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Technology meets the moment: Chesterfield schools continue to lean toward the digital frontier

Ernie Longworth, Director of Educational Innovation for Chesterfield County Public Schools, said the district’s educational technology includes at least 12 reference resources and virtual resources that can lead students to more intuitive and visual learning experiences. It says it has tools built in.Ash Daniel

The term “digital native” may have been around longer than actual digital natives have been alive. These are people with little life experience or memory except for computers and Internet-based technology. Current schoolchildren in the United States, Generation Z, are considered the first true digital natives.

Since the early 1980s, computers have steadily increased their presence in U.S. schools in general, but over the past decade, school districts such as Chesterfield County Public Schools have made computer hardware and software part of the learning experience. The number of ways to integrate has increased significantly.

CCPS Director of Education Reform, Arnie Longworth, said the school system has long moved away from textbook-based education, where only basic audiovisual materials supplement lesson plans.

“Some departments are using that kind of thing quite a lot today,” says Longworth.

But he adds that the Chesterfield school hasn’t adopted a textbook of any size for about 20 years.

“So about 10 years ago we made a deliberate shift from traditional educational resources to digital content,” says Longworth.

Longworth explains that CCPS has taken a different path than other school systems in introducing technology into schools. Chesterfield’s process “started by providing teachers with technology applications and tools before they got the device. [for county school kids] and developed an appetite for them.

“Ten years ago, all other departments were operating. [Apple] iPads were in the hands of teachers and students. Then they said: ‘Well, what do you want us to do with them?’

According to him, the lack of preparation and training has drawn difficult headlines and unwanted attention to school districts for overspending on unproven technology.

Instead, CCPS leaned toward the concept of “blended learning.” This is “Face-to-face instruction at its best with online tools and online instruction.”

He describes a shift in thinking that deliberately deviates from the paradigm most educators have grown up with.

“We went to a place where there was no single, primary resource [like a textbook]’ he continues. “For the most part, the focus was on media-rich, modular, portable content.” Video clips, quotes, or literary passages are accessible in a variety of formats (“portable”) and serve as the basis for lessons. It can be one “learning object”.

The focus was to enable teachers to be “like artists” and draw information from multiple media resources that accommodate different student learning styles.

In a January interview with technology website EdTech, Chesterfield School chief technology officer Tim Tillman emphasized the importance of the IT team’s continued involvement in the evolution of the school sector.

“We have more devices,” says Tillman. “We have more people depending on us.”

He added that education is now dealing with an ever-changing landscape, and that adaptability is key: recruiting more technical resources to accommodate students.

“We no longer study in a structured curriculum,” Tillman told EdTech. “We learn through exploration, we learn through projects, we learn through research, and technology makes all of this possible.”

In practice, this means CCPS has integrated Chromebook laptops throughout the school. This is a virtual bookbag, unlike the £20 luggage Gen X sadly recalls. I can.

Over the years, Chesterfield has channeled its technology into a series of online, readily available course materials known as open educational resources. CCPS can be licensed for classroom use. CCPS said he was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education in 2013 as one of his six “open” districts in the U.S., and the Virginia Department of Education has followed suit. .

Chesterfield County Public Schools is a leader in putting technology in the hands of teachers and students at all grade levels, Longworth explains.Ash Daniel

Longworth said CCPS employs a series of rigorous reviews to ensure that any application or platform the department purchases and implements is based on its curriculum, technical requirements (how things integrate with computers and networks). , and to ensure compliance with legal needs (how the application fits). (including contracts with other vendors and data privacy protections).

According to him, CCPS’s technology management has a particular focus on how easily teachers and students can use the application to start teaching and learning work.

“Teachers don’t have to manage passwords,” he says. “Students don’t have to manage passwords.”

More importantly, students who move within the school system (for example, moving from one elementary school to another) do not encounter the hassle of re-entering data and personal information.

“It’s seamless for teachers, parents and students,” says Longworth.

Students in the early grades and beyond can take their Chromebooks home to complete homework or track progress for specific lessons.

The foundation of Chesterfield’s teaching technology is a learning management system called Canvas. This allows districts, schools, or teachers to customize their digital ecosystems to meet their goals. In addition to this, schools and teachers may integrate other applications that best suit their students and subjects.

Canvas is used statewide and even in community college systems, Longworth explains. “This opens up opportunities for sharing across the district,” he said, adding, “It’s a recent development, but it’s very strong.”

Tech skeptics, who see it as a last resort for modern education, point to subjects such as chemistry, biology, and physics where certain hands-on experiences don’t work well with digital alternatives. I guess.

Longworth is sympathetic to this argument. “Sometimes it works better in person,” he says.

But the drastic changes brought about in 2020 by COVID-19 have forced educators to supplement lab-style lessons with virtual experiences, says Longworth. “We placed great value on the scientific method, manipulating variables, checking responses, collecting data.”

So CCPS turned to a company called Explore Learning. The company provided a virtually interactive simulation experience for biology and physics classes.

“Even without the tools, the concept is the same,” he says. “I want my students to do it by hand, but we can simulate it in a virtual environment.”

Of course, he jokes, “I don’t want it to be the only experience a surgeon has had, but they’re pretty high quality.”

Under the guidance of Katie Stokes, the mission of the Chesterfield County Schools work-based learning program is to lead students into real, hands-on trade. This includes everything from accounting to beauty to electrical work.

By name, the purpose of Stokes’ division is to practice the task or transaction as directly as possible.

But now, the process of getting CCPS students into the careers of their dreams is happening through a powerful digital platform (called Major Clarity) that county schools put on kids’ laptops. increase.

Stokes describes the platform as student-driven. From the beginning, children who click on Major Clarity start answering short surveys about themselves.

“You can identify their personality style, learning style, and interest level,” she says. “And based on the assessments they do, narrow it down. These are the kinds of careers that match what you say you’re interested in.”

She explains how kids can click careers through the platform. You can watch videos and interviews with someone for the job, or try out the activities within the platform to see if you like it.

“They are able to assess this and, based on that information, show that they can take middle and high school classes to suit their career interests,” says Stokes.

What lies ahead for educational technology, Longworth predicts, is likely to be the continuation of this trend: tailoring the experience to students as lessons respond to them, tailored to their varying learning styles. To extend, virtually make teaching more personalized.

In response, he adds, teachers have more flexibility and more resources to shape their lessons toward more powerful moments of discovery. He sees the emergence of more standardized requirements entering district markets like CCPS. It also blends children’s everyday interests with the world of learning. Lessons may continue to feature more “gamification”.

“I want teachers to be focused on teaching and students to be focused on learning,” Longworth said. They will never know all the decisions and hard-line measures we are taking.” “It’s all about allowing them to focus squarely on their work and not worry about background technology.”