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Connected Districts, Part 2: Prioritizing ed-tech

Here’s how your fellow administrators create and sustain connected schools

connected-2We presented the idea of the “connected district” in Part 1 of this series, where we featured one district that has made personalized learning a top priority, and another that went paperless and saw an increase in student and teacher collaboration.

In Part 2, we continue to help educators share their best practices and success stories. What works for your district? Have you implemented a bring-your-own-device initiative? Are you experimenting with flipped or blended learning? Let us know in the comments section, or find me on Twitter @eSN_Laura.

Mobility and 24/7 access

Englewood Middle School in Colorado’s Englewood School District reaches and engages students at school and at home thanks to a take-home iPad initiative. Nearly all parents (95 percent) have given permission for their students to bring the iPads home, said Mike Porter, the district’s director of information technology.

(Next page: How tablets help students stay connected)

Students use Edmodo to stay connected and network with teachers and peers, and they use eBackpack, a web-based collaborative environment, as well. Science classes use Discovery Education’s science Techbook, and all students have access to MyOn Reader and its eLibrary, which features thousands of titles. Teachers are working to integrate AVID strategies around organization and note-taking to align instructional practices with digital resources.

Since the iPad implementation, behavioral referrals and infractions have dropped off, and disciplinary infractions have decreased by 80 percent in two calendar years.

School administrators “use data systems to drive programmatic decisions toward improving outcomes,” Porter said. “The science department uses an assessment library to create common formative assessments using grade level, standards-aligned items. Science staff use item analysis and standards analysis tools from SchoolNet, and the language arts staff use results from district-delivered assessments, Acuity, to plan for instruction, placement, and interventions.”

An unexpected benefit has been a 40 percent reduction in copier and printer fleet size, and close to a 40 percent reduction in prints and copies, Porter said. “While we had hoped that ‘going paperless’ would be an outcome, there were no edicts against printing. The reductions were a natural byproduct of a staff committed to 21st century digital learning styles.”

Teachers are more engaged and energized as well.

“While hard to quantify, staff motivation, sense of risk-taking, and energy levels all seem much higher than in years past,” Porter said. “Teachers collectively know that transitioning to digital-centric teaching and learning is not easy, but, along with their students, have made the commitment.”

Leftover technology bond money went toward purchasing the iPads and upgrading school infrastructure, combined with private grants, $100,000 from the Morgridge Family Foundation, and general funds for subscriptions and professional development.

“Our students and staff have been hungering for this type of experience, so most of our challenges have been around making sure they had all the resources they needed,” Porter said. This includes increasing bandwidth via private fiber networks and improving networking equipment with 1GB switches and wireless access points.

What recommendations would Porter give to other schools and districts hoping to implement or augment tech initiatives?

“Make sure that your infrastructure is bullet proof,” he said. “Solicit and endorse the voices of the teachers and the students, and, at times, go slow to go fast.”

One final, but critical, step to becoming a connected school is to “align technology goals and resources with learning objectives,” he said.

Presentation technology to boost engagement

The Alachua County Public Schools in Gainesville, Fla., began using interactive projectors to reach students and boost engagement in new ways.

Classroom teachers use the EPSON BrightLink 455Wi and 485Wi to deliver content-rich materials and lessons to students. At all levels, but particularly at the elementary level, students are excited to use the technology, thus boosting engagement, said Robert Horter, a district technology coach.

“Teachers use the projectors for math and reading stations,” Horter said. “Student groups go to the board during math stations to play online games selected through PortaPortal, working together with the two pens. The same is true of reading stations, where teacher’s link websites before class and students can practice skills without direct teacher guidance.”

Teachers use the projectors to stream and display content from partners such as Discovery Education, and student collaboration has increased as students are encouraged to collaborate and discuss content displayed so that all students are connected and able to participate in discussions and debates.

A one-to-one iPad initiative was deployed in one of the district’s elementary schools fifth grade classes, and students participate in internet safety training.

Professional development is an essential part of supporting any technology initiative, and all teachers in the district have participated in professional development that accompanies the digital content and digital tools in classrooms.

One of the district’s biggest challenges has been helping teachers adjust to and accept change in the classroom.

“That was initially a big change for teachers, but the upgrade in technology was well worth it,” Horter said.

It is most important for administrators and teachers to remember that “technology is a great tool to enhance teaching and learning,” but that it is only a tool, Horter said. Teachers must know how to use it, be comfortable with it, but should strive to focus on excellent content and teaching practices.

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Laura Ascione

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