Just as all teachers want their students to keep improving over time, school administrators are driven to continually build upon their systems, giving educators and students the greatest resources possible.
From finding the right staff, to creating new curriculum, innovation has helped lead K–12 systems into new territory.
When it comes to creating a successful improvement plan, however, good intentions are not enough. Many schools find barriers when trying to introduce new programs, which can create more frustration and bring change to a grinding halt.
In Fayette County, Ga., the public school system wanted to boost math scores. Schools were focusing on problem-solving, reasoning, representation, connections and communication, but they were struggling to find the best solution for students.
School leaders and teachers took a step back and examined what they wanted for their students. After deliberation, they determined their goal was to shift to smaller, more personalized learning.
Using that information, administrators chose to integrate DreamBox, a software solution designed to help math teachers teach and assess students. After one year, students who participated in the program scored on average 97 percent higher on the STAR assessment than those who did not, according to a case study.
Fayette County’s process outlines some of the essential markers to understand how best to seamlessly integrate improvements to ensure success.
1. Understand a Problem Instead of Just Identifying It
A common pitfall among K–12 administrators is attempting to solve a problem as soon as it is uncovered. However, throwing money at an issue without understanding the underlying cause will only deplete resources.
Instead, take time to analyze the situation. Smart Technologies suggests using ADDIE — analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate — as a formula for identifying meaningful ed-tech solutions.
By starting with a specific, measurable outcome, it is easier to determine a long-lasting strategy that complements the needs and culture of the school.
Schools that used the ADDIE model before integrating ed tech reported vast improvement. In some cases they saw a 31 percent increase in passing science scores and an 18 percent increase in English scores on state standardized tests.
Other organizations, such as the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the State Educational Technology Directors Association, are collaborating to provide districts with guides to determine what strategies work best for them.
2. Bring Teachers into the Tech Integration Process
When introducing technology to improve classroom results, it’s important to understand the needs and limitations of the teachers who will handle those solutions day to day.
While 91 percent of teachers are excited at the prospect of bringing more digital tools into the classroom, only 16 percent believe their schools are executing proper integration plans, according to a 2016 national survey.
Matthew Koehler, creator of the Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK) development plan, urges decision-makers to communicate with teachers about their lesson plans and levels of comfort with education technology in order to identify and effectively integrate the right digital tools.
“Effective technology integration for pedagogy around specific subject matter requires developing sensitivity to the dynamic, transactional relationship between these components of knowledge situated in unique contexts,” says Koehler.
3. Build a Strong Network for All Users
Once you understand the problem and what your faculty is capable of, it is time to start implementing a solution.
In Illinois, Cicero Public School District 99 was able to utilize E-rate funding to provide individual Chromebooks to students as part of its one-to-one education program.
Regardless of which solution is chosen, however, it’s imperative that a school’s network is ready to handle the workload before integrating improvement strategies that demand increased bandwidth and load balancing.
“One of the biggest mistakes schools make when deploying or allowing new devices onto their campus and into their classrooms, is by not making sure their network infrastructure is up-to-date and/or sufficient enough to properly support their end-users,” says Danny Mareco, marketing manager at SecurEdge Networks, in a blog post.
To help districts structure their networks, the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology updated its 2014 “Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning” report with references concerning network structure, from major cost drivers to specific strategies for rural versus urban schools.
“This update serves as a roadmap for schools and districts looking to modernize the technology infrastructure needed for digital learning, providing both concrete advice and aspirational recommendations. No matter what stage districts or schools are at on the journey to digital learning, this guide will help them move forward,” state the authors of the report.