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Moving to a new digital curriculum requires intensive cooperation, communication, and knowledge sharing between school staff and administration. Having a flexible plan that can adapt to change is essential for any curriculum change, and when you add the element of new educational technology, the possibility for unforeseen obstacles is multiplied.
Science has gone digital at Granite School District in Salt Lake City, Utah. K-12 Science Curriculum Specialist Stephanie Wood is leading the charge toward 21st century learning by implementing new technologies to engage students in the learning process.
The benefits of digital programs are clear. The format allows for easy updates as standards change, ensuring that the curriculum is always relevant. Virtual tools requiring authentic answer input, such as manipulating a digital beaker, prepare students for new computer-based assessments. Finally, on-demand data and customization tools allow unparalleled differentiation that is difficult to achieve otherwise.
Even the benefits afforded by new classroom technologies can be cumbersome until you become comfortable using them. Ms. Wood is in her first year of implementing McGraw-Hill Education’s CINCH Learning for high school science at Granite, and the experience has been positive. Here are four tips she offers for a successful implementation of a new digital science curriculum:
1. Make It a Goal and Stick to It The move toward digital textbooks was based on the goal of engaging students the way they want to learn. Wood shared an analogy that resonated with her: When fishing, would you do better with the bait you want to use or the bait that the fish actually want to eat?
With that in mind, the Superintendent has been firm about not spending additional money on traditional textbooks. Wood strongly recommends including teachers in the curriculum selection process to encourage buy-in. By including them, she was able to purchase products, like CINCH Learning, that her school's teachers actually want to use in their classrooms.
2. Navigate the Digital Learning Curve While learning with technology is second nature for many students, it is not yet commonplace for all teachers. Some are embracing the new technology, while others have required more assistance. Wood notes that many teachers were initially hesitant about not having a physical textbook to teach from. With this in mind, she has acted as a coach, closely monitoring her teachers and nudging those who aren’t using technology often or effectively, while acknowledging those who are. Teachers need motivation and recognition too!
Wood also recommends having a digital liaison to act as an intermediary between the IT team and the teaching staff. While she has worked hard to become a CINCH Learning expert, she can’t always address the more technical issues that the teachers encounter. Having someone to speak “geek” has made a big difference for everyone involved.
3. Anticipate Obstacles With anything new, there are going to be challenges. One challenge that Granite is currently facing is student access to digital devices both at school and at home. They are not in a one-to-one environment where the students have constant access to mobile technology. Many of us may think of this as a barrier to digital implementation, but Granite District is making it work. Each high school classroom in Granite is tech-enabled, so the teachers are able to share the digital resources included in CINCH Learning with their students on a screen or whiteboard even on days when they don’t have computer access.
At home, student connectivity varies widely. Wood notes, however, that many high school students have access to their own personal mobile devices. Rather than telling students to put away their phones and tablets while in class, there is an opportunity to utilize those devices for learning. The CINCH Learning mobile app for Windows 8 devices, for example, delivers a native app experience for students, allowing them to access resources that increase productivity and engagement.
4. Roll It Out Creating a roll out plan that she could easily manage, in terms of budget and resources, was important to Wood. With digital programs requiring the bulk of the budget, Granite wasn’t able to get all of the high schools in their large district on CINCH Learning at once. While initially this seemed like a negative, it actually turned out to be a benefit. Wood is able to provide more intimate, hands-on training sessions (critical to success) and coaching when monitoring fewer teachers at a time. When Wood identifies a teacher who isn’t utilizing the program at the level she expects, Wood is able to discuss the roadblocks the teacher is facing to work toward a better implementation. Now, Wood can collect feedback from the first group of users and create best practices for the next group, thus continually improving the district’s transition process.
Going digital has also given Granite School District the opportunity to flip their classrooms - a teaching model that previously seemed unavailable to them. Students are now able to preview lessons at home in CINCH Learning, allowing the teachers to maximize limited classroom time with in-person labs and small group work.
Whether the new technology being implemented in your school is hardware, software, or network infrastructure, having a good technology implementation plan supported by dedicated staff members and a sustainable roll-out strategy will help you avoid common pitfalls and mistakes that can undermine the benefits of new EdTech.
Special thanks for Granite School District, UT for contributing content for this article.