Last year, the Passaic City Public Schools rolled out a 1:1 pilot at the Lincoln Middle school and Passaic High school. The district purchased 5,500 Samsung Chromebooks for 4,700 students and began sweeping, district-wide technology upgrades that included building two new data centers, planning for a private fiber network, installing a VoIP phone system and more.
The Chromebook may be the vehicle for Passaic’s 1:1 initiative, but professional development is certainly the engine powering it all. The district was adamant the focus of the 1:1 be changing teaching and learning in the classroom environment, not the device. This was reflected in staff training.
“None of our professional development [sessions] were technology how-to’s,” says Joanna Antoniou, technology coach at Passaic. “We made sure our tech PDs were never really tech PDs. They were more about what happens in the classroom and talking about good teaching practices.”
The idea behind this approach is to get students to take ownership of their learning and to help them develop skills critical for success in the workforce. This includes digital literacy, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Rather than make the teacher “the sage on the stage,” educators become learning facilitators who guide students through their education instead of dictating it to them. Technology staff often serves as the starting point in helping teachers create this change.
Technology as a Change Agent
“Our main focus is really enhancing instruction in the classrooms,” says Mary Howard, technology coordinator at Passaic High School. “We coach and support our teachers in creating those instructional shifts within their practice and within their pedagogy.”
For Passaic teachers, professional development began during the summer break with November Learning, an educational PD provider and consulting company. Teachers who signed up for the training learned about Google Drive, Google Sites and how to find good digital resources and make them accessible to students. In October, 30 pilot teachers received about 60 hours of further professional development.
“We had a three session series,” says Antoniou. “The first session was about the instructional shift in the classroom so we talked about how the student’s role changes, making sure that the student owns the learning [and] what kind of methodologies you can use in the classroom. The second session was about Internet safety and digital citizenship. Then the third session we talked about managing a 1:1 classroom.”
The second session covered digital citizenship from both the student and teacher perspective. Teachers Googled themselves to see what turned up and one of the pilot teachers devised a lesson around digital citizenship for her class. She asked her students what kind of person they wanted to be. Then she had them make a word cloud using Wordle, a tool that allows you to create a word cloud using your social media stream. Words that appear most often are given prominence. The teacher then had her students compare the words in the word cloud to the type of person they wanted to be. The activity helped the students to see whether their digital footprint reflects the qualities they strive to embody.
Managing a 1-1 Classroom
As teaching practices change so to must management of a 1:1 classroom. It becomes a much more student-centric environment that requires teachers to step back and allow students to explore.
“What we’re trying to do is to get them to take ownership of their learning,” says Deanne Landress, 7th grade math teacher.
After introducing the Chromebooks into her classroom, Landress noticed an immediate change in her role as a teacher and she discovered pretty quickly the need to keep the students’ attention once a device entered the picture.
“I think the biggest challenge was letting go. The Chromebooks don’t just allow the students to take control. They almost demand it,” says Landress. “My task is a little harder. I have to make sure I have enough things planned and I have to make sure I have enough things to keep them engaged.”
While, students initially had trouble staying on task, Landress says she easily solved that problem by creating more engaging lessons. The tougher part proved to be finding an efficient way to get the Chromebooks in and out of the charging cart in a timely manner.
“I can’t afford to lose 10 minutes at the beginning and end of every single day. [Finding] a good procedure where they could get the Chromebooks in and out of the box without losing a lot of time was challenging.” says Landress.
Tips for Success
Overall, the move to a 1-1 has been absent any major learning curve. Joshua Koen, district coordinator of technology for Passaic City Schools attributes this to allowing teachers enough time to become familiar with the new technology.
“One of the best things I think we’ve done is to provide our teachers with laptops a full six to nine months before any laptop entered into any of the classrooms,” says Koen.
He recommends that schools going 1:1 incorporate a year zero, which is what Passaic calls its pilot. That year zero should include continuous staff training to ensure success when the 1:1 is officially launched.
“During that build year, I would recommend that teachers, staff and administrators are provided with as many professional development opportunities as possible and to provide them with digital devices so they can begin to gain experience into what it’s like and how to develop digital resources, lessons and activities,” says Koen.
Professional development is sure to be part of any technology initiative. While the size and scope of your project may vary, Antoniou suggests starting small. Passaic is a large school district and rather than train all of the teachers at once, the district chose to start with that core group of 30 teachers. Antoniou refers to those teachers as fire starters.
“My advice to another instructional technology specialist would be to choose carefully your fire starters. [Choose] people that you know are comfortable with it and also really good teachers,” says Antoniou. “Work with them first and then let the help you spread the fire.”
Providing models for success is one way to get buy in. An initiative as game changing as a 1:1 cannot be successful without everyone on board. Communication at all levels from administration to teachers to students to parents is key. With a project as large as Passaic’s everyone needed to be brought in.
“What we’re doing here is really tremendous,” says Howard. “It’s exciting and it’s scary and it’s all of those great things, but it’s big and so really making sure everyone has the same goals is a big piece of the puzzle.”