Photo By: Courtesy of KCI
Teachers with the 2012 MERIT program at the Krause Center for Innovation learn new techniques for enhancing curriculum.
When Kami Thordarson arrived in California from Colorado a few years back, she already had experience with high-tech tools and project-based learning. She expected Silicon Valley schools to be even further ahead. In fact, they were behind.
“I was kind of surprised,” she said.
Thordarson enrolled in the MERIT (Making Education Relevant and Interactive through Technology) program, under the auspices of the Krause Center for Innovation (KCI) at Foothill College. The program, created by KCI co-founder Gay Krause, provides teachers with high-tech skills that serve to enhance curriculum and inspire better learning in the classroom.
In Thordarson’s case, MERIT proved so rewarding that the Los Altos School District created a new position for her – innovative strategies coach.
“It served as a launching pad for me,” she said. “It’s about helping teachers see new possibilities.”
Using online tools like Google Docs and Edmodo, MERIT-trained teachers become “designers of their curriculum,” Thordarson said.
More importantly, MERIT allows teachers to work collaboratively on projects, enhancing their critical thinking and problem solving. They graduate from the program energized and pass the collaborative and problem-solving skills onto their students.
“Overall, kids are more engaged,” Thordarson said.
“I’ve been really enjoying it,” said Julie Presant, a sixth-grade teacher at Springer School.
Presant, a participant in the 2012-2013 MERIT program, has established an online book club between her Springer class and a class in Seoul, South Korea – taught by Erin Zaich, a former Covington School teacher. Coincidentally, Presant is only three years removed from teaching in Korea herself.
“I would not be doing this if it weren’t for the (MERIT) program,” Presant said.
According to Liane Freeman, KCI strategy and marketing director, “students are more engaged if they’re producing things.”
“We focus on (high-tech) as an enabler,” she said.
Instead of lecturing and being “the expert in the room,” Freeman said teachers take on coaching roles, facilitating students as they find their own solutions.
MERIT enrolls approximately 45 teachers per year, some local, others from around the country and the world.
An estimated 72 percent of funding comes from donors like the Town Crier Holiday Fund, Freeman said. The Holiday Fund provides enough money to pay for two to three teachers a year – teachers who bring a better educational experience to potentially hundreds of students for years to come.