Goochland is Ready
Goochland’s schools are Future Ready! In December, 2014, Dr. James Lane, superintendent of Goochland County Public Schools, joined other superintendents from around the United States to convene at the White House to learn about what other savvy districts were doing to help prepare students for their futures. Dr. Lane and Goochland County Public Schools took the pledge to become future ready. But what exactly does this mean?
A visit to the Future Ready Schools website explains it best:
Future Ready is a free, bold new effort to maximize digital learning opportunities and help school districts move quickly toward preparing students for success in college, a career, and citizenship. The effort provides districts with resources and support to ensure that local technology and digital learning plans align with instructional best practices, are implemented by highly trained teachers, and lead to personalized learning experiences for all students, particularly those from traditionally under-served communities. At the center of the effort is a series of regional summits where district teams will develop action plans and metrics to measure their progress in using digital tools to improve teaching and student learning outcomes. The summits will focus on a comprehensive set of issues that drive student learning, will highlight the experiences of districts in each region, and will offer district leaders tangible ways to build capacity among their teams and throughout their districts. The Alliance for Excellent Education and the U.S. Department of Education are leading this effort with the support of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission and a vast coalition of organizations.
On the Road with One-to-One
For us, one-to-one computing supports a revived instructional program focused on going beyond our standards and personalizing instruction for students. After several years of being a top-performing district with regards to our Virginia Standards of Learning assessments, we turned to a new mission of “maximizing the potential of every learner.” And it started with the belief that not only were our students the “learners,” but also every one of our employees.
Our one-to-one initiative began in the 2013–14 school year as a pilot program in Goochland Elementary School in grades 3–5 and was deeply rooted in our first strategic goal: to maximize each student’s academic potential through engaging experiences and deeper learning, preparing our students for the challenges of learning and working in the modern global economy.
Vision Behind One-to-One
Before we purchased our first iPad for our own one-to-one program, we asked questions, talked to our neighbors, and met experts at local and national conferences who already had gone one-to-one. Vision provides the foundation for a program, answering the important question, “Why are we doing this, anyway?” In one district with over ten years of experience with one-to-one we learned that the vision had been the one thing that provided guidance for strategic decisions, provided direction for all professional development, helped with all the communications with district and community stakeholders, and provided the lens through which the program was later evaluated. While goals tend to be specific and can change from one phase of the initiative to the next, the vision is a multi-year, big picture expression of why money is spent, why teaching styles are changed, and how learning is redirected. By expressing, communicating, and fostering a unified pursuit of the vision, we saw one district sustain its momentum beyond changes in superintendents, school boards, and even a switch in device platforms. As one former district official shared with us, “The vision drives the whole thing towards success.”
In order for our pilot to succeed we would need to take a step forward with instruction. Test scores were placed in the background and we focused on making learning more personalized, more engaging and including inquiry and project-based approaches. We initially named this style of teaching PIbL, for personalized, inquiry-based learning because we believed inquiry was at the heart of a student-centered approach to learning. “This is far less about the iPads and about apps,” Dr. John Hendron, Goochland’s Director of Innovation and Strategy, explained to teachers. “It’s much more about letting students figure out answers, challenging them in new ways through creating products, and opening yourself up to letting students make some choices about how lessons will take shape.”
While the first couple of weeks with the iPads were intense and stressful, our teachers would later tell us they never wanted to “go back.” We were learning about what apps worked well, how to achieve basic tasks, and what new possibilities awaited us using a tablet platform. Students developed preferences around which apps they chose and how they used their iPads (stylus, Bluetooth keyboard; landscape orientation, or portrait orientation relaxed on a sofa). Our fifth grade math teacher really liked the ability of Explain Everything to capture a student’s thoughts as they worked out math problems. Students really liked the creative side of working on a social studies or science project with fun apps like Morfo or Aurasma.
We deliberately avoided professional development on how specific apps work and instead embraced the tinkering mindset, giving teachers time to play with the iPads and apps we thought would become daily staples in the classroom. Our training was firmly focused on what we meant by deeper learning, borrowing ideas from the Hewlett Foundation and our own solutions focused on engaging students through projects, personalization, and play.
Changing what learning and teaching looks like in our schools is a tall order. Coupling our initiative for deeper learning with our one-to-one program helped us give the new tool a purpose, and helped us educate parents for how we were poised to become an even better district.
In November of our pilot year, some 50 days into using the iPads with students in grades 3–5, we hosted an interactive evening event to showcase some of this deeper learning through video. We took the video collection online to document our iPad Exhibition. We were proud that so many students could easily talk about their learning experiences.
Now in our second year, we have expanded the program beyond our pilot school to all fifth grade classrooms and our sixth grade at our middle school. With 520 iPads now in the hands of students, we are helping teachers change pedagogy and utilizing our veteran teachers to share their experience. We implemented a new non-evaluative coaching model where John and his team capture short clips of the teacher with video, and later debrief with the teacher as a reflection exercise before deleting the videos.
Despite not focusing on test scores, our scores went up after the first year. This was consistent with John’s research that suggested that a rise in scores and student engagement were likely in the first few years of a new implementation. More importantly, our teachers were embracing more opportunities for student projects and a deeper reliance upon inquiry in day to day instruction. They were taking the time to allow students to tinker towards a complex answer. The result has been deeper learning. What we perceived as a strong success was evidenced in a number of different ways: new and creative types of student artifacts of learning, students regularly “Googling” answers to basic inquiries instead of asking an adult, and the way kids were so engaged in their learning that they did not pay attention when we visited.
The Key is Engagement
Planning, purchasing, training, learning, and eventual deployment to students and families are the necessary bi-products of launching a 1:1 program, no matter the platform or the student population. While our teachers, instructional leaders, and community had different ideas and preferences for how we might improve education in our school, we all agreed that the essential piece that would showcase our success was engagement. Our pilot school, Goochland Elementary, was fortunate to have engaged teachers, excited students, supportive and engaged parents, and a supportive district team to launch a new era for deeper learning. We strive for engagement every day.
Now in its second year, our program has expanded to Goochland Middle School (sixth grade), and our two other elementary schools for fifth grade (Byrd and Randolph). For SY 2015–16, our program will expand to grades 4 and 5 at Byrd and Randolph, and grade 7 at Goochland Middle.
Engagement means far more than being happy and healthy at school, or even entertained. An engaged student cares about their work and is intrinsically motivated to learn. There are many ingredients that come together to ensure engagement, including the support of our parents and the artistry of our teachers.
The use of a learning management system, a balanced set of assessments, and teaching professionals who know how to engage our learners, each contribute to the best formula for helping our students become the very best they can be. In our case, the iPad connects each student to systems for learning, assessment, and even our teachers, while at school and beyond.
Innovative Learning (and teaching!)
Dr. Stephen Geyer, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction:
I think we have to be careful about trying to innovate simply to be different or to explore something new. Paradigms come and go in education, and enough of us have been around long enough to know that the differing ideas that work their way through our field can be taxing on teachers and sometimes ineffective in helping students succeed. Since Dewey, we have been trying to figure out better ways of making school work. Our team’s focus on deeper learning really spoke to me and it came to us around the same time that we had the support of our school board to refocus our energy away from being singularly driven by standardized testing. The board challenged us with a simple question: “What if the Standards of Learning didn’t matter?” The results for us thinking that way have been to re-design our assessment strategy, with a focus on student growth. We visit classrooms looking for signs and signals associated with student engagement. And what might happen if we took away some of the worry about a test score from teachers? We believe standards are important, but not at the expense of the ability of our teachers to take risks, to take the time to get to know their students, and to find opportunities for students to learn through creativity and inquiry.
Innovation, if its done right, results in having different conversations with students about their learning. If a parent does not have to ask “what happened at school today?” but instead a student is excited about sharing something that really matters to them, that happened at school, then we’re doing the right thing. Dr. Geyer has spoken at length with teachers and leaders about his belief that student engagement is a very important indicator of success for our schools. Engagement is partially about how we have designed instruction, but it’s also about the relationships we develop with students. Our use of instructional rounds has given the district’s instructional leadership team exposure to dialog with students about what they are doing in a classroom. More and more, and especially so with our 1:1 classrooms in Goochland, students are both excited to share, and articulate about what they are learning. They are engaged. They can talk to us about the challenge or a task, and they know why they are doing it. For us, the innovation is about changing the balance of student agency behind learning. Our focus on using projects, especially those that include opportunities for collaboration, are telling examples of this innovation at play. The technology helps kids focus on the tasks, work together, and in many cases build something that serves as ripe artifacts or evidence of their learning.
Perspectives on Recognizing Success
Dr. James Lane, former superintendent, and Dr. Stephen Geyer:
We know that there is data available through multiple sources that can inform us about a student’s journey in learning. We use a longitudinal data analysis program called Tracbook to put this data at each teacher’s fingertips. But we also believed early on that this program should not be measured by test scores. Instead, we had many conversations with John and Tom about what success would look like. We knew that in order to continue and to expand the program, we would have to be able to articulate success, so we looked back at the vision behind our program.
Mr. Tom DeWeerd, Director of Technology and School Administration:
The vision was clearly focused on providing opportunities for deeper learning. For us that meant we had clear learning objectives, we embraced inquiry, we provided ways for students to own their learning, and we clearly wanted improvements with student engagement.
Mr. Peter Martin, Coordinator of Technical Services:
From the technology standpoint, our first year was really a pilot in the sense of how do we facilitate a 1:1, how do we deploy devices using a young platform and new tools, and at what capacity can we support students with our current staffing. In our first year, we had a relatively smooth experience using Configurator and we found the iPads to be a very reliable platform—even in student hands going home daily.
Ultimately our work in putting a device in every child’s hand is a long one, and incrementally expanding by grade levels each year will help us to be able to provide adequate teacher support and training. But how do we measure our success?
In Goochland, we’ll be looking at:
- Student engagement, using a walk through instrument used by school leaders visiting classrooms,
- Teacher dialog and feedback, gained by visiting classrooms, conversing with parents, and putting feedback from teachers into action,
- Evidence of project-based approaches to learning, whereby we see more instruction taking place in classrooms that apply a constructivist theory of learning to classroom activities. These typically work in a project-based approach, continuing our work with the G21 program,
- Focus on progress measured by student growth. Technology in our schools should be helping accelerate our ability to better address student needs and abilities.
Being Flexible Helps with Becoming Future Ready
While technology does bring some obvious added benefits and perks to school, there are also compromises, especially if we continue doing the things the same ways we did before. One-to-one programs introduce a disruption, and it’s up to us to direct change in a positive direction. Dr. Lane’s leadership has been key to towards helping us navigate, plan, and prepare for addressing the change. It means we’re flexible, we may take some risks, and we’ll figure out better ways of doing our jobs. As a positive side effect, going one-to-one also means our environment for learning will also become more flexible, too.
Mrs. Tina McCay, Goochland Elementary’s principal shared this:
Last year, a day before a scheduled field trip to Jamestown, Virginia, one of the teachers emailed me a question. “Do you think we’d be allowed to take the iPads with us?” My only response back to the teacher was: “Keep them dry.” I was so excited. The teachers had grand plans for what was now possible when the technology could go with you! I see it every day in my school. Mobile devices are the best. Students are able to work in small groups on projects, and the confines of a desk or the arrangement of a room is no longer a barrier. I see students daily working on things in the hallways, the cafeteria, or even hear about the learning that took place on the bus ride home. For me, technology that can provide the support for learning anywhere inside, or outside my school, is a winner. The Jamestown videos, by the way, were awesome.
One-to-One Technology Is Not a Quick Fix to a Simple Problem
A 1:1 program should not be a band aid for a school or classroom problem. It’s the foundation for taking on a significant pedagogical shift. While we have every indication that our program is headed in the right direction, we have chosen to take the long view at assessing our success. We’ll know if we have engaged students to learning when they report continued engagement when they get to high school, not a decrease. We’ll know how we did at deeper learning when we see an increase in graduation rates and students who come back from college to tell us “you made a difference.” In the short term, we’re banking on the experience and expertise of our teachers to help guide our program through a distributive leadership model while at the same time keeping our finger on the pulse of student progress.
Technology in our schools helps our students practice and develop essential twenty-first century or workplace-readiness skills. But what will the future hold? Tomorrow’s leaders need the experience of how to think, how to problem-solve, and how to develop solutions where one has not already been invented. We’re confident that through innovative instruction, founded in opportunities for deeper learning, with technology at hand, can help our students and ultimately our community at-large to be future ready.
Goochland’s 1:1 program currently is deployed at four schools, covering grades 3-8 with iPads.
Jeremy J. Raley, Ed.D., Superintendent
Stephen A. Geyer, Ed.D., Assistant Superintendent of Instruction
John Hendron, Ed.D., Director of Innovation & Strategy
Tina McCay, Principal, Goochland Elementary School
Peter Martin, Director of Technology