Oct 31 2006

How Schools Use Technology To Prepare Students For The Future

To improve student performance, schools must embrace the technology needed to provide a 21st century education.

Though technology is one of the most meaningful tools available to facilitate and support new models of teaching, learning and assessment, student technology use is not increasing in Pennsylvania schools, and computer deployment remains at 2002 levels, according to the most recent Pennsylvania Technology Inventory survey.

In Pennsylvania classrooms, eight students, on average, share one computer. The same survey indicates that technology-related professional development activities are decreasing, and 25 percent of our teachers remain nonusers of technology — or beginners.

To improve student performance, schools must address inequities in technology access and ensure that educators at all levels are technology literate.

Under Governor Edward G. Rendell’s leadership, Pennsylvania is currently building high-speed connectivity to all classrooms to enable 21st century education to flourish in the state. These connections will make it possible to support timely and global communication and collaboration in classrooms.

Now we must ensure that schools take advantage of this infrastructure by putting appropriate technology tools into the hands of our students and by training our teachers and administrators to use them.

Adapting to the Digital World

Our students live in a digital world, and schools must adapt instruction to complement learning in that environment. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to utilize research-based, technology-enabled practices to thrill, inspire and capture the imagination of our students.

Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future initiative is about creating environments that support deeper cognitive development through inquiry, real and relevant project-based learning, and differentiated instruction. It involves 21st century instructional settings using 21st century techniques to enable 21st century children to succeed. In these classrooms, teachers are facilitators, guides and co-investigators; students are producers, apprentices and co-explorers.

To support this reform, Classrooms for the Future is designed to ensure that there is a notebook PC on every high school classroom desk for English, math, science and social studies classes in all public high schools and career and technical centers in Pennsylvania. A robust companion professional development program will guarantee that high school teachers are prepared to integrate these and other technologies into their instructional practices.

It is our obligation to prepare high school students for a world in which opportunities for jobs and higher education are very competitive. By focusing on high schools, we will provide critical 21st century skills while expanding learning opportunities, creating relevant and personalized information-driven learning environments, and ensuring that our other investments in the success of these students are fully leveraged.

Classrooms for the Future is about recognizing and embracing the need for reform, understanding the role of technology as a change agent, and adopting practices that may be unfamiliar as we change the pedagogy in all Pennsylvania high schools to be student-centered, data-informed, personalized and differentiated, and results-focused.

This $200 million, three-year initiative represents a bold step toward large-scale high school reform that improves teaching and learning in Pennsylvania’s high schools. In addition to helping us prepare students for tomorrow’s postsecondary and workforce opportunities, Classrooms for the Future will support reform models for other classrooms across the country.

Gerald L. Zahorchak, D.Ed., is secretary of education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education in Harrisburg, Pa.