teacher collaboration network

Digital is the plumbing; ‘One to the World’ is the vision

“I thought the phrase ‘one to the world’ was right on target, because when you connect students with authentic, challenging problems in the world, that’s a game-changer, whereas connecting students with a device itself is not a game-changer.” —Dr. Eric Williams, Superintendent of Louden County Schools, Virginia

Observing the wonderment of kindergarten kids as they discover the world with the help of digital learning can be magical. In the kindergarten classes at Newton-Lee Elementary School in Loudoun County, Virginia, wonderment is at an all-time high as the students squeal with delight. Their eyes are glued to the Skype session with a zookeeper in Texas. The camera is projecting the live images of orangutans as they play with puzzles that the kindergarten students actually designed and shipped to the zoo for testing by the primates.

A few months earlier, the students had learned on another Skype call that orangutans can become naughty if they are not engaged with games and toys. One student in the class volunteered to become an orangutan puzzle designer. The whole class got behind the project and launched into a primate puzzle design team. Challenging five-year-olds to become orangutan puzzle designers is not in most lesson plans for kindergarten!

At Briar Woods High School in Loudoun County, high school students are researching the environmental damage caused by various de-icing agents that are applied after snow and ice storms. These students became a de-icing research group making recommendations to government agencies, private companies, and homeowners about what investments to make in order to minimize the negative impact of the de-icers applied to the county’s roads and parking lots in winter. Initial local success led the students to design a statewide public service campaign. Those high school students are on fire, looking for their next big design challenge.

Loudoun County administrators have created the expectation that educators will challenge students to contribute to the world. This goal comes out of a digital learning approach called “One to the World.” In One to the World thinking, the role of the student as a problem solver with a purpose is a critical tenet.

For years, I have been arguing that focusing on “on-to-one computing” as the name of our digital learning ramp-up to providing every student with access to a device does not naturally lead administrators to ask the most important questions about this historic transition to a connected world. The ratio of one student per one device simply does not capture the focus of the long-term transformation that we are all trying to figure out. While shifting a title does not solve the problem, I believe that words do count. By refocusing our work from “one to one” to “One to the World,” a new set of questions naturally emerges. For example, what should the relationship of our classrooms to the world look like?

Next page: How Loudoun County has created deeper learning through its One to the World initiative 

Laura Ascione

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