Sciences. The university's collaborators in the project are the Niagara Falls, Niagara-Wheatfield, Lewiston-Porter and Grand Island school districts, as well local parochial schools.

University faculty last week invited administrators from area schools to learn more about the project, which aims to improve teaching and learning.

Debra Colley, dean of the university's College of Education, said the program will provide comprehensive professional development on how to integrate technology into curriculum that is applicable to the new learning standards set by the state.

Through the program, the university will provide this training for what it calls its preservice teachers. That is, those who are studying to become teachers. Outside consultants will be brought in to train current teachers in the use software programs such as Microsoft Word or Power Point and how to apply the technology to the subject areas they teach.

"It's a formula for systemic reform and a real blend between content and pedagogy," said Colley.

She said she is confident there will be a dynamic exchange of learning between the university and its public and parochial school partners. She anticipates that even more information will be shared as the collaborators learn more from new partners across the country.

In addition to producing teachers who are proficient in the use of technology, the project aims to raise the academic performance standards for local elementary and secondary pupils, particularly as they relate to the new standards set by the state Board of Regents. Also, there are plans for a technology center on the Niagara University campus.

More and more, said Colley, students in elementary and secondary schools are primed to learn using new technologies. Some, she noted, are already far more engaged and comfortable with that technology than their teachers.

"Kids are out there teaching some of us," Colley said.

It was a sentiment echoed by some school district administrators.

Niagara Falls Schools Superintendent Carmen Granto "has made a commitment to provide all the hardware for students to learn and teachers to teach," said Mark Laurrie, a principal on special assignment in the district. However, he noted, a few teachers have been slow to adjust to the new technology at Niagara Falls High School.

"The students are the driving force behind technology at Niagara Falls High School," Laurrie said.

Dina Sevayega of the state Office of Higher Education said she was "impressed that students are pushing the agenda forward."


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