Innovate to Educate Entry

Dysart Unified School District

Michelle Benham, Director of Instructional Technology

What innovative technology initiative or project are you most proud of, and how has it improved teaching and learning in your school/district?

For the 2016-17 school year, Dysart Unified School District will launch another option for students who are looking for a technology rich personalized learning pathway. The Dysart Innovation Academy will provide a personalized learning environment for students in grades 6-8. Utilizing digital learning tools and relevant, project based instructional approaches this academy personalizes education for students by addressing the distinct learning needs, interests, and aspirations of individual students.
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What were some of the biggest challenges to your initiative, and how did you meet those challenges?

Challenges included decreased state funding and community support. We re-purposed existing resources and partnered with Google for Education to make the academy a reality. We've been involving and educating our community about personalized learning and how different the learning environment can look from traditional schooling so they are ready and excited for their students to experience this transition.

What are the three biggest components that need to be in place for tech innovation to succeed are:

First, the focus of ed-tech innovation must be on learning, not on the tool. In Dysart, we select tools based on our learning objectives, not on what is the newest or flashiest technology.
Second, we model our expectations for student learning through our staff learning opportunities. Personalizing learning for students means first personalizing for staff, which we have done through a variety of structures including Your CaLL, menu Mondays, and collaborative professional learning sessions.
And finally, we cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach to innovation among our 19 K-8 schools and 4 comprehensive high schools. We are supporting 1:1 initiatives, flexible learning environments, academies focused on STEM, Global Learning, Arts, Innovative Makerspaces, and Coding in addition to others as we create incubators of innovation and choice for our community.

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