You may have heard that the Rowan-Salisbury School System (RSS) is a 1:1 school district, but do you know what this means for our students and school system? It means that EVERY student, kindergarten through 12th grade, has a personal iPad or laptop device. It means that we are leaders in innovation, engagement, and personalization. It means that we are able to transform how we teach and prepare students for the work environment of the future! It means no more having to struggle through reserving the computer lab, laptop cart, or the iPads! It means unconditional resources right at our students’ fingertips, which mirrors REAL LIFE!
Dr. Lynn Moody, Superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, is the one who initially got the ball rolling on becoming 1:1. She says, “I had converted my previous district to 1:1 before coming to Rowan-Salisbury, and I knew that I wanted to convert us as soon as I arrived in 2013. I believed that every child should be able to access information, regardless of their economic status. I also believed that technology would be the answer to how we would begin to personalize education. I thought the tools would be important to helping students be able to access current information instead of information from a 10 year textbook, and that the iPads would actually give students a tool to create.”
In 2014, thanks to school board and county commissioner support, RSS became 1:1, one of only a few North Carolina public schools to have that title. Though being 1:1 is a significant financial commitment, as it is not grant funded, RSS believes that in order to truly prepare kids for life after their K-12 education, the laptops and iPads are a necessity! Some could disagree or argue with the importance of technology, but if you think about it, we would be scarce to find a job in our society where you aren’t interacting with some form of it in some way.
Nationally Ranked for Pioneering Uses for Technology in the Classroom
While all students have a personal device, students in grades 3-12 are able to take their devices home. Every high school student has a MacBook Air laptop, while every 3-8 grade student has an iPad.
“These teaching and learning tools have truly changed the culture of our schools,” says Corey McNeill, the Lead Teacher of Instructional Technology at RSS. “They make teachers’ lives easier because they no longer have to reserve a laptop cart or a computer lab, students can do work at home even if they’re absent, and we’re able to personalize learning more effectively.”
For these reasons, and more, our public-school classrooms look a lot different than other school districts across the state. There is certainly a reason that RSS is nationally ranked in the Top 10 for pioneering uses for technology in the classroom.
Personalized and FUN Experiences from Elementary to High
As a teacher myself, I can’t imagine not having computers and the resources they provide at mine and my students’ fingertips. One thing that I value most regarding technology is our learning management system, Canvas, where we can upload all of our assignments and do all of our grading. This allows us, as teachers, to conduct class even when we are absent, and provide learning opportunities for students such as “flipped classrooms,” where students can get the instructional content online at home before coming to class. They can then spend more time interacting and creating with the material more during class time. It allows us to go away from the old school “lecturing” style of teaching, and kids are definitely more engaged when not taking notes!
Time and time again, research shows that not every kid learns the exact same way, so technology gives us the ability to personalize learning more easily. All Rowan County schools have access to a tool called “Achieve 3000” which differentiates instruction for nonfiction reading that are tailored to each student’s Lexile reading level. This means that students who may be behind in reading level aren’t reading things way over their head and just getting even more behind, and students who may be way above reading level are still being challenged.
From elementary to high school, students in RSS classrooms are interacting with technological apps, tools, and resources EVERY DAY that make learning more fun and enable them to USE and CREATE with the information being taught.
Emily Driggers, a 4th grade teacher at Morgan Elementary School, says that technology helps her when teaching concepts that some students have mastered, while other students need more instruction. With an app called “Educreations Interactive Whiteboard”, she can make videos for students that are available to them at all times if needing a topic explained again. Additionally, she utilizes that same app to have the students who have already mastered the concept design and create instructional videos to help teach their classmates.
Students in her classroom just finished a project where they were expected to design and create a presentation about the rock cycle. Technology allowed her to give her students choice in how they would deliver the information, and some chose an app called “Chatterpix”.
“This app allowed them to take a picture of a rock, place a mouth on it, and then speak into a microphone so that the rock seemed to be the one speaking to its audience. The students enjoy using apps like this to share knowledge with their classmates. It allows them to be creative without feeling reluctant to film themselves or be embarrassed when others see their face,” she adds.
Another really neat thing that technology leverages in the elementary school classroom is the use of an app called “Class Dojo” that assists with classroom management. Class Dojo provides teachers with a platform to track student behavior and assign positive and negative remarks. In addition, teachers can send instant messages to specific parents and share photos from the class. Students can choose their own avatar.
Betsy Finney, a parent of a 1st grade student at Bostian Elementary School, says “Class Dojo is a great way for me to keep up with how my son is behaving in school! It also lets me see him interacting with other students and the material being learned when his teacher shares photos from class.”
Sally Schultz, a 6th and 7th grade Math, ELA, and Science teacher at Knox Middle School, agrees that technology is awesome for personalizing the learning experience for each student. She does this by using personalized “playlists” that are tailored to their individual needs and interests.
“The playlists are composed of a blend of technology and hands on activities. Some of my favorite programs to use are Google Classroom, NearPod, and Flipgrid. Using Google Classroom has really allowed me to personalize the work for individual students as well as give feedback and make adjustments based on students’ needs. NearPod is an interactive program that allows students to move at their own pace or at the teacher’s digression. Students can go on virtual field trips, complete interactive vocabulary activities, and more. For Flipgrid, students are able to give video feedback and responses in a variety of ways.”
As far as the high school classroom goes, Kristen Swilley, a History teacher at Carson High School, insists technology is a must.
“For generations, students received the historical portion of their education in schools exclusively from textbooks and primary sources. This approach was fantastic for its time, but now with our district working diligently to personalize each student’s learning experience, students cannot be locked into the confines of a textbook. Technology allows me to teach my students the fundamental standards of my field, while opening up the opportunity for exploration and discovery regarding the historical stories that directly impact who they are. Each of their identities stem from a series of events, each differing from the next. By stretching beyond a traditional textbook, they can explore their story and understand why historical events are relevant to their lives and important to understand.”
She says her students love being able to actually see the people and places they are discussing in class, so she uses an app called “Expedition” to take them there! This app, available on an iPad or iPhone, sends students on virtual trips to places around the globe during various time periods.
As you can see, technology is allowing the public-school students in Rowan County the opportunity to really show mastery of learning instead of just show how good (or not good) they are at taking notes, memorizing facts or equations, and taking a test or a quiz. When opposed to students without the incredible opportunity of being 1:1, our students should definitely leave our classrooms more prepared for the real world with a heightened sense of creativity, critical thinking skills, and a love for learning!