It’s one thing to realize that you need more digital learning in your classroom, but it’s quite another thing to do the research and put in the time to learn how to effectively incorporate digital tools in a way that improves student success.
In Alabama’s Opelika City Schools, digital learning is an integral part of the school day, from classrooms and professional learning to behind the scenes in offices and IT operations.
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“We are a district that doesn’t buy tech tools as standalones–everything works together toward a common goal,” says Stacy Royster, the district’s technology director. “We’re very collaborative and interactive in nature.”
Here are five ways the district makes sure digital learning and student success are priorities.
1. Lightspeed Systems‘ Relay Classroom helps district teachers manage different devices in their classrooms and filter content. Students can work on assignments in Google Classroom, and teachers can use Relay to view students’ screens and open tabs or send assignment-related links to students. It also lets teachers spot conversation-worthy topics on students’ screens as they’re working.
“Our biggest goes is to try to teach them to be global citizens,” Royster says. “We want to teach them the difference between real and fake news. We want them to facilitate that discussion, and this allows us to see through their eyes what they’re doing, all in one aspect. It brings to light teachable moments for our classroom teachers that they might not otherwise have.”
2. The district uses Google Expeditions for virtual field trips. “Teachers truly understand how to use it to bring experiences to kids, and to give them background knowledge about things they’re learning about.”
Reading instruction is a big focus at the elementary level, but students might not all have the same background or experiences to relate to reading subject matter.
“We use these virtual field trips to give kids the background knowledge to help them understand the context of what they’re reading. Sixty-seven percent of our district is on free and reduced lunch–not all of our kids get to travel, see, and experience things. We take them everywhere to give them these senses and experiences they might not otherwise have,” Royster says.
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3. The district is a very big Project Lead The Way (PLTW) district. PLTW creates engaging and hands-on classroom environments and helps students develop in-demand knowledge and skills.
Royster says the Career and Technical Education Pathways program built into the district’s high school enables many students to graduate having earned part of their professional certifications in various fields, such as business and marketing, health science, and information technology. In fact, one student who had an automotive parts manufacturing internship through PLTW was offered a salaried position after his supervisors saw how talented he was with CAD software.
4. Workforce-relevant learning is emphasized, and students are encouraged to explore pathways that link classroom learning to professional goals. “We’re partnered with quite a few companies around here and we try to focus on things that are workforce-needed,” Royster says.
For example, students looking to enter into agriculture gain experience on a working 18-acre district farm. They use GIS mapping with iPads to mark planting time and data for each crop. The data is uploaded to the web where growth and progress are tracked.
5. Teachers are continually encouraged to learn new ways to incorporate digital learning strategies into their instruction. “Every October I hold a big technology expo in the district,” says Royster. “Teachers pick six courses to go through, and it’s a day-long conference put together and built completely by teachers.” Conference sessions are teacher-created and teacher-led, and they all focus on ways to incorporate technology and digital resources into classrooms.
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