On a mission to develop more critical thinkers who can collaborate with one another, openly share ideas, and function successfully in tomorrow’s work environment, our district recently kicked off a technology overhaul. We started with our classroom furniture and worked our way right up to Boxlight table displays and projectors that allow students to collaboratively dissect roller coasters in a small-group setting or work together in a whole-class setting to go through tough math problems.

We started from the ground up to create environments where students feel welcomed, comfortable, and engaged. We want them to walk in and immediately feel like they want to be a part of the learning environment. Here’s how we did it.

1. Pick a technology partner that lets you test-drive the goods.
I’d never buy a car without test-driving it first, so it’s nice when you can test out an app or a piece of technology—and turn your students and teachers loose on it—before making a purchase decision. In selecting the right technology partner and products, we looked for a company that would allow us to get hands-on with the technology before making an investment. We found what we were looking for in Boxlight and OnPoint.

2. Cater to your digital natives.
It’s really important that we create partnerships with companies that aren’t just there to hand out the next shiny piece of technology, but to design technology that’s interactive and easy to use. Because students will either accept or reject new technology within 10 to 15 minutes (tops), usability is a big consideration for our district. Our digital natives have fewer tech inhibitions that we do as adults—and no real fear of “breaking” it or using it improperly. They just keep looping around to identify the problem, attempt different solutions, and come up with the answers.

3. Whenever possible, opt for plug-and-play options.
When teachers get frustrated with a new product, that product will likely end up gathering dust on a classroom shelf. Knowing this, we pick our partners carefully, and we make sure those partners have product development, product support, and user-friendly interfaces to help even the most technology-averse teacher continue to move forward down the path to the 21st- century classroom. The Boxlight multiple-touch panels we’re using are so interactive and so easy to use that it really is a no-brainer.

4. Seek out technology that brings the curriculum to life.
There’s no doubt that technology has broadened the K-8 curriculum. I recently walked into a classroom where the students were reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which includes a section where a mouse takes flight on a bird’s back. The teacher immediately went into a lesson on lift—and the aerodynamics that are necessary for lift—and rolled it right out onto the students’ laptops. The kids were looking at the airplanes, comparing them with birds, and learning about airstream and pickup. Interestingly, later that day I saw two students out on the field at recess discussing a bird, how it was circling, and the air currents. This is just one of many examples of how technology brings curriculum to life.

5. Work in the “now,” but plan for the future.
In my high school world history class, we learned about World War II by listening to a lecture, reading a book, and taking a test. Thanks to technology, we can now bring those lessons to life through interactivity and collaboration. Students can speculate and come up with diagrams, ideas, and what-if scenarios that help prepare them for future career success. Knowing that 60 percent of the jobs that elementary school students will fill haven’t even been invented yet, our district is on a mission to prepare those students for successful futures by transforming its classrooms into 21st-century learning environments.

The Classroom of the Future
Walk into one of our classrooms at Huntington Beach (CA) City School District right now and you won’t find a typical classroom. You’ll find groups of students working together, others working independently, and still others moving from one group to the next to discuss different topics. We’re setting the stage for the classroom of the future, where teachers will introduce a concept or an idea and then ask students to use their skill sets, interests, and knowledge to either prove or disprove that concept—and then show mastery in a way that is far more important than simply regurgitating information on a test.

About the Author:

Gregory Haulk is superintendent of schools at Huntington Beach (CA) City School District.