Minds and Matter: 21st Century teaching, learning initiative
by Kevin J. Hatfield, School Superintendent · Op-Ed · March 09, 2012

“We live in a digital, global world. Schools are usually neither of those things.” – Scott McLeod, Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education

For the West Branch Community School District to meet the goal of delivering the most comprehensive, high-level PK -12 educational learning experiences possible for students, we must become a standards and competency-based, technology-infused, response-to-intervention, data-driven school district. The integration of technology at all levels is just the start to becoming this type of a school district. To me, a great school district is relentless in its delivery and efforts to provide a “student/career-centered” approach when it comes to improving programming, curriculum, assessment and support efforts around effective teaching practices. A 1:1 initiative is really about changing the teaching and learning practices and paradigms happening in our classrooms. While school districts are driven by the need to deepen learning experiences for all students, we must also respond to and meet changing economic realities, future workforce needs and post-secondary education and training demands. So, embracing technology for the sake of having it is simply the wrong approach. We can’t accomplish this for our students without it.

Genuine, continuous school improvement is not just a “catch-phrase” or a “company line” these days. Managing and leading “change” is now a top priority for administrators who care deeply about meeting the competitive, global realities our students will face. Educational leaders can no longer be asked to manage the “status quo.” We must have students, teachers, support staff, and community members ready to embrace change and that work must include providing our students and staff with access to the best technologies available for improving teaching and learning.

As one happy veteran West Branch educator proclaimed to me during a classroom visit, “This is going to be great! Out with dioramas and in with student-produced and edited “iMovies” for demonstrating their learning!”

Investing in a “One-to-One (1:1) 21st Century Teaching and Learning Initiative” will provide multiple benefits to students, staff and parents. It will:

Improve Collaboration and make teaching and learning experiences more like the world that students and adults actually live and work in. It will enhance a parent’s knowledge of the work their students are being asked to accomplish and reflect upon.

Improve Student Engagement by providing students and staff with outstanding research resources, formative assessment formats, project-learning experiences, virtual learning experiences, and allow for modern oral and visual presentations capabilities. Students and staff will be a part of the digital, “anytime, anywhere learning” reality we all live in.

Enhance Creativity and Innovation for all Students and Staff: Imagine productive students and teachers working to actually change the traditional teaching/learning paradigm where the teacher was viewed as the “sole source of the information” or “content holder” to a new paradigm where the teacher also becomes a “content facilitator.”

Improve Application of Professional Development (staff learning) that will support student learning. Technology will improve the collaboration of our staff around “real time” data for improved instructional decision making. (Data Teams) Like a doctor, a teacher needs pinpoint instructional data. Technology will allow for more instantaneous views of student, class, building and District progress.

Assist Us with the Overall Goal of Improving Student Achievement: A 1:1 computing initiative will allow for student-driven learning and provide students multiple opportunities to deepen their studies on topics that were often addressed at only a “surface level” or at a “facts-only-level” due to the time constraints of the traditional classroom. Technology is proving to be a tool for enhancing collaboration between students, teachers and programs. This is contrary to the criticisms associated to technology just few decades ago.

Enhance Critical Thinking through the use purposeful, technology-enriched lessons that require students to collaborate with classmates, regional and national experts, about their learning is now becoming a common occurrence in technology enriched learning environments. Producing “world-class” learning experiences that demand authentic deeper understanding of concepts will also become the norm. Enhancing student access to new information about the world, cultures, people, governments, legal and political issues will open their minds to the complexities of the world, test their convictions or preconceived notions of what is fact, and reinforce previous learning. Developing critical-thinking skills which include the ability to find information and verify the accuracy of information will be a common, higher-order thinking expectation for students.

During the 2012-2013 school year more than 150 of the nearly 350 school districts in Iowa, as well as thousands of school districts (public and private) across the nation, will have some form of a 1:1 computing process taking place in their schools. Schools are engaged in this process because they know it is vital for future student success.

In addition, moving from print to the digital world (including the use of digital textbooks) is already happening. Having access from home to the school server will allow for greater review, improved homework, deeper “pre” and “post” lesson learning, as well as improve parent/school communications on required work. School systems have often been accused of preparing students for a world that no longer exists. We must improve our application of project-based learning experiences, as well as provide increasing opportunities for students to demonstrate and develop higher-order thinking skills through the appropriate use of technology.

Please know that the District is continuing to implement steps for teaching students safe, responsible computing practices. Still, as you know, no matter how many “safety nets” a school attempts to incorporate, at some level students will exercise their freedom regarding decision-making. Our job, in a partnership with parents and students, is to severely limit those things from happening. Students and families will sign-off on their understanding of our “Acceptable Use” policy. The District will utilize a state-of-the-art content-filtering system and continue to teach and model the best uses of technology. Our staff is also being educated and will be reminded of the “Acceptable Use” policy and “best-practices” with technology.

There has never been a more important time to invest in our schools and the “tools” that provide our students and staff with a competitive edge. Being able to compete for jobs in the “technology-embedded” companies of today and tomorrow is critical. Our manufacturing sectors (hopefully manufacturing trades will bounce back), business, service and health sectors consistently share the need to have skilled, “technology experienced” workers capable of thinking critically, creatively and collaboratively.

The District’s administrative team is currently working with experienced “1:1 Project Managers” through our contractual agreement with Apple, Inc. This work will help us identify the “next-steps” for building a successful early-August “computer rollout” process for students and parents who elect to participate in this 5th-12th grade technology initiative. Parents and students will receive information about the “rollout” as this year winds down. Parents will be able to view “options and rights” for participation as well. We are in the process of developing a simple 1:1 link on our Web site to provide access to all necessary information regarding this important learning initiative.

This is truly an exciting time for our students! Our commitment will be to always provide your students with the best education we can possibly deliver. We will be continually assessing the effectiveness of what we teach and how we deliver it for students! I am truly grateful that the West Branch Board of Education has committed their support to this important learning initiative!

P.S. Please visit the “Superintendent’s Blog” located on the District’s Web site to view additional technology-related and teaching and learning educational links.

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