Touching the Future-The SWAT Team Movement

Lucy Miller is a Middle School Teacher and the
1997 National Technology Teacher of the Year
Technology and Learning Magazine and Microsoft
LMiller196@aol.com

 

Imagine young children walking around the school with cool SWAT Team T-shirts and proud that they are the technology leaders for teachers and students. Imagine seeing children assisting teachers with Internet research, and helping young students find their way with technology. Imagine a student approaching you at a local library and asking you if you need help using the Internet. Imagine taking advice from a student about cool web sites or how to discriminate between good research on and off the Internet.

Imagine no more... The SWAT Team, Students Working to Advance Technology is not only impacting the elementary school where it all began, but pilot sites are springing up all over the United States with the same mission, students helping others. The SWAT Team is all about empowering children to be the leaders of tomorrow, they so happen to enjoy technology, too!

Why is the SWAT Team sweeping the nation?

What began as a simple idea to develop a school web site a year ago has exploded into a revolutionary program to put the simple task of technology integration in the hands of children where it belongs!

The original SWAT Team, at Davis Drive Elementary school in Apex, NC consisted of 35 students the first year and grew to 78 students and six task force teams this year. The task force teams consist of Web Page Designers, Internet Researchers, Computer Buddies, TV/Weather Internet Crew, SWAT Team Central and SWAT Team Mobile Unit. Each task force team has a specific job to do. The web page designers maintain the school's web site:

(http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Forum/6607/index.htm). The Internet Researchers save teachers time by conducting Internet research for their lessons. The Computer Buddies assist younger students with word processing and other computer related tasks. The TV/Weather Internet crew broadcasts morning weather information acquired from the Internet. The SWAT Team Central Unit assists with computer maintenance and the SWAT Team Mobile Unit teaches technology to the community.

After submitting a proposal to Technology and Learning Magazine (http://www.techlearning.com) and Microsoft's annual Teacher of the Year contest, I was chosen the National winner, and received the award by Bill Gates himself at the National Educational Education Computing Conference in Seattle, Washington.

Since then, I was hired by the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction as an Educator on Loan to continue my work at Davis Drive Elementary School, to promote the SWAT Team program, and to present my program at local, state and national conferences to help other teachers learn more about how to integrate technology through the Teachers Connect project, (http://www.ofps.dpi.state.nc.us/OFPS/tc/)

The SWAT Team Web site, developed by Chris Cobitz and hosted by North Carolina A&T State University, offers information about the SWAT Team inclusive of replication materials available for downloading. Schools interested in having a SWAT Team at their school can sign up on the SWAT web site and become a part of the national network of SWAT Team pilot sites. (http://www.ncat.edu/~schofed/swat)

SWAT teams are growing everywhere, from elementary to high school levels. Currently there are several hundred children who are a part of the SWAT Team movement and an undetermined amount of individuals who will ultimately benefit from the children's expertise and assistance! The beauty of the concept is that it costs no extra money to have a SWAT team, all you need are willing students, and a person to coordinate the program. Having a SWAT Team saves teachers valuable time, what we all could use!

How to Start a SWAT Team

Nitty Gritty Logistics for Running Your Own SWAT Team:

 

The Student's Voices

If you ask any SWAT Team student why they like being on the SWAT Team you'll hear, "because I like helping others" and "I want to tell the world how good technology is and how technology can help the teachers. I want to go to different schools to help them make SWAT teams and I want to talk about how important it is to have all schools on line." I also know that by their involvement on the SWAT Team the students will gain necessary technology competencies, job skill training and learn valuable social and communication skills. Students are learning about technology in a fun and natural way. I emphasize in my workshops that it is not about how much technology your school has, but how you use what you have, how you empower the children and how you involve the community. In a recent luncheon keynote speech at the South East Regional Technology and Teaching Conference in Greenville, North Carolina two of my students accompanied me as part of their SWAT Team involvement. This is what Rachel Simes and Graham Sheldon had to say about being on the SWAT Team.

"On the SWAT Team I feel like a leader. My teachers always rely on me to figure out the computers when something goes wrong. When I help it makes me feel proud knowing I could do something that my teacher did not know how to do. I also help my friends learn about computers. I show them how to get on the World Wide Web" another student said, "What I do on the SWAT team gives me confidence to do other things. I have learned how to speak in front of large numbers of people without getting stage fright. I have learned how to answer questions when people ask me for help. I am now learning how to play the piano. I didn't do it before because I was afraid to go to recitals, but now that I have had the opportunity to speak in front of large numbers of people. I now have confidence in myself. I'm not afraid anymore!"

The Community Extension-The SWAT Team Mobile Unit

I often say I just can't stop at the school level when thinking about the future of technology. I ask where are the natural learning environments that can help us all to learn about technology?

The SWAT Team Mobile unit began as a risk. As a true visionary and team player I met with administration, parents and community members and asked them all to think about the ways we could help children and their community learn about technology. The local library is a logical location, so I walked through the doors of Eva Perry library, and shared my proposal at a library staff meeting. A few weeks later, Teresa Young, Youth Services Department Manager and Kathryn Yensen, Librarian, accepted our 12 SWAT Mobile Unit Team with open arms. The SWAT Team Mobile Unit is serving their community in a special way! Fourth and fifth grade students are helping other children, who visit the library, with Internet research, helping the library staff with finding cool sites for the library web site (http://wakecounty.state.nc.us/), and also learning to access and discriminate what makes a good source for information. The SWAT Team students were trained by the library staff to help the public discriminate between text reference and Internet research and how to integrate what is relevant into a research project. It is a vital skill that we all need to learn in order to face the overflow of the Information age!

For more information about the Mobile Unit and Eva Perry Connection visit http://www.microsoft.com/education/k12/articles/intnov97.asp

 

A Middle School Pilot

The pilot sites are now offering information as to how one can adapt the SWAT Team program to meet the needs of their school and grade levels. Jeanne McBrayer, Curriculum Integration Coordinator at Wake Forest- Rolesville Middle School in Wake County Public Schools shares an excerpt of her experiences with her Middle School SWAT Team Pilot Project. Her adapted forms are also posted on the SWAT web site for replication.

"My school entered the world of SWAT through the "back door". I was trying to obtain a free Internet account for our school, and find that an Internet service provider would give us account credit if we created a school webpage and used their logo somewhere on the page. They would even provide us with a print tutorial and software with school webpage templates. I decided to attempt the challenge of creating a webpage, but thought it should be a student project. I needed a team of students to write and contribute to our homepage. I was mulling over ideas about how to form a technology club, and was writing grant proposals for a digital camera and scanner, when I met Lucy Miller at a grant meeting in our county. Being a busy person, I decided not to reinvent the wheel, but to become a pilot site for SWAT and use some of Lucy's wonderful ideas and even her forms. Soon after the meeting, I attended Lucy's presentation at the Coastal Carolina Technology Conference in Wilmington. After that, it was a matter of recruiting and selecting students for my team.

I like the idea of students applying and interviewing for SWAT positions, especially since I am in Vocational Education and always looking for tie-ins to career skills. I basically used Lucy's application and interview forms, but added another requirement. Each student had to get three staff members to sign their application forms as a reference. I sent a note to the faculty asking them to sign only for students who would be an asset to the team. I did not know whether I would have nine or ninety candidates. As it turned out, I have fourteen members on our team. I accepted everyone, who applied.

With such a small SWAT team, there was no need to break down the job assignments into squads. Everyone is on each task group. We focused on the need at our school for Web Masters, Computer Helpers and Internet Researchers. Our biggest project so far has been getting our web page up and running. I knew nothing about it, but the tutorial and template from our local Internet service provider were just what we needed. We looked at pages from other schools, studied the source documents of their pages and figured out how to add the tags to code our text. I found that what the students wanted to include was not necessarily what I thought was appropriate! They liked the bells and whistles and things, which appealed to their age group. I have comprised, negotiated, and flat out vetoed some of their contributions. I have allowed them to have a SWAT Team opinion link off of our home page where they can put their opinion surveys and commentaries. Some of the girls are starting an advice column, and a couple of boys have SWAT Team Favorite Links to pages about movies, skateboarding and video games. We are lucky in that we can ftp from our own site as often as we like, so we are constantly updating and changing our information. Now that the basic pages are out there, we are getting the rest of the school more involved in submitting information for the webpage.

At the middle school level, being Computer Buddies or Helpers is not too feasible on a regular basis. Middle school teachers do not like students to miss class very often. Therefore, I suggested that SWAT Team members only work with their core team at school. We have not done much training yet on trouble shooting, but are planning a session in the near future.

As far as the Internet, we have had a few requests from teachers for research, which I assign to the SWAT Team students. They use their home computers to look up websites and summarize information. Next year we hope to have the whole school networked with Internet access, so I anticipate that the Internet Researchers will be more in demand.

Future plans include a guest speaker for our town who will describe his career as a commercial web designer; troubleshooting and software training, and possibly an after school outing to some technology-related site in our area. I think there is a virtual reality lab at UNC-Chapel Hill that might let us come and experiment. I have really enjoyed the chance to work with the middle school students on our SWAT Team."

Another Special Pilot Story To Tell!

At William C. Friday Middle School and Web Street School in Gaston County, North Carolina, Gail Brannon and Renee Beale, Special Education teachers, are working together training their special needs students as SWAT Team members. Regular Education age peers at Friday Middle School, will work with their students as Internet Researchers, Computer Buddies and Weather Reporters. The more challenged students from Web Street School will travel to Friday Middle school to work with these teams of students. Everyone, in spite of their own personal challenges, will work together to help one another with technology. I can't think of a more heart-warming story to share!

(For additional information about middle school SWAT Team Pilot sites remember to visit the SWAT Web site at http://www.ncat.edu/~schofed/swat.)

So now imagine having a SWAT Team help you serve the technological needs of your school -Imagine giving children the opportunity to become leaders and promoters of technology. Like Jeanne, Renee and Gail and their missions. There are SWAT Team pilot sites at the middle, and high school and elementary level that are doing what is best for children. Technology Leaders are now stepping in and supporting the SWAT Team concept. The University of Rhode Island in cooperation with the Rhode Island Foundation are offering incentive grants to teachers who develop SWAT Teams at their schools. The money will cover release time for teachers to plan and organize the teams.

Empowering students, meeting the needs of the school, meeting technology competencies and consequently saving teachers some time is how we should be looking at technology, and how we should promote and integrate learning. It is not about the school who has the most expensive equipment, but about our natural resources, our children, their talents and their natural desire to help others!