Monthly School Report (August 2017)

Superintendent Joe Potts · Wednesday, August 30, 2017
A colleague of mine recently texted to tell me that she has finally purchased a “smart phone.”

She was extremely proud of herself for increasing her ability to communicate and access information. For years she refused to purchase this technology and was comfortable with the use of a less capable device.

Her mind changed, she told me, when she noticed that her first graders—she is a school principal—were arriving to school with “smart” technology. She decided that she had better catch up to the students in her school. In her text she exclaimed that she tossed her “dumb” phone away.

Technologies include more than phones, although nearly every adult has one. Currently, Facebook has more than 845 million subscribers and is now available in over 70 different languages across the globe. Daily the number of Tweets exceeds 50 million, and each month Google searches number a staggering 31 billion attempts to locate or process information. We and our children are truly living in exponential times; various technologies have become a tool for daily use. (Source: Did you Know; You Tube.) And each day our students access academic content and solve problems with the use of computers and software.

It’s true that technological advances in both learning and social media spaces are exploding around us—and our children. We live now in the age of tremendous digital acceleration that has potential for increasing student engagement and learning. It also can assist schools transform learning environments into contexts that better resemble 21st Century work environments where little is completed in silos and where problems are solved through collaborative team work.  

Transformative Learning

A few years ago I and a few other school administrators had the good fortune to spend a day with Tom Vander Ark, the former Executive Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. During that time, we learned about schools across the globe that were working on innovative strategies to personalize learning—meaning students take ownership of their learning. 

In these model schools, students used laptops to access curriculum and to solve problems driven by real world issues, yet the content they studied was connected to a standards-based curriculum. Students also applied technology and software while working in teams, creating powerful learning opportunities, very easily extended beyond the walls of the school. Modern-day technologies, such as the laptop, can function as tool to embed learning and to meet the needs of a students with individual needs.

It’s nice to know that the talented and committed teachers and students right here in West Liberty are using technology to increase learning. In some instances, where teachers have created web pages and linked assignments and content, students can access school information and extend their learning beyond the walls of the school. And with products such as Schoology, FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype it is possible to connect teams of students in a visible, virtual space where face-to-face collaboration can occur.

Our schools then are using technology to create an innovative architecture for academic achievement. Students use digital tools to work problems and to create solutions that very much resemble the processes and strategies employed in a technology-based work environment—which includes nearly every business or industry.

Next Generation Formula

So what does the future hold? And what does this mean for the West Liberty School District?

While it is impossible to predict the future completely, there are some trends and indicators that aid in designing a strategy for school improvement. And the West Liberty School District already has a head start when it comes to providing access and opportunity for students. 

Right now, the district provides access to students through laptops and software.  About 950 Chromebooks or laptops are located in classrooms for student use. This fall our district has deployed an additional 230 Chromebooks, and our high school has implemented Schoology that enables students to access content and assignments away from the school site. 

The addition of hardware creates the makings of an infrastructure for the district, but what is required is a digital strategy linked to a larger strategic plan that will provide some level of coherence and that will enable the district to prioritize and maximize resources.

As we progress in our strategy, we may want to consider the following in terms of our vision for the next generation of learning. 

Customizing learning to

meet the needs

Both software and hardware help customize learning and engagement for students. Whereas in a typical classroom, one lesson is taught and generally at one “intellectual” pitch. It is possible to create lessons that enable multiple points of entry for students with a variety of learning needs and capacities. Imagine a classroom of students who have different reading abilities reading the same or a similar text with 100% comprehension.

Problem-based Learning.

One way to create real-world learning environments is to develop teaching and learning strategies around problems that require solutions. In a problem-base environment, teams of students take on a problem and use their collective knowledge and the power of technology to access information to imagine and then implement solutions.

Creating 24/7 learning environments

Imagine students accessing school assignments and learning supports from home or on vacation. The use of web pages and learning management systems like Schoology help students stay connected, and the links to videos on YouTube or other educational sites can provide scaffolds for students to access when needed. Imagine, too, a student sitting at home struggling with an algebra problem and being able to access a video of a teacher re-teaching a strategy for completing the problem.   Imagine, too, that classroom “flipped” to allow students to view lectures at home via video and then to receive direct instruction and tutoring on problems from peers and teachers at school.

Use technologies to provide quick and continual feedback. One of the top strategies for improving student learning in all grades and in all schools is for students to receive feedback. Current technologies provide the capacity for instant feedback. Students can try out a solution and then receive information that validates thinking or improves understanding—instantly. 

Online Curriculums

Free and very good online resources on sites like Online Educational Resources are quickly becoming of value. Such sites contain rich and full-bodied curriculums that contain materials and resources that make the purchase of texts and volumes of paper ancillary products unnecessary. Imagine our district saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the future by accessing robust, standards-aligned curriculums for no cost.

Future Forward:

A Digital Landscape

Like so many of our students, my elementary school colleague has jumped into the dazzling world of cyberspace. The technology at her fingertips makes her powerful. And what is true is that in schools we are just beginning to understand the potential of technology to shape lives and improve learning. Educators are designing better ways for a diversity of students to learn language and content. Our computers and software and innovative teaching approaches may function as a way forward for our students as they enter a workplace landscape that is technology dependent.  
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