Leveling the Playing Field with Technology: It's No Longer a Choice
The vision of Polk School District, Georgia, is to create a transformational learning environment that will keep students at the forefront of their own academic pursuits. Every student, regardless of his or her socioeconomic background, is at the center of the educational process in our approach.
As we have continued to implement more technology in our classrooms, a new set of best instructional practices have surfaced due to the increased collaboration between educators, students and their families. We have worked tirelessly to encourage a system-wide increase in student engagement and interest, which has led to substantial increases in student achievement. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for all students as it gives them the tools to access content across subject and grade levels--anytime, anywhere by pushing learning beyond the confines of the school building.
With an overall vision of creating transformational learning that levels the playing field both for teachers and for students, we have undertaken two specific initiatives have been implemented to further the reach of Polk County’s 21st Century learning environments.
The Mobile Minds Program
Polk School District has transformed the way its students learn through what we call the “mobile minds” program. Our instructional technology team (aka Mobile Minds Specialists) assist our teachers in specific content areas to create innovative lessons that truly transform instruction and content delivery to our 21st century classroom learners. The Mobile Minds Specialists were selected due to their ability to integrate technology into their classrooms, demonstrating that teaching with technology as a vehicle to deliver content and further engage students can impact learning beyond what we had previously thought possible.
Our Mobile Minds Specialists are assigned to one building, charged with supporting it’s teachers; however they are accessible and available to all schools in the district. The Mobile Minds Specialists provide hands-on training with teachers and students at the schools on a weekly basis. We warmly refer to this as our “Mobile Minds Blitz”, delivered through a co-teaching and collaborative model. The Mobile Minds Specialists also host “Technology Tuesdays” on the second Tuesday of each month to continue the professional learning experiences from Mobile Minds University, which was held this summer to kick off the new school year, which was a huge success.
In addition, our teachers, principals and Mobile Minds Specialists collaborate during weekly PLC meetings to develop technology-embedded lesson plans. These plans are differentiated and are designed for whole group, small group, partner collaboration and individual learning. Mobile Minds Specialists co-teach weekly in the high schools to model the delivery of project-based learning using iPads, and subsequently, teachers help students use their iPads to obtain assignments and instructions using QR codes, augmented reality apps and the teachers’ online classrooms. Teachers facilitate and monitor the lessons while obtaining formative assessment data as students collaborate together on projects or assignments, and this data is analyzed to determine remediation or acceleration for each student.
Directed Studies Program
Over the years, we’ve realized the importance of finding a way to equally support all student populations, ranging from special needs to the gifted and talented. Enter... the Directed Studies program.
With the Directed Studies program, struggling students have a segment during an elective period, or before/after school for remediation as well as the mastery of the Common Core Georgia state standards. Directed Studies also focuses on personalizing each student’s learning through the implementation of toos like Classworks, Front Row, Study Island and myON.
For example, with the implementation of myON, our teachers are able to assign specific book sets based on subjects or areas of interest, in addition to books that are at or slightly above each student’s Lexile range in mind to further engage in learning and provide a deeper understanding of comprehension in key curricular subjects and standards. Teachers are using the program in both small group and whole group instruction to ensure that each child’s needs and interests are being met.
But it doesn’t stop at school. Students can access myON books twenty-four hours a day, and are able to download books to read at home. MyON has provided children without books in their homes access that has never been available to them in the past.
Room to Grow
Currently, we are in the process of adding Wi-Fi access to the buses our students ride, both to and from school as well as activity buses, enabling learning to continue outside of the classroom. In order to increase the availability of Wi-Fi, local churches in our county are also opening their doors to allow students access their Wi-Fi to complete assignments.
Recently, a high school senior needed a single virtual class to graduate however she was forced to drop the class due to financial hardship. How on earth can that happen in this day and age? An iPad and a $35.00/ month Verizon Wi-Fi network with unlimited Internet access were paid for on her behalf by a local business and community fund. This young lady is now on track to graduate on time with her classmates.
It is our job as educators to make learning fun and impactful for all students! Polk School District is preparing 21st Century learners for a world that exists today as well as the one that will exist tomorrow.