Higher ed— NHS humanities teacher appointed to be district's instruction technology coordinator

Newberg High School humanities teacher Luke Neff has always been fascinated by how technology and instruction intersect in the classroom, but 10 years ago when began his career, there simply wasn’t enough technology available to satisfy his curiosity.

He believes that has changed dramatically over the past four or five years, however, and since beginning with the Newberg School District in 2011, Neff has been at the forefront of using the latest tools available to improve instruction. Neff

It’s a big reason why he was chosen by Superin­tendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza to manage technology, teaching and learning in classrooms across the district as its new instruction technology coordinator.

“Luke integrates technology at a level that is qualitatively different than his peers,” LeBlanc-Esparza said, “so much so that he was awarded the district’s very first 21st Cen­tury Educator Award last year.”

The new position simultaneously replaces an unfilled vacancy in the district’s technology department and fills a gap that became apparent as a series of district technology task forces, pilot programs and committees investigated how the district implements technology in the classroom, especially since the most recent education bond measure was passed.

Neff will be tasked with crafting and integrating a district-wide instructional technology plan when he starts the new job July 1.

“One of the big priorities that came out of our committee that met just last year about technology was that we really want to make sure teachers have powerful technology in their hands that they can use to maximize instruction,” Neff said. “We’re getting there. Things are rolling out this summer that will replace some old technology.”

Neff taught middle and high school in Arizona, Arkansas and Washington before moving to Newberg. He did his student teaching in Newberg while pursuing a master’s degree in teaching at George Fox University.

He has also served as an adjunct professor in that program and worked as an educational consultant and curriculum writer for educational businesses.

After spending a year at Chehalem Valley Middle School, Neff has transformed his classroom at NHS into a hub of instructional technology.

Neff uses classroom iPads for a wide variety of functions, from annotating text to using quick classroom polls and other tools to assess whether students are absorbing the material, also known as formative assessment.

He has submitted an article for publication based on how his classes have used one particular program, Gap­minder, and plans to in­tro­duce a pilot program about in­quiry-based projects next year.

Inquiry-based projects involve asking students questions that they are unable to answer by doing a web search, like “What 10-year time period developed the greatest art?,” and having the students work together in groups to come up with an answer.

“It is really the sweet spot of what Common Core wants us to be doing, which is higher level learning opportunities,” Neff said. “We really want them to be learning 21st century skills, like collaboration.”

Digital group projects are already a hallmark of his classes, but Neff has also pushed his students to create their own online writing portfolios and created a blog with imaginative writing prompts that anyone can use ( as a jumping-off point.

Considering how ubiquitous technology is becoming in our culture and everyday lives, Neff said he believes there is no getting around deploying it in classroom.

“It is a must at this point,” Neff said. “From increasing student motivation to offering a variety of learning options, there’s no reason not to be using technology.”

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