How Embedded Technology Is Inspiring Student-Centered Learning

Kirsten Wright, an educational technology teacher at Desert Sands Unified School District (CA), talks about how making the move to 1-to-1 has transformed not only teaching and learning, but the physical design of her districts' classrooms.

Kirsten WrightFor the last eight years, educational technology teacher Kirsten Wright has supported staff and students across 20 elementary schools in the K-12 Desert Sands Unified School District. After earning her master’s degree in technology from the University of Oregon, she was an elementary school teacher for seven years prior to taking her district position. The certified gTrainer is now in the midst of guiding Desert Sands elementary schools through a technology-driven redesign of their classrooms.

THE Journal: You described this as a pivotal year of innovation. What’s involved in the classroom redesign?
Kirsten Wright: We started about a year ago, through a partnership with Samsung, and we now have a couple of schools that we’re using as pilots. Our idea was to get rid of the LCD projector and bring in large-format display TVs: three in each classroom, one with a touch overlay. We’re trying to change the entire furniture setup, breaking away from the old concept of kids sitting in rows, and instead creating innovation centers. The students have Chromebooks that they use 1-to-1, the teacher has a tablet, and then we’re bringing in furniture to enhance the mobility. Examples would be those Kite tables that can be configured in all sorts of different ways, allowing a lot of movement; or the Swivl robot stands that you put your device in, then you have a remote attached to you and it follows you around the room so that you can record yourself teaching. With that we’re trying to flip the classroom as well, encouraging student-centered, hands-on learning.

My Top 3 Ways to Close the Achievement Gap With Technology
1) Immediate Feedback: Give students real-time results on their work and reteach immediately to build a strong foundation.

2) Resources: Provide students with a multitude of resources to self-teach and practice learning. Examples of these can be short videos teaching the standard, apps, online curriculum, hands-on activities and peer tutoring.

3) Student-Centered Learning: Revamp yourself as a facilitator or coach and put the students in the driver's seat by making learning relevant with project-based activities where technology plays an integral role in collaboration, research and presenting. Hearing the teacher talk just leads to boredom and the notion that there is another test around the corner to fail.

THE Journal: What do you hope will be the outcome of these changes?
Wright: We want to see students who are engaged and excited about learning, becoming leaders in the classroom, taking their knowledge beyond the classroom walls and continuing to learn when they get home. We’re already seeing that with this implementation. I was just in a first-grade classroom and after an hour, one of the kids said, “Wow, nobody had their behavior card pulled this morning!” And that was because they were all engaged.

THE Journal: What’s worked for you in terms of professional development?
Wright: One of the most important things I’m doing is getting into the schools and modeling lessons with the teachers, some of whom are fearful of the technology and don’t want to be the first to expose the students to it. We do trainings here at our district office, and put videos online for teachers to watch — we have an Appy Hour Web page, for example. We’re also hosting our second Google Summit, with more than 400 teachers attending.

THE Journal: How has the approach to technology changed within your district in the eight years you’ve been on the job?
Wright: At the beginning, technology was a tool that we would bring in, use and then put away. Now it’s embedded in everything. About four years ago, we implemented Google Apps for Education. We went from a district of 30 Chromebooks to now having nearly 22,000. We have 10-gig connectivity for every school, and on top of that we have a Student Interoperability Framework (SIF), where you have a centralized server and, for any programs that you connect to it, information is replicated immediately. We have our own assessment tool, and now that we have Chromebooks the students are taking assessments with that as well. That SIF integration is something we’re really proud of as a district. And I think having data back immediately has transformed the classroom as well. What you’re needing to reteach can be done right there in that class session rather than waiting to grade over the weekend and then bringing it back in the next week.

THE Journal: What else are you proud of when it comes to your district’s implementation of technology?
Wright: I’m proud of how we’ve gotten to this point. We have more than $50 million in grant money that we’ve written ourselves. I think a lot of districts wait for money to come in from outside sources, but we’ve taken the bull by the horns and have written the grants ourselves. Our district standardizes everything; every classroom gets the same technology, no matter how much money you have or what your demographics are. We implemented standardized technology in 2004, and now our low-income schools, which have 99% free and reduced lunch, are scoring just as high on state testing as our high-income schools. The immediate feedback of test results and the introduction of devices 1-to-1 have really made test scores soar. We’re also very strategic about how and where we place the technology.

THE Journal: How so?
Wright: Even though we open it up to everybody, we never just tell a school, “You’re all getting this.” We plant the seed, tell them we’d like to put it in a classroom and see how it works. Then the teachers start looking in the window, see the excitement and they want that — and the parents and the kids start demanding it. The school sees the effectiveness, and now there’s buy-in and you can scale up.

THE Journal: Where is this headed?
Wright: For the future I see all of the schools becoming innovation centers. I want to see more student-centered learning, comfortable environments with couches, tables that can be shifted and moved around. I want to see the curriculum becoming less segregated and all flowing together into one, with the kids creating the content and the teacher being the facilitator to guide them.

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