PRINCEVILLE — Textbooks are almost a thing of the past in Princeville’s public schools.
Students, teachers and teachers’ aides all have their own laptop computers. But one-to-one technology means more than a laptop on every desk at the small, rural school district.
Primary school students create digital scrapbooks of their work, allowing teachers and parents to share photos of their work or recordings of their reading daily. Middle-school students code. Old-fashioned term papers are being replaced or enhanced by videos and blogs.
The digital learning coach has developed a global app for teachers to exchange teaching tips. Students run the school district’s social media accounts, including the district website. Particularly tech-savvy high school students can earn graduation credit by repairing computers, which doubles as a cost-saving perk for the district. As the district updates its stock of laptops annually, each senior graduates with an almost-new Chromebook.
“We’re pushing the envelope in a lot of ways,” says Princeville School District superintendent Shannon Duling, “and one-to-one technology has helped us do that.”
If a school district hasn’t already moved to one-to-one technology, its administrators have at least discussed the pros, cons, and costs. As the trend spreads locally — and nationally — educators are tracking the successes, failures and promise of one-to-one initiatives.
Princeville Community Unit School District 326, with an enrollment of about 750 k-12 students, is steeped in the promise of what Duling calls 21st-century learning, spurred on by the district’s move to one-to-one technology.
Since community planning sessions and an initial pilot project in 2013, the district has installed wireless infrastructure and purchased almost 1,000 Chromebooks. With access to a wide world of information at the touch of a keypad, Princeville’s staff is rethinking what and how to teach and test. Along the way, they’re pushing students to rethink what and how to learn.
“The technology is a tool,” says third-grade teacher Katie Carruthers. She initially worried that one-to-one technology would make teachers obsolete. Then she realized she wasn’t the only one in the classroom who could deliver a lesson. Students can use technology to teach themselves. They can also learn from each other.
“The truth is I’m teaching more now than I ever did before,” says Carruthers. Her skepticism turned to unabashed support once she understood how technology could expand options for teaching and learning in her classroom.
“Technology allows me to let other people teach the concept,” she says. She’s freed up to work with students who want to move ahead or devote more time to students struggling with a lesson. “I can assess more now just by watching what they’re doing than any test can show me.”
Carruthers’ classroom blends interactive math books with traditional pencil and paper, green-screen video technology with hands-on projects. Though students work at their own pace, she still works with the class as a group.
“You don’t want to lose opportunities for those ‘Aha’ moments that come when they learn from each other.”
Signs in hallways point to “Critical Thinking Road” and “Future Ready Lane,” a reference to Future Ready Schools, a national for-for-profit project that provides resources and training to help school districts integrate digital learning into all areas of instruction, curriculum, and professional development.
“We had the technology, we knew how to use it, then we had to figure out our vision for it,” Duling says. “One-to-one is the tool that made us start to think outside the box.”
Princeville has two school buildings, one for K-5 grades, the other for grades 6-12. The high school maintains strong vocational education, or career and technical programs in industrial arts, agriculture and family and consumer science. But those programs are also integrating one-to-one technology.
Traditional concepts of classwork and homework — as in do the lesson, take a test, get a grade — are fading in both buildings.
With students and teachers accustomed to one-to-one technology, the district is moving to the next steps. Students in grades K-3 will have iPads, along with Chromebooks, this year. A pilot project featuring an online, project-based personalized learning software program called Summit Learning will expand to tenth and sixth grades.
About 30 percent of class time is devoted to online personal learning time in the Summit Learning pilot. The rest is for class projects. Students can decide when they’re ready to take online tests, though they must get teacher approval first. They can also retake tests, if necessary, until they pass.
Teachers have already been exploring the concepts of individualized learning behind Summit Learning. The idea is to customize classwork to suit each students’ needs and interests, but also to cultivate independent learning. Summit also builds in time for teachers to help students set and meet short- and long-term goals.
In the junior/senior high school building’s Makerspace Innovation Lab, students fuse the use of laptops and other devices with hands-on activities to design and test group projects. Students in last year’s mass communications and oral communications classes turned individual class projects into a day-long, school-wide innovation conference. The series of TED Talks-type workshops led by students explored topics ranging from using drones to combat police misconduct to teaching origami for physical therapy. One of the most popular involved developing a comprehensive plan to improve relationships between biological and foster parents as a key to decreasing the amount of time children spend in foster care.
Two teachers, Anne Krolicki and Chris Bergschneider, experimented with a similar personalized learning model when they combined the high school’s history and English classes last year.
All 56 juniors met for 85 minutes three times a week, a block-schedule framework still used in the high school. The class was broken into units on topics such as the military, economy, politics, entertainment and race. Students had to develop a project based on the themes but, similar to the school-wide Future Innovators Conference, students had to detail the message, the intended audience and medium they planned to use to relay the message. In a unique twist, the projects also had to be important enough to spread beyond the classroom. Most students chose to communicate their message through video or blogs.
Krolicki, who teaches English, and Bergschneider, the history teacher, say students struggled with educational freedom at first.
“But we need problem finders and problem solvers,” Krolicki says. “Personalized learning, giving students voice and choice is the way.”
Krolicki calls Joanna Carroll, the digital learning coordinator, the district’s “planter of seeds.”
In other words, Carroll, one of a select group of educators chosen by Google to develop teaching apps, sparks teachers’ ideas for new uses of one-to-one technology.
A one-to-one ratio of computers to students isn’t necessary for personalized learning. But with it, teachers can assess students’ academic progress or struggles and offer feedback much quicker than with traditional assessment tests.
“Instructional change is a major point of all of this,” Carroll says. “Teachers use the tools to make instruction better.”
Problems can emerge when a small district goes high-tech. Duling says only a few parents have expressed concerns about too much screen time or the potential of weakening the curriculum. Summit Learning, used in only about 300 school districts in the country, has faced similar criticisms in some school districts. During says each district can adapt Summit to fit its needs.
He was surprised parents didn’t protest the $100 annual technology fee to help offset the annual cost of upgrading and replacing technology.
The district initially spent about $280,000 for wireless infrastructure and Chromebooks. Summit’s on-line platform and professional development are free. The district has also saved on some expenses since going one-to-one.
Princeville is trying to prepare students for a future where the only constant is the increasingly rapid pace of change.
One-to-one technology has changed everything at Princeville, Duling says. “And the more we’ve gotten students involved, the more the community has become involved.”