“The key is working with what you have and understanding the places where you need to have those critical conversations,” said ISTE’s Mindy Frisbee.

Innovative approaches to school technology

Barry Bachenheimer, director of curriculum, instruction and assessment in New Jersey’s Pascack Valley Regional Schools (PVRS), which was the first one-to-one laptop district in the state of New Jersey. The initiative is now 12 years old.

“It’s not about the device. The more important thing is about what we’re doing with the device–not about the device itself,” Bachenheimer said. “When we launched this initiative, our board of education was really supportive. We made sure that when they were on board, this initiative was not tied into test scores.”

District leaders secured buy-in from all stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, and they try not to make any big decisions without consulting constituent groups.

“We really want to make sure that we follow our vision and make sure our vision connects with our actions, and vice versa,” he said. “We want to take risks. We want to be one of the most innovative districts around.”

In February 2014, PVRS held a virtual snow day during a blizzard. Teachers put lessons together ahead of time and students accessed the lessons on their devices. The district showed 97 percent attendance that day.

The district also built in 20 percent time for students. Each week, students get 90 minutes of free time to take ungraded or noncredited classes or meet with teachers, among other activities.

District leaders also are focusing on decreasing student stress.

“We’re cranking our students up with so much work, so many tests, and so many activities that they’re stressing out and having breakdowns before they get to college,” Bachenheimer said. “We want to start building in things to change that.”

PVRS is eliminating midterms and finals, is building in two virtual days for students to learn at home online with teachers, and the building will remain open if students need Wi-Fi.

“The idea is to decrease the stress and increase the learning,” he said.

From zero to BYOT

The Copper Ridge School in Arizona, which serves pre-k through eighth grade, went from a zero-device school to a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) school after conducting several small pilot programs to test how mobile devices might be incorporated into teaching and learning.