What did I learn during my recent visit to two Orange County, Florida schools? Technology is proving to be a great tool for student learning. It’s fun for students to use, teachers love it, and it personalizes education for the individual needs of each student. Yet it is absolutely imperative that we implement digital learning tools properly, providing seamless integration with today’s classrooms in order to empower students to succeed in the future.
Thanks to the amazing work at Millennia Elementary, Hunters Creek Middle School, and five other schools taking part in a digital learning 1-to-1 pilot program, we have seen it is possible to successfully integrate technology into lessons, and we know the time to do it is now.
During a recent visit to Millennia Elementary, I had the fortune to see first-hand how classrooms at these schools were buzzing with energy. In a 1st grade classroom, students were working on a review of prefixes—a pretty common activity that has most likely been taught since the one-room school house days. But this lesson looked very different. In this class, each student had his or her own tablet with headphones and was working at their own pace. The activity looked a lot more like a game a kid would choose to play after school than an actual school assignment. Students were watching videos with a skateboarding cat explaining prefixes, playing games to help them match the word with the correct prefix to complete a sentence, and taking fun mini-quizzes at the end, complete with virtual prizes. Their little fingers were typing, touching, and swiping the screens like pros. Meanwhile, the teacher was working 1-on-1 with another student on subtraction—providing him with valuable individualized support while monitoring the other students’ progress on her own computer.
It was inspiring to watch, and as a former teacher I can tell you, students weren’t just having fun—they were learning! Technology makes teaching to each student’s unique needs and talents possible in ways that weren’t imaginable with previous resources. Individualized programs guide students forward at their own pace and apps help teachers monitor progress and provide help to students in real time. Data on what the class learned that day can be viewed by the teacher or parents that night, informing the very next day’s lesson. In a pre-technology world it might take a high school teacher three days to review work of her 100 students. With technology, the information teachers need to know about their students’ progress is immediately available, allowing teachers to be more responsive to the immediate needs of students before small gaps in knowledge can grow into ravines.
But technology is more than just a better way to teach and track progress. Our responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the future. But based on how most schools utilize technology today, current students will be prepared for the past, at best. We urgently need to incorporate technology as an everyday part of learning. My host for the visit, Mariel Milano, Director Digital Curriculum & Instructional Design at Orange County Public Schools, said it right when she called digital literacy “the new gatekeeper” to success. She argues that we need to approach digital literacy the same way we approach regular literacy. Not as an “extra,” but as an essential.
The benefits of technology are great. But the transition is going to take full support of the community. The Orange County Public Schools digital pilot is working on how to do this as cost effectively and expediently as possible. To be successful, OCPS needs feedback on the program, help with creating a whole community connection to support students’ digital learning, and support for acquiring the tools our children will need to succeed.
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Resources for Parents: If you are interested in using technology to help your kids at home, our good friends over at GettingSmart have a host of resources and links to help you take advantage of the best of the internet and enable anytime, anywhere learning. Whether it’s the 40 best curated educational videos, free apps to help teach the Common Core State Standards or thoughtful commentary about integrating technology and learning—Getting Smart serves as a trusted resource for districts, teachers and parents. Don’t forget the always high quality, always free videos from Khan Academy , then check out Brainpop and more free apps at TeachThought.
Want to learn more about digital learning policies and best practices? Visit Digital Learning Now!