Creativity brings teaching and technology together

For years, one of the most common conversation starters has been, “Hey, what’s new?” This phrase is an alternative to “Can you believe this weather?” The former may offer more options in our current educational setting.

In our district, we rolled out a program designed to encourage innovation and out-of-the-box ideas. Although this program is less than six months old, it has spurred some exceptionally creative ideas to bring teaching and technology together as a tool for learners.

Our newly-inspired Request and Rationalization program gives teachers a green light to envision methodology that could enhance achievement for students. All ideas are reviewed to establish the validity and potential achievement return on investment. A classroom teacher willing to harness an idea, shape it into a strategy and implement it in the classroom has an avenue to pursue.

In May 2013, a review team will analyze the efficacy of each current project and decide if it has potential to scale up. The premier of these pilot programs will supply additional data – as opposed to theory – to guide technology advancements. It is no longer educationally relevant for us to state, “Our district has acquired over 900 iPads for students.” Although impressive, students, principals, teachers and parents are focused on a separate question: “Does this tool impact achievement?”

As educators embrace the invitation and opportunity to be innovative, pilot projects are underway. New requests continue to be processed, and the visibility of increased engagement is on display.

A short tour of our buildings gives an inquisitive visitor a flavor for the pilots currently moving in positive directions. A stop in a kindergarten classroom would reveal our newest learners, fresh off an exciting early childhood experience, using iPads to develop skill in both reading and math. “Does your district utilize technology already in kindergarten?,” and the response is, “Yes. In fact, our students have exposure to technology in our early childhood program.” Each year, more students are entering kindergarten with digital-age experiences they were able to share with their family members.

Through the Request and Rationalization program, a second-grade instructor requested five iPads and an Apple TV box. The overriding concept was to incorporate the tools as part of the learning environment – as opposed to an event limited by a checkout system. Her students have learned to be researchers at age six or seven. I sent her class a video cut about cheetahs, and after viewing the clip, they had many questions (imagine that – a second grader with a question!). Such a teachable moment drew this response from their instructor, “maybe you should research it.” Which they did. I know they did the research because they shared their educational findings with the superintendent by email. Actually, they have emailed me on multiple occasions. Let me know if you would like to see an electronic postcard about mealworms.

One of our fifth-grade instructors is using a website to differentiate math instruction for 28 students at the same time. The site garners data and achievement information for teachers, principals and parents to monitor. Important data with a click or two. Exciting.

A visit to a fourth-grade pilot would necessitate the utilization of 3D glasses (provided by our innovative instructor). An unparalleled visual experience in science is available for view. Science concepts appear before the participants’ eyes, and the connection to content is an experience sure to generate lasting memories and conversations.

These examples are not all-inclusive of the pilot projects underway, but they represent the potential for exploring options made available by the ever-changing world of technology. Educators are in a unique position to engineer the digital bridge that will connect learners to content, and more importantly, to all stakeholders. We need innovation to preserve our instructional foundation and blend it with cutting-edge technology for academic achievement.

“What’s new?” Good question. Although we may not be able to “Beam me up, Scottie,” just yet, we are only six months into an exciting initiative. If the previous two sentences make no sense to you, please find someone older than 50 to bring you up to speed. That may seem like an odd thing for a tech-savvy person to do in order to find meaning. Give it a try.

Ed Saxton is the superintendent of the St. Francis School District.

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