Sylvia Charp Award | News

1-to-1 + BYOD + PD = Success

The winner of this year's Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation is Richland Two, which has found the right formula for a tech transformation.

A growing number of districts around the country are rolling out 1-to-1 programs. Others have embraced BYOD. Few, if any, though, have taken on the logistical challenge of doing both at once. For educators in Richland County School District Two in Columbia, SC, the benefits of ubiquitous technology have been considered with a keen eye on classroom realities. For its efforts, the district earned the 10th annual Sylvia Charp Award, which THE Journal and ISTE give to the school district that has shown effectiveness and innovation in the application of technology.

Extra Credit
About the Award

The Sylvia Charp Award, named for the founding editor of THE Journal, has two focuses: district-wide implementation, ensuring equity and appropriate technology use for all students in the district; and innovation. which helps foster progress and new ideas in education.

Selection criteria include the following:
• Consistent district effectiveness;
• Use of ISTE's National Educational Technology Standards and Essential Conditions for Students or a (local or statewide) derivative of those standards;
• Effective and innovative technology implementation; and
• Commitment to participate in dissemination to and support of other districts.

For more information and to enter, click here.

Previous Winners:

2013: Rowan-Salisbury School District (NC)
2012: Mooresville Graded School District (NC)
2011: Vail School District (AZ)
2010: Floydada Independent School District (TX)

Debra W. Hamm, the superintendent at Richland Two, was quick to spread credit for the award to a team that places a premium on training and teacher support. "If there is any secret to our success, it is that we have layer upon layer of professional development [PD]," said Hamm. "When we started rolling out our 1-to-1 idea, we put in a plan to support teachers in their classrooms, and we started a program called Tech Mentors."

Once the district made the 1-to-1 commitment, it allotted funds that allowed them to provide a device to each and every student. That focus on access and equity is a requirement for the Charp Award, and it's an ethos that permeates Richland Two. Since the 39-school district equipped its first 1-to-1 classroom a dozen years ago, the program has steadily expanded. Following a phased process, Richland Two now boasts 1-to-1 computing in grades 3 through 12, which includes 21,000 of its 27,000 students.

Hamm was quick to concede that 1-to-1 is nothing new, but she pointed out that the program's incremental expansion proceeded in a logical fashion that sets the district apart. "We do the SAMR Model," she said, "which is a progression from 'S,' which stands for simple substitution, 'A' which stands for augmentation, 'M' which stands for modification, and 'R' which stands for redefinition." For Richland Two, substitution was using computers to do the same things students used to do with paper and pencil — essentially word processing or reading a textbook on screen instead of in a book. The augmentation and modification phases incorporated more of the true enhancements of technology, while redefinition meant doing new tasks in new ways.

For example, Hamm said, "Students use applications such as FaceTime to share data electronically for a science project. Our teachers increasingly are working at those higher levels. Redefining the task is a really important facet, because that's where authentic learning takes place. We have data that shows the kinds of changes that are taking place in our classrooms." The program has also redefined the physical arrangement of classrooms. "Desks are in clusters and students are working collaboratively," said Hamm.

One example of this sort of collaborative learning came when Hamm visited a classroom of first-graders. "They were learning about newspapers," she recalled. "They learned about the index and the different sections. Then they actually worked collaboratively in groups and decided that they would develop and write stories that they word-processed and created on their own. I read Fun with Dick and Jane when I was in first grade, and these kids were reading and writing newspaper stories. It was amazing."

Tech for Learning
Thomas W. Cranmer, Richland County Two's chief technology officer, helps teachers with the technical side of classroom technology, and he makes sure that the district's Internet backbone remains as steady as possible. "The Internet is an unlimited resource for learning," said Cranmer, who served as the district's director of IT for a dozen years before taking his current post. "But we have lots of other technologies such as document cameras. We do a lot with video editing as part of project-based learning where students use small, inexpensive video cameras to build out authentic learning experiences."  Learning activities with GPS devices and geocaching have helped build a technological culture among teachers and students throughout the district, as have the Smart Boards in every classroom.

Angela D. Hill, a science teacher at Richland Two's Blythewood High School, arrived at the district a decade ago and soon became a Tech Mentor. Initial monthly meetings helped Hill to use her Smart Board to involve students interactively, as opposed to merely projecting information on a screen.

Hill also takes advantage of the fact all Richland Two students in grades 3-12 have Chromebooks, which allows them to use a software package called PASCO Probeware, which, Hill said, "Allows students to collect real time data, and the data comes up on the Chromebooks. That was something I asked for when I was part of our IPAC (Personalized Authentic and Collaborative) program, so students could collect real-time data in the laboratory at their own station and watch that data collection through a variety of screens." For example, if students take a temperature measurement and input the numbers on the Chromebook, the probeware will generate a graph, which, Hill explained, "Gives us a good way for students to discuss data and data analysis…It has enhanced our science program."

With so many devices in the hands of so many students, all the moving parts don't work if the parts can't be found. Not all students are particularly organized, said Hill, admitting that "making sure students have their device in class" can be the most difficult part of running a 1-to-1 classroom.

Hill describes Richland Two as a "Google organization" where all students have their own Gmail address and access to their own Google Drive account. "My students do laboratory portfolios where they do a digital display of some of their lab work," said Hill. "They collect data using the PASCO equipment, but then they write up whole reports, sometimes using a webpage format, a Google slide format or a Google doc format. They are able to make those lab reports come to life in a way they weren't able to do a few years ago."

In Hill's classroom, even the time-consuming chore of checking chemistry homework has been streamlined via a document reader. "We take a snapshot of their homework paper and they get to explain their homework," she explained. "I have a rubric that establishes the standards for presenting and writing, so once the student gets to the board it's actually better than the textbook key for going over homework."

Progress Through PD
Richland's Two's digital transition was guided by an emphasis on PD from the beginning. Tech mentors helped teachers at every level on a part-time basis, sometimes starting with lessons as basic as how to turn on a computer. And computers were not reserved for a separate lab; classrooms instead started with desktop machines and were eventually stocked with laptops. Superintendent Hamm described the first layer of the process as "building expertise among teachers who would then help other teachers." The next layer was a dedicated staff member and a space that was reserved for training.
Richland Two has found the right formula for a tech transformation.

Technology integration lessons were not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, but instead consisted of a catalog of courses. "Eventually we added an instruction technology specialist [ITS] to every school," said Hamm. "It started out as a part-time position, and eventually we added more responsibilities, and installed a full-time salaried person at every one of our locations." The job description has been updated to reflect the ISTE Standards for Coaches, and the job title is now technology and learning coach.

In addition to this crucial full-time position, the district approved funding for a comprehensive wireless infrastructure in the summer of 2011. A technology committee engaged stakeholders in the planning process by bringing together administrators, teachers, school-level technology coaches, district personnel, students and parents. Sub-committees oversaw device selection, public relations, curriculum, resources, media specialists and many aspects of PD.

One of the results of this comprehensive planning, according to Hamm, was that, "In addition to implementing the 1-to-1 student computing initiative, we've worked closely to change policy to allow students to bring their own devices, including cell phones in high schools. Students in our district are allowed to bring devices from home to supplement technology in the classroom. We've developed procedures to allow students to take devices home. We're currently testing 4G devices to provide connectivity to our students who don't have home Internet access."

For two days during the summer, the district holds the SC Midlands Summit, a conference on technology integration. Even though the conference happens when school is out, the gathering still manages to attract 600 people from throughout the Southeast. "Most of them are our own teachers," enthused Hamm. "But people attend from several states. Combine this with classroom-level support, district programs and school programs, and teachers have many options to get better at using technology for teaching and learning."

Hill added, "PD in this district is constant. They don't teach us something and leave us floundering. They encourage us to be innovative. They invite folks to talk about different devices or software or means of using technology with all ages of students. What makes us so successful is the fact that our leadership is so open and so supportive."

According to Donna Teuber, the district's team leader for technology integration, Richland 2 is "constantly looking at continuous quality improvement. We do class observations and spend a lot of time and effort working with our school-level technology and learning coaches to work with teachers and integrate the technology."

Indeed, the next step in PD for the district was determined by a team of teachers, media specialists and technology coaches at two high schools, who have developed a personalized model. Teuber said, "Teachers got together and talked about what they didn't like about PD, and decided they wanted to personalize it, and have some 'gamefication' built in. They'll be scaling that out next year."

Incubating Innovation
For Teuber, putting devices in the hands of every student was only the beginning. "After being fully implemented with 1-to-1," she said, "we continued to look for more ways to develop innovative practices in classrooms. In Spring 2013, Dr. Hamm was very interested in exploring the idea of an innovation incubator. We did a lot of research in the fall and set up R2 Innovates."

In late 2013, the district launched R2 Innovates, an "innovation incubator" designed to foster experimentation in the classroom by providing teachers with opportunities to implement creative tech ideas. CTO Cranmer said, "At times, districts will find themselves hitting a plateau in their technology integration. There are great ideas that many teachers have in the district, and we wanted to bring those ideas into an environment where they could be further developed and ultimately evolve into new best practices in the schools. We looked at innovative practices that happen in places like Silicon Valley, and we personally visited some of those early start-ups and tried to model what we're doing here in much the same way."

Teuber said that the district sent out an application asking "anyone in the district who wanted to impact student learning, and who had a great idea, to apply. We identified 15 teams of teachers, or others, who had ideas to develop. We brought in Notosh, an international company with offices in the U.K., Australia, and San Francisco, to help with the design process. We came out of that development process in December 2013, and then had final pitches in January 2014." The R2 team identified nine teams that had big ideas to big problems in the district, then gave them them mentors and the funding to make it happen.

As a result of R2 Innovates, Teuber said, "We had a math team at Longleaf Middle School implement a blended learning model for math, and they are scaling that next year." She added that the district now has a high school where all the teachers are using blended learning for math. The district has also implemented project-based learning (PBL). She said, "We had one team at an elementary school that took recycling to the next level, showing how you can do a lot more with PBL than just have the project tacked on at the end, but rather the whole class being immersed in the project."

Beyond Managing Machines
Despite the fact that most students at Richland Two have their own devices, some don't have Internet access at home, and that is a challenge. To formulate a plan to deal with the issue of equity and access, Teuber said, the district's director of Assessment and Accountability teamed with the planning office, "and they worked on mapping data based on different needs in our district. I have a map that shows me where students don't have Internet access in our district. So I'm able to look at their test scores. As we put Internet access into the homes, we're able to follow up and see if it made a difference in terms of student achievement. This past semester, we piloted a program using smart spots from a company called Kajeet. We started small and chose some of our neediest families."

Cranmer continued, "We have about 25 families who are now able to get Internet access for their devices at home. We are interested in creating better partnerships with some of the wireless carriers and trying to find innovative ways to get Internet access to those families who do not have Internet access."

Technology has truly transformed teaching in Richland Two, but plenty of challenges remain. "This is my 20th year teaching, and there were certainly not computers in the classroom when I started," said Hill with a chuckle. "My biggest challenge is just with me — just learning new ways to use these tools to make learning more effective. That may mean removing some things from my bag of tricks because they are old. As a science teacher, I use the technology to get kids to start asking their own questions, and to think like a scientist. It requires professional and personal growth."

Teuber concurred. "Teachers will tell you that the toughest challenge is having enough time for practice, and getting feedback on what they are doing. Our technology integration team has created a course for our coaches, so that's our next focus: to have the coaches working with groups of teachers on really seeing a project through. We can have the coach model the success, or be in the classroom with the teacher and provide some feedback and support as the teacher is implementing. That is an ongoing need: for teachers to feel like they've got someone there to help them as they are starting to learn." Teuber doesn't want technology to be "just another thing — a new thing we've added on to the old stuff — as opposed to a way to change how we do things in the classroom."

Hamm concluded, "Excellence is not about managing machines. It is all about how technology helps teachers to teach and students to learn. The emphasis on professional development must focus on teaching and learning. With this in mind, the technology program can grow."

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