Orr is a true advocate for high-quality education supported by integrated technology. His long-range, strategic planning has resulted in effective technology practices that transformed the learning environment at Summit Public Schools. In an effort to make learning more digital and student centered, Orr and his technology team ensure students and staff have access to a variety of technology tools, including tablets, Chromebooks, desktop and laptop computers, projectors, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, and digital still and video cameras. Students taking courses such as art in elementary school or technical classes in high school use 3-D printers to create models for a variety of curriculum applications. Summit High School also utilizes a laser engraver, allowing students to create customized products. The district is in its third year of a 1:1 tablet initiative at the middle school and its first year of a 1:1 Chromebook initiative at the high school. Students use the devices in class and at home to extend learning beyond the physical walls of the school and outside the traditional hours of the school day. “The power of these devices is not in the devices themselves, but in the ability of the users to customize them to meet their own specific needs and in the way they support evolving instructional practices,” says Orr.
The applications for speech, adaptive software for special education and applications to support English-language learners have been particularly impactful. Students can also add applications as needed to achieve specific learning objectives. Orr explains, “Our implementation is unique from others in that we want the students to be able to add applications as they need them. This changes the device from something that is locked down with narrowly pre-defined capabilities to something that allows students to create a limitless, individualized toolkit. Now the nature of the device is uniquely personal and specific to each and every student and it can evolve as they do.”
Importantly, the district developed technology competencies to provide benchmarks for teachers and students to ensure they are using technology effectively. This helps the district tweak the technology strategy if needed and measure students’ technology and learning levels.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons behind Summit Public Schools' success is the time and effort Orr and his team have put into professional development. The core goal of professional development efforts is meaningful technology integration, which is accomplished through:
To further support these opportunities, the district uses social media tools to promote professional development presentations and turn them into ongoing, collaborative trainings. This is an opportunity to highlight the successes of the teaching staff and make their innovative approaches to instruction more widely available to others and immediately useful for students.
In a recent new teacher training session, Orr shared the following insights: “As you find opportunities to enhance learning through the integration of technology, look for collaborative uses that let your students challenge each other's thinking; encourage them to build upon each other's ideas; help them use technology to make connections they might not otherwise have made; and most importantly, take advantage of opportunities for students to use these tools in natural, real-world ways so their classroom activities can be easily transferred to real-life situations. Educational excellence for our students involves more than just finding answers. It involves creating processes, discovering inspiration, following dreams and developing deep understandings. Your task is to serve as a guide, as a model, as a mentor. The tools of technology are there to augment and to assist in the realization of sound educational practices, not to become an end in-and-of themselves. We don’t want the allure of using technology to guide all that you do. It should not be your North Star – and we certainly don’t want the technology tail to wag the curricular dog. Instead, technology should be used for situation-appropriate reasons, and in effective ways, to enhance learning opportunities determined by curricular goals.”
Orr and his team’s work is not only compelling, but also a model for what is possible in every school district in New Jersey and the country.