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Arcola School District Investing in their Vision for Learning

It seems like just yesterday that the amazing community of Arcola came together to raise $750,000 for the school district to move to a 1:1 Digital Learning Platform. But believe it or not, those devices were purchased almost five years ago and have been used by students for four school years beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

Since that implementation, the school district has realized many positive outcomes as a result of this new technology including:

  • Improved student engagement
  • Preparation of our students for digital literacy
  • Shift in learning activities to be more relevant to the real world
  • Improved communication between teachers and students
  • Increased student achievement
  • Preparation of our students for college and career readiness

But over the last year, we began to see some limitations with the original technology and as a result, the district spent several months studying the issue of refreshing the technology to ensure we are providing the most current, up-to-date technology so we can continue to move forward with the district vision, which is “to be an innovative leader in providing educational experiences that create an individualized plan for each and every student.”

As a result, the Arcola School Board just approved the purchase of all new technology devices for the students in Grades K-12 for the 2018-2019 school year. The students in grades K-6 will upgrade from an iPad 2 or 4 device to the newly released iPad 6 device. The students in grade 7-12 will upgrade from an iPad 4 to a 10.5” iPad Pro Device that will also include an iPad Pencil along with a Logitech Slim Case and Keyboard combination. The iPad Pro is a significant upgrade over the iPad and each student will have his/her own keyboard to go along with the device. The district felt the combination of the iPad Pro with the case/keyboard combination was the perfect fit for learning. Students and teachers will still be able to take advantage of all the learning tools that go with a tablet device while also being able to use the device like a laptop.

The school district has been planning financially for this upgrade pretty much since the purchase of the original equipment. In the fall of 2015, the school board issued $500,000 in working cash bonds, which resulted in NO additional cost to district taxpayers. The district was able to do this because it uses around $100,000 from the 1% Facilities Tax it receives annually to pay off a portion of the annual bond and interest payment (from the new high school addition). This then allows the district to levy for the working cash bonds with absolutely no increase in taxes. This has been a very innovative financial approach to being able to sustain the district and community commitment to providing our students with 21st century learning tools in the classroom.

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Arcola School Board just approved the purchase of all new technology devices for the students in Grades K-12 for the 2018-2019 school year. The students in grades K-6 will upgrade to an iPad 6 device and students in grade 7-12 will upgrade to a 10.5” iPad Pro Device that will also include an iPad Pencil along with a Logitech Slim Case and Keyboard combination

http://www.arcola.k12.il.us/article/53048?org=arcola-cusd

Arcola School Board approved the purchase of all new 1:1 technology devices for the students in Grades K-12 for the 2018-2019 school year. Get full details at http://www.arcola.k12.il.us/article/53048?org=arcola-cusd


Why Digital Learning?

The focus of the 1:1 Digital Learning initiative is not on the technology. The primary goal of this initiative is to transform learning in all classrooms in Arcola. The new State Learning Standards, which are often referred to as the Common Core Standards and the Danielson Framework for Teaching, which was adopted by the district three years ago as the standard for teaching requires a transformation from knowledge acquisition activities to classrooms where students are engaged in activities and homework that requires application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. This is a true transformation of learning. For years our classrooms have dabbled in higher level thinking but primarily focused most activities on knowledge-based activities. In today’s global economy, our students can acquire knowledge with the push of a button on their smart phone, computer or other handheld device. It is important that our students to still have a good foundation of knowledge but it should not be to the point where our students are spending hours looking up and memorizing facts that they will soon forget after the test is over. That is yesterday’s classrooms, not today’s classrooms!


Transforming Learning

Let’s use an example to illustrate.

Yesterday’s Classroom

In yesterday’s high school history classroom, a class period would include a lecture from the teacher for 30 minutes on a certain period of history. At the end of the period, the students would be assigned a homework sheet that included fill in the blank answers where students had to read through the chapter or refer to the teacher’s notes to find the answers. They would work on that for the remainder of the period and finish the rest for homework. This would go on for a period of several days until the class got “through” the content. The culminating assessment for the unit would be a test that included fill in the blank and/or matching questions primarily about the facts from the period in history. If the students were lucky, they might have one short answer response about a historical figure or about listing reasons for why the particular event occurred. This entire unit, which could last up to a couple of weeks, was all built on the acquisition of knowledge. The learning activities, the homework and the assessment were all at a very basic knowledge level.

Today’s Classroom

Transforming our classrooms means significantly changing the way we do business. The teacher could substantially restructure how he approached the very same unit in the history book. They could start the unit with the assignment. The assignment for each student might be to first identify what causes led up to a particular historical event (based on student choice) in this time period in history; then determine a similar situation going on in the world today; and then to use what that student learned about the causes and reasons that led to the historical event to predict what might happen in the future. Each student would then present their findings to the rest of the class. In approaching this unit in a different manner, students will not only be more active in the learning activities, they will still be learning important facts about the historical period but in a way that requires them to use that knowledge in a much higher level of thinking. This type of learning activity accomplishes much more than a simple recall of facts.


What About the Technology?

The above example says nothing about technology! Just thinking about high school students in the two above examples, it is easy to deduce that students will be much more engaged and active learners in the second approach to teaching the unit. There is one very indisputable point that is found in any high performing organization . . .the more engaged people are, the more productive they will be. So ultimately, our goal in school is to engage our students to the highest level possible in their learning activities. This level of engagement can increase by simply changing the learning activity but having a one-to-one digital learning environment allows students much greater access to information and it allows students to bring the world they live in outside the school walls inside the school, thus only increasing their level of engagement.

Let’s use the previous example to illustrate:

Without Technology

Without technology, a student may have been chosen to create a poster or a flow chart, or Venn diagram to present their findings to the class. This is certainly more engaging than fill in the blank worksheets but it is not to level possible with technology.

With IPAD Technology

Using 1:1 IPAD technology, students can create an iMovie, an iMovie trailer, or choose from any number of other presentation apps as their choice for presentation. They can use pictures, video clips, create new video clips, and music to pull together and assist them with delivering their message to their classmates.


Summary

The 1:1 Digital Learning platform is about access and engagement. The primary focus is on creating learning activities that challenges our students to use critical thinking skills in the context of an environment where they are naturally engaged. It is about bringing the outside world they live in every second they are outside our school walls into the school to make learning more relevant and meaningful for each and every child.

The shift in learning enhanced by the access to 1:1 technology clearly will take Arcola from yesterday’s classrooms to today’s classrooms!