(TNS) -- A film crew spent several days in Illinois' Indian Prairie School District 204 collecting footage throughout the district that will be used in training videos showing how the schools can integrate technology into all aspects of school life.
District 204 is only one of nine districts from across the country selected by the U.S. Department of Education as a leader in providing personalized digital learning for students and preparing students to become "future ready."
The film crew was in Terrance White's seventh-grade science class at Still Middle School in Aurora on Thursday documenting how his lessons combine both traditional learning with a touch of technology. Students were asked to solve a series of problems written on large white boards attached to the lab tables. Answers could be found on websites student accessed via students' smart phones or other tech devices.
Instead of writing out a long string characters on a white board that students would have to retype to reach the right website, White placed square matrix bar codes, known as Quick Response Code, at the tables so students could scan the code with a reader on their phones and immediately be directed to the proper website to complete their assignment.
The science lesson was just one the many aspects filmed by the crew Thursday and Friday.
Janet Buglio, District 204's executive director of communication services, said earlier in the day on Thursday, the crew was shooting video of pupils using iPads for learning at Prairie Children Preschool.
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach of the U.S. Department of Education said the search for top school districts started when the agency contacted professional school organizations. A list of roughly 400 schools was generated and whittled down to 180 after more discussions with professional learning group and scouring school district websites. The next step was to create criteria to winnow the number down to 31 so interviews with the individual district could be made.
Marshal Conley, senior consultant at American Institutes for Research that helped draft the assessments, said the education department focused on four areas: how schools personalize learning for students with technology, how school leaders collaborate inside and outside their district, how much training schools provide teachers regarding technology, and how much infrastructure is behind the a district's technology plan.
Conley, who served as an English teacher from 2001-2006 at District 204's alternative school Indian Plains, was thrilled his former employer made the final nine as a top Future Ready leader.
Conley stressed the criteria has little to do with the actual devices, but how a school district uses the technology it has. In Indian Prairie, students are allowed to bring their own technology to school, whether it be a computer, tablet or smart phone. Students who don't have computer at home are given he opportunity to buy old computers the district no longer needs.
Through a partnership with local companies, District 204 enlists its students to help refurbish old district computers for students who cannot afford them. Nussbaum-Beach said programs like that is what caused Indian Prairie to rise to the top. A video shot Thursday morning includes comments from a mother who tells how the refurbished computer program benefits her family.
Superintendent Karen Sullivan said the district relies heavily on partnerships, whether through the business community or with other school districts, like the Extended Learning Opportunities consortium between District 204 and Naperville District 203 and Wheaton Warrenville District 200 that provides students in the three district with online courses. "We don't have a huge influx of cash," Sullivan said. "What we can do is leverage what we have to achieve a greater good."
That philosophy can help school districts across the country that are in the same boat, according to Nussbaum-Beach. She said the roughly 50 one- to two-minute videos being produced by the U.S. Department of Education will be become a set of tools to mentor school district leadership teams. "It is important to show the journey other school district have taken to teach other people how to get there," Nussbaum-Beach said.
©2015 the Naperville Sun (Naperville, Ill.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.