Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)
EdTech's Influence: Both In and Out of the Classroom
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Technology has become an integral part of K-12 classrooms. According to the 2015 Teachers Know Best survey sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, teachers spend 38 percent of class time using technology as a primary source of instruction and 34 percent of class time using it as a supplemental source of instruction.
Here are some examples of how districts across the country use technology—both software and hardware—to create authentic learning experiences for students.
Improving Instruction by Going 1:1:
The Vacaville Unified School District in California implemented a 1:1 model four years ago as part of a larger district-wide project to renovate classrooms and add technology. The initial goal of going 1:1 was to facilitate online testing for the state’s standardized assessments. Vacaville purchased 13,000 Chromebooks from CDI Computer Dealers to launch the initiative and has found that the benefits have gone way beyond online testing. “It has completely changed the way curriculum is being delivered,” said district technology coordinator Jim Wasielewski. “When I walk around campus, 90 percent of the time the Chromebooks are open and kids are working on them,” he said. The 1:1 program has allowed teachers to take advantage of new types of curricula geared toward 1:1 classrooms. By providing a dedicated device for students to use every day, it has helped students feel comfortable creating and submitting projects online and using technology in and out of class, Wasielewski said. For example, students used their Chromebooks to create presentations in Google Slides for economics class. They learned how to edit the presentations and add music which was not only fun for the students, it also required them to engage more with the material which helped them learn it, Wasielewski said.
With any tech initiative of this magnitude, he said it is also important to invest in professional development up front. Vacaville uses Google Classroom and some of its teachers have become certified instructors. He said proper training is critical to helping teachers understand how to make the most of the technology to improve teaching and learning.
“Technology is a tool, not the end-all,” he said. “It enhances the learning environment and allows them to incorporate more of their personality into their work.”
Finding a Love for Reading Online
Throughout the Wake County Public School District in Cary, N.C., students have access to digital tools to read books. Since 2014, Wake County has used the Big Universe digital literacy solution to give students and teachers access to quality nonfiction and fiction eBooks. The district began using the eBooks as a cost effective way to equip its Read to Achieve summer reading camp students with a reading library. The camp is designed as extra instructional support for students in grades 1 through 3 who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Students access the digital text daily during camp to research a topic as part of their “I Wonder” project, and teachers use the digital text for read alouds. The 13,000-plus leveled eBooks supported the reading camp curriculum and provided content for every interest and reading level. Educators loved that students were beginning to read for pleasure and found the eBooks helped struggling readers enjoy the learning process and improved their reading skills.
Now, all 114 of the district’s elementary schools have access to the eBooks. With just a click, teachers and students can find books that correlate to specific standards and lessons. To give students access to complex text within science lessons, the district-written science curriculum includes Big Universe eBooks teachers and students can use to help build knowledge around scientific concepts.The leveled eBooks also make it easy to differentiate instruction because teachers can pick multiple books on a topic at various reading levels. The read aloud eBooks have become a very useful resource for English Language Learners as they help expand vocabulary. With the rollout of the El Education curriculum with students in grades 3 through 5 for ELA instruction, students are given time for independent reading on the module’s topic. The district created customized bookshelves to organize the Big Universe eBooks by grade level and topic for students to easily access both at school and home.
Most importantly, the eBooks have helped instill a love of reading for students. “Big Universe has also boosted independent reading throughout the district,” said Sherri Miller, director of K-12 Literacy at Wake County. “It’s really exciting that students can read a book anytime on any device.”
Demonstrating Learning Through Collaborative Art
As a library and instructional technology consultant for Wayne RESA, and previously as a media specialist and educator at Livonia Public Schools, Judy Bowling helps educators use a combination of student Chromebooks, interactive AV tools, digital curricula, online resources and more to create immersive learning activities. In PD workshops, Bowling loves showing educators how to use Google Draw. Just like Google Docs, it is cloud-based so anyone who has shared access to the drawing can contribute.
Teachers can use Google Draw as a tool for students to show their thought processes or understanding of a topic or concept. Using Google Draw, students can make their thinking visible by creating graphic organizers, mind maps, interactive images, storyboards, comics, and so much more.
At Livonia Public Schools, teachers have flexibility in how students contribute to the Google Drawing. Students can contribute from their seats using their Chromebooks or, with the classroom’s Epson BrightLink interactive display, students can come up to the whiteboard and contribute using the interactive pen directly on the wall. Either way, the class gets to watch the final masterpiece unfold in real-time. Anything created in Google Draw can be worked on collaboratively and downloaded as a graphic. The possibilities are endless.
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Good screen time. K-12 schools are using technology, both hardware and software, to create authentic learning experiences and to provide an array of other services for teachers and students. The teaching and learning tools accessible with this technology have allowed teachers to develop more creative and interesting instruction models and make learning more enjoyable for the students. To ensure that students remain safe and productive online, some districts are using online monitoring and classroom management software.
Improving Coaching Skills
Lyon County School District (LCSD) in Yerington, Nev., uses video coaching to support its elementary learning strategists who are responsible for providing professional development to the district’s approximately 200 elementary school teachers. Learning strategists videotape themselves while providing in-person coaching and then receive timely and targeted feedback through the Edthena classroom observation platform to improve their coaching skills.
“Being able to receive immediate and data-driven feedback is a huge asset in helping our learning strategists hone their own instructional practices so they, in turn, can better support our teachers,” said Amber Westmoreland, professional development manager at LCSD.
How Tech Enables Non-Instructional Support
In addition to direct instruction, schools provide an array of other services to students and teachers to ensure they are ready to learn and teach. Technology plays a crucial role in these aspects of education as well.
Keeping Students Safe Online
The West Rusk County Consolidated Independent School District in Texas, for example, uses online monitoring and classroom management software to keep students safe online and productive when they are using technology.
“We have 800 devices for students to use in the classroom so it’s important for us to have a plan in place to keep students safe online,” said technology director Cody Walker. “We want teachers and students to get the most out of these devices and we also want to make sure that students are using them in a responsible way.”
West Rusk CCISD uses software called Impero Education Pro to manage and monitor devices on the school’s network. Teachers can view students’ screens so they can intervene if the student is, for example, playing games instead of working on an assignment. The software alerts district personnel if students type or search for keywords or phrases related to bullying, radicalization, self-harm, or other concerning behavior. This technology helped the district discover inappropriate, dangerous, and even illegal activity. The district was then able to address the issues promptly which has created a safer environment in which students can learn.
Supporting the Whole Child
Another important role of schools is to teach students the social and emotional skills they need to live up to their full potential—skills such as responsible decision-making and relationshipbuilding. Technology can help measure the impact of these types of programs. For example, Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia created a comprehensive social-emotional learning (SEL) initiative in which schools use the Caring School Community a nationally-recognized, evidence-based program that builds classroom and schoolwide community and develops students’ SEL skills. To measure the impact of the initiative, the district uses Evo Social/Emotional, an online SEL assessment and intervention system from Aperture Education. Students are assessed at least three times a year and the data is combined and analyzed with data on discipline, academics, and more to determine the program’s impact. The results have been positive. Schools have reported decreases in disciplinary referrals and suspension rates, as well as improvements in academics since launching the SEL initiative. “The SEL initiative is helping students succeed,” said Dr. Lisa Micou, the district’s intervention training specialist for social & emotional learning. “We are shifting from having independent pockets of excellence to meeting the needs of all students and creating better citizens.”
Even with these supports, there may be times when students face rough patches for whatever reason. When that happens, districts need a way to address student behaviors. Ohio’s Oak Hills Local School District educators use the Student Behavior Management System from PublicSchoolWORKS to report and track student behavior incidents. All incidents are reported and stored online, which creates a comprehensive record for each student to help the district’s assistant principals determine the most appropriate intervention. This allows the administrator to look at the child’s behavior as a whole and ensure all issues are addressed. After using the system for a few months, the district found the most common referral was for skipping class, identified specific times and locations students were found skipping class, and rerouted the hall monitors to those locations.
As the prevalence of technology continues to grow in schools, using it in ways to improve the teaching and learning experience will continue to expand. Technology can help districts efficiently and effectively run school systems.
This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of School Planning & Management.