Teachers and students at one district are replacing print with digital. By and large, it’s working

For students at Central Valley middle and high schools, accessing classroom lessons rarely involves opening a book. Instead, they power up glowing iPad screens and swipe and tap their way through math problems, the day’s reading or interactive content.

In high school math teacher Joe Sowinski’s classes, technology has changed class structure. Students tackle lessons at their own pace as they work in groups to focus on concepts they find most challenging.

“I spend less time waiting for students to copy notes and more time helping students work problems,” Sowinski said.

Central Valley School District administrators envisioned such a shift when they decided to begin swapping paper textbooks for iPads in the 2012-13 school year. The district provides a personal iPad for every teacher, middle and high school student, and teachers’ lessons include a mix of purchased and free online resources.

The district is in the midst of navigating another drastic shift: rolling out custom, teacher-curated curriculum designed with free, openly licensed material, district technology director Ed Eimiller said. Teachers in each department have been developing their own custom Google-based websites over the span of a year with help from high school teacher John Hineman, who is overseeing the project.

The English language arts department debuted its curriculum in the 2015-16 school year, and the math, science and social studies departments will introduce curricula during each consecutive school year.

Central Valley is one of several Beaver County school districts finding ways to supplement or completely replace paper textbooks with online materials such as eBooks, downloadable apps and openly licensed educational resources.

Openly licensed educational resources are free online learning materials that can be used for teaching, learning and assessing students’ knowledge. Teachers can modify and redistribute the materials without violating copyright laws.

Pushes like the U.S. Department of Education’s #GoOpen initiative have spurred school districts across the country to incorporate quality open resources into their curricula, but initiatives like Central Valley’s are fairly rare among elementary and secondary institutions, University of Pittsburgh librarian and open educational resource advocate Paul Bond said.

The Pennsylvania Legislature is joining the U.S. Department of Education in efforts to provide schools with quality online material. House Bill 1915, which would establish a clearinghouse of federally approved online courses for students in grades 6 to 12, garnered unanimous support in the House Education Committee on Monday. The bill will phase in clearinghouse courses over two phases, with the first phase beginning in the 2017-18 school year.

[image via AP]

Next page: How this model works with flipping the classroom and lesson creation

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