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Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

On the heels of reading and Tweeting out this excellent treatment of 21st Century Learning in elementary schools, I thought it would be beneficial to share in this space Presbyterian School's own vision/rationale for the exciting and progressive approach to learning that we continue to offer our students.  (The text that follows is a portion of the Looking Ahead piece that I shared with our school community at the end of last month.)

Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

We continue to be serious about providing the most compelling education available for our students at all grade levels in both timeless and progressive ways. Our guiding essential question in this effort continues to be: What skills/competencies/programs/tools will benefit and challenge our students as they prepare for this dynamic time?  We will examine our curriculum and expand those elements that are child-centered and that will facilitate the critical and creative thinking skills that this exciting era demands.  In all three divisions of the School, this examination will promote the essential elements that have long been at the heart of our program: reading with fluency, writing with exactness, and calculating with care.

To be sure, over the course of the last four years our examination of the School’s program and of the best tools available for our students and teachers has led us to provide access to more individual technology, particularly iPads, for a variety of learning settings and outcomes.  In the next few paragraphs, I want to lay out our general philosophy regarding the use of these tools in the current educational milieu as well offer a glimpse into our vision for the future.

Question: How does the School’s vision for technology integration promote our mission, philosophy, and reputation?  Our Christian identity and supporting Core Values remain the same foundation that we have had in place since the founding of the School.  The inclusion of these new and powerful tools in the educational experience of our students is simply about improving the learning opportunities for each and every one of them.  Some may feel that technology and a Christian mission are mutually exclusive; we don’t. We are just providing our students with state-of-the-art resources to augment their learning.  It really is that simple.  At the same time, I might also add that as an academic institution with a Christian mission, we see this decision as deeply rooted in our identity as a forward-thinking, progressive school that values creativity over inculcation, collaboration over isolation, and problem-solving over memorization . . . among other core values.  We also have as one of our founding educational objectives this compelling statement: “To help children develop a positive sense of self-confidence, self-worth, and security so that they will be able to stand up for what they believe and take risks throughout their lives.” Offering our students, particularly our Middle School students, the responsibility and opportunity of managing their own learning along with their tools for that learning furthers this objective very nicely.

Question: Why the iPad?  We feel that the iPad has numerous characteristics that make it the best choice for our school at this particular time.  Consider these few reasons:  (1) We have three years of experience using it successfully at a variety of grade levels, (2) Our teachers have all had iPads for a year and have been afforded opportunities throughout that year to explore its effectiveness in their own educational settings, (3) The iPad can go a full school day without recharging, and (4) There are literally hundreds of thousands of Apps designed specifically for the iPad, which give our teachers and students an abundance of tools at their disposal for broad and deep teaching and learning.  Our ultimate goal for technology tools at PS, particularly in the Middle School, is what is known in the educational world as “BYoT” (Bring Your own Technology).  This term describes an environment in which every student would bring his or her own device, which could be an iPad, MacBook, Windows laptop, Android tablet, or whatever (within limits).  In fact, the Katy Independent School District has been operating this very type of program for its 3rd-12th graders for four years.  Despite the long-standing presence and success of these programs and others, we are simply not ready to take that step at Presbyterian School for the 2013-2014 school year.

Question: What is the curriculum plan for the iPad?  To say that we have a separate and distinct “curriculum plan” simply for the iPad would afford it more importance in the educational setting than it deserves.  Do we have a plan for integrating these tools into the curriculum in meaningful ways?  Absolutely!  Have we been working on this plan for the last three years?  You bet!  Do we expect that our middle school students will spend every waking moment using these tools?  Not a chance!  Presbyterian School has become an acknowledged leader in the area of using technology to support curriculum rather than merely using technology as an end unto itself.  As a result of our efforts in this particular area, we have hosted teachers and administrators from several area schools including St. John’s, St. Mark’s, AOS, and the Post Oak School as well as recently being invited to present our strategies at the TCEA iPad Academy, attended by educators from across the county.  Much like our approaches in the past with integrating desktops, graphing calculators, laptops, SmartBoards, or other relatively sophisticated tools designed to be used by teachers and students, iPads will support both traditional and more progressive classroom activities.  Students will use them for gathering information, practicing skills, and demonstrating mastery of concepts through creation and production.  They will also use them to open new dimensions of teaching and learning.  One (of many) examples that I might offer comes from the world of science.  We find with the iPad that students’ lab reports can now include video of the actual experiment, recorded documentation of the collaborative discussion between lab partners, data tables, graphs, and conclusions in either written or spoken form.  Reference materials can also be linked to the lab report to enhance understanding.  Using this example, I might suggest similar means of integration in English, History, Spanish, and Math along with the countless Apps teachers are using or exploring now to facilitate this learning.  Finally, we have not looked for “an established curriculum” for the iPad.  Rather, we are focusing on how the challenging curriculum we already have in place can be enhanced through the use of this device.  In addition to the numerous Apps teachers have at their disposal for deepening the curricular experience of students, plans for next year include having an English reference manual and novels on middle school student iPads as well as continuing the use of Algebra and History iPad textbooks by 8th graders.  Teachers are also reviewing the use of iPad organizational tools, such as planners, calendars, and binders. More than anything else, students will use basic iPad tools in creative ways as they investigate, identify and solve problems, and demonstrate learning.

Question: Will teachers be trained on how to use the iPad?  In August 2012, we gave each teacher an iPad for his/her personal and professional use.  We put these devices into the hands of our instructional leaders for a full year before embarking upon our middle school 1:1 iPad initiative next year so that teachers would be comfortable with and conversant in their use.  In addition, since August, we have offered weekly training sessions for faculty called “Tech Tuesdays” as a means of responding to their needs for integrating these tools into their teaching repertories.  Teachers have been asking us to consider accelerating our adoption of the iPad initiatives we have had in PK, K, 4th, and 8th grades, so our efforts next year are in response to these requests.

Question: This move to 1:1 in the Middle School seems sudden.  Why the rush?  I might suggest that our rollout of iPads and, more generally, a 1:1 program within the School, has been far from sudden.  Three years ago, we began iPad stations in both of our PK classrooms.  Two years ago, we began 1:1 iPads with the 8th grade and extended our iPad stations into Kindergarten.  This year we began 1:1 iPads with the 4th grade, added iPad and laptop carts throughout Lower and Middle Schools, and continued our 1:1 program in 8th grade for a second year.  Our experience with and careful evaluation of these three years at these very different grade levels has told us that “closing the gap” between the remaining grades by providing 1:1 access to devices is best done in a single year.  If you’re interested, you might compare our deliberate, thoughtful, three-year approach to that of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s proposal to “buy tablets, install wireless networks, and provide teacher training at 47 schools” for its 600,000 students in one year.

Question: Why not provide similar, school-issued devices as a way of providing control, consistency, and uniformity for all students?  As noted above, we see “BYoT” as the ultimate destination of our technology program, as do many other schools and school systems throughout the country.  Since students are certainly not uniform or homogenous in the ways they learn, this “Bring Your Own” environment allows them to use a device that fits their family situation and learning style.  Schools like ours will help them become proficient with those devices to learn, create, and share their knowledge.  When we ultimately reach this destination, we anticipate a future in which our classrooms are filled with many different types of devices.  ”BYOiPad” is our necessary “first step” into this future.  (As a caveat, any school will tell you that when a device with wireless capabilities leaves the school building—whether it is issued by the School or not—the School surrenders control over content, homogeneity, consistency, and uniformity to the student, family, and network(s) in whose care it is being taken.)  

Question: What are the School’s plans for on-campus network controls and mobile device management?  For the last four years, we have provided for multiple, separate networks for different functions.  From every network, access to the Internet on campus will only be allowed through our content filter.  While our filter, like every other filter, cannot keep 100 percent of objectionable material away from a determined student, it does provide a very effective screen.  At the same time, we do plan to use mobile device management on all devices to provide access to secure networks and to propagate appropriate settings to all devices.


Posted by Dr. Mark Carleton on Wednesday June, 19, 2013 at 09:40AM


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