Can a Student Technology Team Help Build Teacher Self-Efficacy in Technology Use in the Classroom?

Part of my professional role is to help teachers integrate technology and innovation into their classrooms. Therefore, it is interesting to me to explore ways to facilitate that process and also identify barriers preventing teachers from this integration. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2013) determined two main categories of barriers teachers face. The first being external inhibitors like access to devices and the other being internal inhibitors concerning pedagogical practices. They found that schools, for the most part, have eliminated many of the external factors for teachers. However, teachers with teacher-centered pedagogical practices were less likely to integrate technology or innovation than teachers who practiced student-centered pedagogies. Which would imply that teachers need more training in student-centered pedagogy and not necessarily in technical skills. However, it has been found that teachers who get school support on technical skills and knowledge are more likely to have positive beliefs in regard to technology integration (Stanhope & Corn, 2014).

Photo courtesy of Indiana University School of Education

One theme I see in much of the literature is the concept of teacher self-efficacy in successful integration. Teachers who feel as though they have the ability to be successful will be more likely to accept initiatives for technology integration in their schools. This builds from the ideas of Everett Rogers and his work on Innovation Diffusion Theory (IDT). The 5 attributes from Rogers that teachers need to aid in building self-efficacy are relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability (Surry & Ely, n.d.).


School leaders want to help teachers grow their knowledge of technology and self-efficacy and the most powerful strategy appears to be helping teachers gain personal experience. That can be through hands-on workshops, but also hearing of other teachers’ successful experiences (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). In the same article, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) note many different strategies for building teacher self-efficacy, including providing access to models, giving teachers time to play, and other, but one is missing from the list that I believe could be important to consider and that is Student Technology Teams (STT). Therefore, the question I propose asking: 

Does the formation of a trained Student Technology Team used in professional develop help with teacher self-efficacy and thus aid in more successful technology integration?


It has been seen in research that an STT can be helpful in supporting 1:1 initiatives (Corn, et. al). Ellis (2004) also found that a Student Technology Team known as Technology Fellows can be beneficial when university students are paired with a university professor. Therefore, it goes to reason that having students demonstrate and model uses of technology can bridge the understanding of technology use and student-centered learning. Viewing the successful experience of uses in the classroom, albeit from a student and not a teacher, can benefit the development of self-efficacy. Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) concluded, “Perhaps one of the best ways to support teacher change is by providing opportunities for them to witness how the change benefits their students.” Doesn’t it seem to logically follow that teachers will see the direct benefits to their students by observing and learning from the work of a Student Technology Team?



Corn, J. O., Oliver, K., Hess, C. E., Halstead, E. O., Argueta, R., Patel, R. K., & Huff, J. D. (2010). A Computer for every student and teacher: Lessons learned about planning and implementing a successful 1: 1 learning initiative in schools. Educational Technology, 50(6), 11.

Ellis, R. A. (2004). Modeling Technology in Preservice Education Classrooms: A Literature Review. Faculty development to help preservice educators model the integration of technology in the classroom: perspectives from an action research case study, 1050, 10.

Ertmer, P. A., & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. T. (2010). Teacher technology change: How knowledge, confidence, beliefs, and culture intersect. Journal of research on Technology in Education, 42(3), 255-284.

Ertmer, P.A. & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, A. (2013). Removing obstacles to the pedagogical changes required by Jonassen’s vision of authentic technology-enabled learning. Computers & Education, X, X-X.

Stanhope, D. & Corn, J. (2014) Acquiring teacher commitment to 1:1 initiatives: The role of the technology facilitator. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(3), 252-276.

Surry, D. W., & Ely, D. P. (n.d.). Adoption, Diffusion, Implementation, and Institutionalization of Educational Technology. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from University of South Alabama:


To Infinity and Beyond: Our Near Space Balloon Launch

Since becoming a NASA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador, I really wanted to do a Near Space Balloon Launch. This past week, our 8th graders did it! I’ve been getting a lot of questions wanting more information, so I decided I’d blog about it. I got a lot of help from Jeff Peterson and Curt Schleibaum on how to make this happen.

The Supplies

We ordered the 600 g Near Space Balloon Kit from High Altitude Science. It came with a flight computer (very similar to an arduino board), a Spot GPS unit, a GoPro mount (no camera), a 600 g balloon, the tether and tubing for to fill the helium, a parachute, and the wooden frame to be assembled for the payload. We had to buy a GoPro Hero, (we chose to order an older model from Amazon to save us about $250), a 32gb sim card (for the camera), a 16gb sim card (for the flight computer), and the helium (about $120). All told, we spent in the neighborhood of $1000 (not including the case of beer we bought the firemen that helped us retrieve it!).

The Process

First, we showed them Nat & Lo’s Project Loon video to get them excited about high altitude science. Then we Skyped with Matt Berry, an Operations Engineer with NASA working on the DC-8.

Next, we put the students into groups assigning each a different part of the project. One group spent their time assembling the payload, learning how to use the flight computer, setting the camera and GPS, tying the parachute, and making sure we were structurally ready to fly (and under 4 lbs per FAA rules). I added an Astronaut Lego Minifigure that we affectionately named Marty McFly!

Marty McFly
Marty McFly and GPS in background. Our school is just to the left of the flag.

Another group was responsible for understanding the necessary weather conditions needed to launch, including wind speed and cloud coverage, and then reading the weather forecast to determine our optimal launch dates.

One group was in charge of researching all the requirements to launch. They determined our distance to the Indianapolis International Airport, as we are near a decent path and had some concerns about that. They also read charts and maps to determine our launch location in aeronautical terms and also determined our predicted landing location using this tool. They then had to file a NOTAM (Notice to Air Men) with the FAA so we could launch on the day we selected.

And, the final group researched the helium requirements and called helium suppliers to find us the best price and service. On the day of the launch, this group was responsible for filling the balloon and securing it to the payload properly.

Filling the Balloon
Filling the Balloon

The First Launch

“First launch,” you ask? Well, one knot wasn’t secured properly on the line from the balloon to the payload. Therefore, once we got the balloon filled and untethered, it launched successfully. However, the payload wasn’t connected and thus we lost the balloon because we had no way of tracking it. The kids were very disappointed at first. However, we quickly reconvened and discussed our options. When they found out a new balloon could be ordered for $55, the students offered to buy it with their own money. The school paid for a new balloon and we ordered it the same day.

Launch Attempt #1
Launch Attempt #1

The Second Launch

Launch 2.0 is what we began calling it. Once the new balloon arrived, we immediately filed a new NOTAM and began final prep for a new launch. This time is was a success. Balloon AND Payload launched together!

The Retrieval

The balloon flies to a certain altitude somewhere in the neighborhood of 90,000 to 100,000 ft or more and then expands so much it bursts. The payload then returns to earth and the GPS tracker is used to locate it.

Ours tracked all the way to Jeffersonville, Ohio, some 160 miles away. We did lose communication with it for about 2 hours while it was above 60,000 ft. Other teachers have told me their payload was only out of communication for about 45 minutes.

The Flight Path
The Flight Path

Our Science Teacher drove the 2.5 hours to retrieve the payload and found it landed about 35 feet up in a tree. After talking with several people in the town trying to find someone with the equipment to help us, she had to leave without the payload, but did have a number to the local volunteer fire department.

It turned out that one of the firemen was also a Science teacher at the local school and he agreed to help us get it. After 4 days and 3 nights hanging in a tree, the payload was retrieved and brought back fully intact, Marty McFly and all!

The Recovered Payload!
The Recovered Payload!

We are still reviewing the flight computer data to determine how high it went and what wind speeds and temperatures it endured. I have placed the raw footage on YouTube (posted below). Our camera stopped recording after about an hour and half and the balloon had still not reached the bursting point. The battery still had some charge, so we aren’t sure why it stopped recording. We are speculating that it may have gotten too cold for the camera.

UPDATE: Our balloon reached an altitude of 104,598 ft!

The Future

Since this was our first launch, we kept the payload to its bare minimum as described in the High Altitude Science Manual. Next year, we plan to add more custom items to the payload. SparkFun has a lot of sensors and computer boards we can add to collect more data. We may add a second camera to capture a different perspectives or maybe even a 360 degree camera if we’re brave enough to risk losing it.

Marty McFly at around 70,000 ft.
Marty McFly at around 70,000 ft.

In the end, our students had a great time doing this and learned a lot in the process. We can’t wait for our next launch!

YouTube footage:

What is one way you use technology in your classroom?

A class I’m currently taking has me thinking quite a bit about technology integration in the classroom and professional development surrounding it. In the coming weeks, I’ll blog more about some of the work I’m doing in those realms. I was reminded of a post I wrote on my previous blog 3 years ago that seems relevant in some of my current explorations, so I thought I would repost it. Here it is:

Posted April 9, 2013: Yesterday, I was filling out on of those online entire school corporation job applications.  Today, after a recommendation of a colleague, I was filling out an application for an award given to technology using educators.  Both applications (and others I’ve seen in the past) had this question in some form, “What is one way you use technology in your classroom?”

Now, this question bothers me and here’s why.  My answer is really in what don’t I use technology in the classroom.  Narrowing it down to one specific way is difficult and lessens the value of what I do with technology.

For example, this past week, my 7th grade reading class participated in a Hunger Games Simulation as they prepare to read the book.  Each day, students went to a blog that I had created and watched a video giving them directions created by one of their former classmates that now lives in England.
After they watched the video, they were to follow the instructions.  They were given a variety of scenarios and they had to use what supplies they had earned or traded for to complete the scenario.  They submitted to me through a Google Form a description of their solution.  Based on their actions in the scenario, they would gain or lose points.  They had a Google Spreadsheet shared with me in which they tabulated their score totals each day.
Also this week, my 7th Grade English class students were writing short stories.  They had two videos to watch at some point during the week.  One on Creating Characters and one on Creating Conflict.  Toward the end of the week, they peer reviewed other stories using a Google Form and autocrat script similar to what Kate Baker recently blogged about.
Their reviews and counter responses were immediately and automatically sent to the other student, and also to me through Google Docs sharing.  I could not only review their stories in Google Docs throughout the week, I could also review the reviewers’ feedback.  At the end of the week, many of them also blogged about their 20% Projects.
I should mention that while all of this was happening in my classroom, I wasn’t even there.  I was in Washington, D.C. on our 8th Grade Class Trip.  While in DC, using the WiFi on the bus and at the hotel, I was able to use an old iPhone donated to the school to blog about the trip with photographs and videos, tweet to parents our locations, check my students work and progress, and answer a few emails with questions from students almost immediately.  Mind you, this is the same iPhone that an Apple Store employee told me would be “worthless” without a data plan and service contract.
So, how do I answer that question?  In just this week, my students and I used video (both to deliver content and connect them to a former student overseas), Google Docs, Google Forms, Google Spreadsheets, an autocrat script, blogs (both to consume and to create), multiple devices, and Gmail all for classroom purposes. This was a pretty typical week for my students using technology even without me present.  How can I narrow that down to one way I use technology?