Classrooms have become increasingly tech-focused, though technology alone isn’t enough to change a classroom. Instead, it’s a mix of the right training, tools, and support. Powerful digital resources become transformative only when the teachers and students using them are engaged and understand how to use tech to its fullest potential.
Chula Vista School District is the largest elementary school district in California. Of our 30,000 students, 34 percent are English learners (EL), and 52 percent are students living in poverty. We’re located approximately five miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, making EL instruction a top priority in our schools.
Five years ago, we began the journey to implement a 1:1 initiative across our 41 schools, for third through sixth grade. During this experience, we’ve learned a lot. These are our five key pieces of advice for rolling out a one-to-one initiative in an elementary district.
5 lessons learned from a 1:1 district
1. Create equitable access
With such a large district, we have teachers and students coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, each with their own individual experiences, strengths, and challenges. As administrators, it’s important to us to ensure that what we’re sharing with our student body is relevant and meaningful.
Prior to rolling out our implementation plan, we engaged researchers from Rutgers University to conduct a study on internet access in our communities living in poverty. We found that over 90 percent of households did in fact have access to the internet, but often through a cell phone, rather than a computer or tablet. This signaled a significant gap, where students had unequal access to technology. A 1:1 initiative builds a bridge to access for students who may not otherwise be able to work digitally.
Chula Vista has built a culture around collaboration to meeting the needs of all of our students. We used California’s Local Control and Accountability (LCAP) program to set goals, plan actions, and leverage the needed resources to build our 1:1 strategy.
2. Create an interdependent system
Rather than calling our system centralized or decentralized, we have coined it “interdependent.” With this concept, every single stakeholder group has something to contribute, and we work interdependently to move and meet student needs. This includes working with local business leaders, parents, and faculty to support learners.
Prior to rollout, we engaged our stakeholders—specifically teachers—and held a hardware summit. We invited vendors, including Panasonic, Lenovo, and Asus, to demo their products. Teachers, administrators, and students were able to test the hardware and vote on which tools they liked best.
This way, we knew what our stakeholders wanted from the beginning. We were able to see what would provide value to teachers and students.
3. Leverage technology to monitor student achievement and progress throughout the year
After the hardware summit, teachers and students chose the same device as their top choice: a Lenovo ThinkPad.
While the hardware was certainly a priority, we also sought software that would be useful in our classrooms. Teachers needed a better way to build student literacy skills, while being able to effectively monitor progress throughout the year. We ended up selecting Achieve3000, a platform that provides an effective way to assess literacy rates and monitor progress system-wide by administering the test at the beginning, middle, and end of the school year. Through this tool, students have access to activities that meet them at their individual Lexile levels to build skills at an accelerated rate. We’re able to monitor and check progress district-wide to display growth and progress.
We also invested in Imagine Learning, a platform that provides curriculum to support students with language development. With daily access to Achieve3000 and Imagine Learning, students have consistently made achievement and digital-fluency gains.
Something for districts to consider when purchasing devices is that you have the needed bandwidth to have multiple users online at once. With our school system being so large, we had to complete a district-wide restructuring of access points for devices, which took about three years to complete.
4. Encourage digital literacy
With many state assessments going digital, we found it important to ensure that students were comfortable taking exams online. With our 1:1, students are getting daily exposure to devices, which helps to encourage digital literacy and prepare them for the future.
In addition to the work they complete in various apps and platforms, the internet gives students access to a wide range of literature, which helps to build critical-thinking skills. Teachers have noted the engagement they see when students read through online materials to determine if it’s a valid source and to summarize what they’ve learned.
5. Build community
A positive side effect of a 1:1 is the united community. A benefit of having system-wide digital learning in place is that there is always some kind of celebration or success happening, bringing a sense of accomplishment to students.
A one-to-one doesn’t happen overnight. Through goal-setting, strategic planning, and supportive stakeholders, the plan is set into motion, while leaving room for continuous improvement along the way.
As technology continues to evolve, we must ensure that students are able to use it. We encourage every district to consider 1:1 learning, and to realize the importance of digital literacy for every student.