Lawrence Public Schools want to emphasize the learning goals behind the school board’s recent purchase of $3 million of Apple technology. “This is more than 1:1 and it’s more than just the device,” said Kyle Hayden, assistant superintendent of business and operations. “Our challenge is to commit to ensuring every child is future ready.”
“This is about preparing our students with 21st-century skills and strategies so they can compete globally. It’s about ensuring that teachers receive the professional development and support they need to positively interact with students. It’s about our schools being creative and resourceful and engaging students through meaningful and relevant learning,” said Hayden, who will become USD 497’s superintendent of schools in July.
One of the school board’s goals during the 2015-16 school year directed staff to explore a 1:1 initiative: “to provide students equitable access to technology.” In March of 2016, the board approved a lease-purchase agreement with Apple for 5,000 iPads, 500 laptops and project management and integration support. The technology will equip each middle school student with an iPad, support the expansion of blended learning to an additional 125 classrooms districtwide, and provide devices for teachers and for student checkout.
“We have an opportunity to level the playing field and close the digital divide. Our district is poised to create a learning culture and provide every student access to the tools necessary to foster their essential skill sets, support their creativity and inspire students to learn and achieve even more than we thought possible,” Hayden said.
The district’s initiative to personalize student learning by creating blended classroom environments enters its fourth year in 2016-17 with nearly 400 teachers – more than half of all classrooms, participating. In addition, the middle schools have piloted an iPad initiative for two years.
“Our focus has been on how instruction becomes more effective and how we personalize learning for students,” said Angelique Nedved, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning. “All learners– students and adults, are learning forward in order to be future ready. A 1:1 initiative is a natural connection to our expansion of blended learning.”
At South Middle School, for example, 28 of 54 teachers are either already involved in the current iPad initiative or blending. “It has been exciting to see how much our learning has transformed. We are personalizing learning and addressing equity and access issues. Teachers are supporting each other and the individual needs of students,” said Jennifer Bessolo, South Middle School principal.
Bond issue construction districtwide has provided a foundation for Learning Forward, Future Ready. School improvements include flexible learning spaces, moveable furniture, and a robust technology infrastructure. The challenge of ensuring all students have Internet access outside of school, though, will require solutions involving the district, school families, and community partnerships.
The district enables students to check out Internet hot spots from school libraries, but more are needed. Two middle schools offered extended evening hours for Family Access to School Technology (FAST), but few families used the option. Jerri Kemble, assistant superintendent of educational programs and technology, says there are a number of local business and community partners that provide free Wi-Fi, such as the public library. She adds that families may want to explore low-cost Internet services for the home available through www.everyoneon.org.
Kemble says the iPad is the device most suitable for the middle school 1:1 environment, in part because teachers can load course resources on the devices. An Apple app, iTunesU, enables teachers and students to sync school resources to the iPads. “So if students don’t have an Internet connection at home, or if there’s an interruption in district network services, access to those learning resources is not affected,” Kemble said.
“In addition to the advantages of the iPad’s functionality, durability and financial implications, educators can really transform their teaching with iPads,” Kemble said. “Our learning goal is to revolutionize our teaching. It’s no secret that apps and mobile devices have changed our lives. The iPad can support personalizing education for each student, giving students the apps they need to learn how they learn best on their own device,” she said.
With the middle schools equipped with iPads for the 2016-17 school year, the district’s two high schools formed a team to investigate, plan, and develop a recommendation for grades 9-12. The team visited other high schools, attended training and explored various tools, including iPads and laptops. A nine-week pilot project equipped a limited number of high school classrooms with 1:1 student technology: iPads at Free State High and MacBooks at Lawrence High. In mid-October, the high schools swapped devices. The pilot project helped to inform the high school staff's recommendation to the school board for MacBooks to be provided all high school students in the fall of 2017.