Grant Provides Schools
With New Learning Tools
by Gary Jahrig
In East Helena, schoolchildren are telling new TALES that bring to life the history of
the old mining town. They wouldnt be able to do so without the help of UMs
Technology and Learning in Every School (TALES) outreach program.
Its a marvelous thing, says Larry Matchett, the technology
coordinator for East Helena schools. Its allowed us to put technology in the
classroom and integrate it into our curriculum. Not just computers, but all technology.
Its changed the way teachers teach. They love it. Its been very well
The TALES program, in its third year, is the product of a $9.1 million federal grant
from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, the largest educational grant
ever awarded in Montana. Administered through UMs School of Education,
TALES is designed to improve staff development and technology in K-12 schools across the
Rick van den Pol, a UM education professor who directs the program, says TALES provides
a needed shot in the arm to cash-strapped Montana school districts that do not have the
resources to bolster their own technology budgets. But he says administrators at the UM
School of Education also realize that making sure teachers know how to use the technology
is just as important as acquiring equipment. We know it takes time for teachers to
develop skills, van den Pol says.
The first thing we were concerned with was raising their comfort level with
technology, he says. A lot of us who have been in education for a while
didnt use technology and, to some extent, have been intimidated by it. We had to
figure out how to build a comfort level. We decided the best way to do that was to have
teachers look at something that was meaningful for them and put together a story about
UM education faculty selected 13 Montana school districts to take part in TALES. Along
with East Helena, others benefiting from the UM outreach program are Missoulas
Target Range and Loyola Sacred Heart High School, and schools in Corvallis, Helena,
Polson, Superior, Billings, Cascade, Lincoln, St. Ignatius, St. Regis and Townsend. Each
school receives about $75,000 per year for five years. The money pays for an on-site
technology coordinator, computers, software and other technological tools.
The first task for each teacher participating in TALES was to use the new technological
tools to tell a personal tale.
They ranged from mom and dads 50th wedding anniversary to a childs
senior year in high school to a trip to China to adopt a baby girl, says Jo
Jakupcak, an assistant professor in UMs education school who works with teachers in
the TALES program. Once the personal stories are told, the on-site technology coordinator
works with teachers across grade levels and curricula to develop a program where their
students can tell tales related to the community they live in.
Theyre charged with telling a Montana tale, across the curriculum,
Jakupcak says. And sometimes its hard to cross disciplines. For many teachers,
this is the first time theyve been asked to integrate their curriculum with other
Thats where the expertise at UMs School of Education comes in handy. Education
faculty members regularly meet with TALES coordinators to help them use the technology
they have acquired to tell their stories.
A lot of our teaching faculty take this on as part of their teaching
duties, says van den Pol. It helps fulfill our service mission. We also have a
lab in the Education Building that is reserved for people from these schools to come to
Missoula and work. We provide someone to work with them.
I think we all recognize that this is part of the mission of the
David Erickson, director of professional development for the education school, says
teacher training does not end at college graduation. He points out that the TALES program
provides a great outlet for UM educators to continue helping teachers improve their
The School of Education is in the business of preparing professional
educators, Erickson says. Just because you graduate, it doesnt mean
youre done learning. Its a lifetime development, especially with the
technology involved now, which changes from day to day.
Another requirement of the TALES program is that each school must demonstrate some form
of outreach in its own community.
We reach out to the schools; they reach out to the community, says
Jakupcak. They go out and find students in homes where they dont have
technology and invite them into the schools.
Says van den Pol, The whole philosophy of outreach from the University to the
schools has been extended as outreach into the community.
For example, in St. Regis the TALES coordinator has arranged for a computer in the town
post office to give community members access to the Internet.
At Target Range in Missoula, parents and neighborhood residents are invited into the
school for TALES activities.
Matchett, in East Helena, cant say enough good things about TALES.
Weve been able to use the money to buy each teacher a computer, he
says. Weve really been able to integrate technology into our curriculum and
change the way teachers teach.
The first TALES project tackled in East Helena saw students compile a multi-media
presentation on the history of the Main Street School, which served the community for 100
years before closing two years ago. A different group of students set up a walking tour of
East Helena. The students highlighted historical sites and installed signs detailing
points of interest around town.
These were done by different kids from different schools, Matchett says.
We have three schools participating all told.
Matchett also mentions a component of the program where grant money is used to provide
computers to community residents.
We lease computers to disadvantaged families at no cost so they can have them in
their homes, he says. Weve got 15 leased out already, and we will put
out another 15 this year. We also open our library and computer lab to the community in
the evenings because we dont have a public library in East Helena.
Perhaps most important, Matchett says the interaction and funding provided by UM has
proved to be an important morale booster in East Helena schools.
Its allowed us to actually treat teachers like professionals, he
says. We can pay them for training time and time after school. ... Its even
allowed me to work as a technology coordinator. There would be no funding for that
For more information about Montana TALES, contact the School of Education at (406)