Alan November is a speaker and education expert who spoke to the Alabama Superintendent’s Association back in 2008. His talk focused on instilling a sense of urgency because schools are setting students up for failure. He said teachers should coach with project-based lessons that have real life experiences and use every tool available to deepen understanding.
St. Clair County Schools Superintendent Jenny Seals was at that conference and came back excited about providing those 21st Century Skills to the students in St. Clair County Schools.
She worked with a team including Russ Stewart with technology, Jan Bailey with school improvement, and added myself, Brandi Caldwell, for technology integration and teacher training.
Her team surveyed teachers and stakeholders and restructured the vision and mission of the school system. She was ready to make that vision a reality to make students not only successful graduates but also to make them globally competitive. The economy took a negative turn not too long after that time which caused Seals and the BOE to seek ways to keep teachers in the classroom. Adding new technology did not take a back seat, though.
Technology is costly, but the Board of Education, St. Clair County Foundation, legislators, community members, and parents all supported technology through fundraising, donations, grants, Title I funding, and so much more.
Now, after looking at the last three years of the state technology surveys taken by leaders across the district and observing how quickly technology is evolving, Seals and the Board know that they can no longer wait to increase that technology accessibility to students. They know students cannot “power down” when they walk into school if they are expected to come out ready for the global economy.
This is why the district is proud to announce a pilot program beginning next year. It is called C5 Connected Classrooms.
C5 represents the four skills typically identified as 21st century skills — collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking — as well as an additional one, curation of information.
These skills are some of the most desirable workplace skills and some of the skills that are targeted in the new common core standards, which will be implemented in math this year with other subjects to follow each subsequent year. The goals for this project include the following:
• Provide a relevant and rigorous curriculum driven by the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards (CCRS).
• Increase teacher technology proficiency levels and use their expertise to build capacity among school faculty and other schools in the district.
• Integrate 21st Century skills into the core subjects through project-based learning and increased student technology access.
• Collect data, build lessons, create projects, and celebrate success of all stakeholders through an Innovation Showcase in the spring and a roundtable discussion at the end of the school year.
Technology devices alone cannot foster these skills in students nor further all the above goals. Teachers and administrators involved will receive intensive professional development on project-based learning, “flipping” the classroom, learning management systems, web 2.0 tools, cross-curricular planning, instruction/assessment strategies, digital citizenship, and formative assessment with data tracking.
Students involved can expect more authentic assessments, engaging instruction, differentiated instruction, real-world problem solving, and computer based content delivery.
Because this is a pilot program, the schools and leaders involved will need to show consistent integration of the devices, attendance at all training, participation in all surveys and data collection, creation of online content, submission of lesson plans for future phases of implementation, and an Innovation Showcase at the end of the year for the community.
The big questions — who and what?
The two schools in this year’s pilot are Moody Middle School and Springville High School. These two schools were chosen using many factors including current use of technology, current ability to maintain online content, previous technology survey information, technology-forward thinking administration and faculty, grade levels involved, and enrollment numbers.
What technology will the pilot program include? Each school will have twelve laptop carts with thirty Macbook Air’s in each. All teachers and administrators will have a Macbook Pro. This will create a 2:1 laptop to student ratio. It will provide access to some of the most advanced creation tools that exist in computers today.
This pilot will allow the district to look at the program at the end of the year and determine if it should be scaled up to another group of schools next year. The current draft of the implementation plan adds four to five schools per year — impacting at least one school per community by year two, and adds around 1000 devices per year.
All schools in the district will have new wireless accessibility or will have their current wireless network upgraded this year so that this program can begin immediately when that school is phased in.
The administrators and a team of teachers and community members from each pilot school visited Piedmont Middle and High schools in May to see a 1:1 laptop initiative in action. They had opportunities to ask lots of questions. Those teams then came back and discussed the impact something like that could have in their schools.
Moody Middle School
Debra Allred, principal at MMS, talked about how this program will impact her school. “The students will benefit by having unlimited access to information at their fingertips,” Allred said. “Several years ago we, as a faculty, set a goal to bring as much technology into the classrooms as possible. With the help of our parents we have been able to place a variety of the most up to date technology in each classroom. We have two computer labs that are constantly in use. The teachers at Moody Middle School are always willing to explore new ways to bring information to the students. The teachers are ecstatic about this opportunity. They have been collaborating on how we can best implement the use of the new computers on a daily basis.”
Springville High School
Dr. Robert Harris, principal at SHS, has already scheduled specific workshops for his faculty during August to prepare them to begin school with laptops.
“Our student have been exposed to online activities for several years,” Harris said. “The laptops will give the teacher an additional resource for their classroom presentation. We have three workshops scheduled this summer on how to create Moodle (Learning Management System for online content) courses and assessments. We will also have a teacher from Piedmont to present the various activities they use in the classroom setting. Our teachers are ready to go.”
New wave of learning
The C5 Connected Classroom Pilot Program is an exciting opportunity for the students in St. Clair County. It will eventually allow all schools to alleviate old, outdated technology and infuse new tools in the classrooms. It is the first step in moving away from paper textbooks with outdated information and consumable shelf lives, and moving to digital content with ever-changing information.
The most important thing to understand about this program is that the key is the leadership. A computing device is just one tool. The key to successful instruction is a great teacher, visionary principal, strong support system, and rigorous curriculum. Connecting our students to the world with technology will allow teachers to bring relevance and immediate answers during the school day.
Technology will never replace teachers, but teachers who utilize and integrate technology will truly prepare students for the real world. Students, communities, employers, and the common core standards demand technology. St. Clair County schools are ready to make this a reality to prepare tomorrow’s students NOW!
Please follow the SCCBOE on Twitter @sccboe and me @mrscaldwell0