Over the past few years, Forsyth County Schools in Georgia has been moving toward allowing students to bring their own technology to school.
The district updated its acceptable use policies, beefed up its infrastructure and piloted the initiative. But the schools decide what that initiative would look like in their buildings.
In all 35 schools, students can bring personal devices. In 25 schools, the initiative has permeated the buildings, and in the other 10, has made its way to some individual classes.
As more students bring their own devices to school, Forsyth County Schools prepares teachers to facilitate learning and assess different kinds of work.
Throughout the initiative, the district looks for teachers who let students lead their learning. These teachers can show other educators the projects that their students lead and model how to facilitate lessons.
"It's not the kids and the parents that have the issue with it," said Tim Clark, district instructional technology specialist. "It's the teachers sometimes who are not comfortable teaching that way."
Even before the initiative, teacher Jo Paget empowered her fourth-grade students to take charge of their learning at Coal Mountain Elementary. Before each lesson, she tells them the learning objective they're aiming for, and they continually assess themselves to see how they're doing.
"We need to take that time and we need to tell them before we teach them, 'This is what you're learning,'" Paget said.
Her home country of New Zealand is into project- and inquiry-based learning, so Paget usually plans lessons that involve those processes when she's teaching a standard. On the district's learning management system, students find what standards they need to practice, discuss what they're learning and participate in an online learning group.
On the first day that students brought in their devices, Paget didn't know what a Nintendo DS was. And the class had trouble logging on to the school network.
But one of the students figured out how to get on and posted the instructions on the discussion board. Now that they can bring their Nooks, Kindles and iPod Touches to class, they've used the resources on the learning management system even more because they know how their devices work.
Instead of telling students what tools they should use to learn something, teachers need to be more flexible and empower students to make more choices, Clark said. And that's a challenge for some of them.
To help teachers become more flexible, the instructional technology team puts resources in the learning management system to different online links and activity sites. That way, teachers can suggest options for students to consider as they figure out how to demonstrate what they've learned.
Now students can demonstrate their learning in different ways, including writing, illustrating and making movies. But the toughest challenge for teachers is moving toward higher-level thinking and changing the way they're assessing students and providing instruction, Clark said.
That's a good challenge to have because students think more deeply about their learning and reflect and collaborate more when they can choose how to show what they learned. Some teachers involve students in the assessment piece and design their rubrics differently.
"It becomes a little bit less focused on the grade and more focused on the process, and not so much on the end product either because every product is going to be different," Clark said.
At the beginning of a unit, Paget has students work together with her to develop a rubric. She guides them through the process. And that's more motivating than if she stood in front of the group and told them what to do.
"I like to take the standard and then say, 'How can we show this?' and discuss it with the group."
For the Native American and explorer standard, pairs of students researched Native American tribes, created a wiki about them and blogged about what they learned. With a device and online tool they chose, students presented what they learned.
They assessed themselves against the rubric, their teacher assessed them and their classmates submitted assessments through Poll Everywhere so the presenters could receive and respond to the instant feedback. To take the project to a higher level of thinking, Paget had them create their own tribe.
Throughout this initiative, the hardest part for teachers has been to let students make choices and allow class to be noisy as they collaborate more, Clark said. But when students do make choices, collaboration increases.
And they view kids with language differences and special needs as important members of class now because those students have time to write in answers in their devices and use their creative skills. At the beginning, Clark didn't expect those secondary results of the initiative.
"The kids are personalizing their experience a lot more in the classroom, the teachers are becoming more comfortable with that, and since they're using their personal device, they're making more of a connection to what they're learning."
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