4 districts that incorporate innovative ed tech in PD and in the classroom

Districts of Distinction ed tech category finalists: Palm Beach County School District, Katy Independent School District, Wilson County School District, Huntsville City Schools
By: | Issue: June 2020
May 11, 2020
Wilson County School District is improving the teacher student relationship by having educators participate in the Name, Strength, and Need Initiative.Teachers participating in the Name, Strength, and Need Initiative at Wilson County School District.

Here are four K-12 districts being honored as Districts of Distinction runners-up for incorporating education technology in professional learning and in the classroom. These honorees improve teacher digital skills, use digital badging, strengthen teacher student relationship dynamics and expand school manufacturing programs with ed tech.

1. Palm Beach County School District

Program: Teaching with Technology Trailblazers

Challenge: As the 10th largest U.S. district, Palm Beach County School District in Florida struggled to provide all teachers with consistent and comprehensive teacher digital skills training for new technology. “It was the wild west,” says Mike Goldstein, technology program specialist. “At some schools, new technology would just sit on the shelf.”

Initiative: In 2017-18, principals began the program by selecting teacher leaders, called Trailblazers, to build their school’s digital culture. Professional development takes place in blended learning environments where Trailblazers learn to adopt common language and standards-based instructional practices using tools, such as SMART Interactive Flat Panel displays and Chromebooks. Trailblazers model and share their expertise with colleagues and other schools to improve teaching and learning districtwide.

Impact: More than 2,000 of the district’s 2,400-plus Trailblazers are Google Certified Educators while 23 are Google for Education Certified Innovators. These Trailblazers have improved teacher digital skills by deploying 110,000 Chromebooks for educators and students, and they have taught 1,700 educators how to use SMART interactive flat panels. “This has enabled teachers to provide engaging standards-based digital instruction that meets the needs of all learners including our exceptional student education learners,” says David Atwell, manager of educational technology.

2. Katy Independent School District

Program: Badge IT

Challenge: District leaders wanted to ensure every teacher had time for professional learning and access to relevant technology.

Initiative: After a successful pilot in spring 2018, the Texas district rolled out a virtual digital badging platform systemwide so teachers could learn how to use new ed tech tools. To earn a badge, teachers must first complete an up to 45-minute asynchronous course. Next, they must show evidence of the tool being used in the classroom and provide a short reflective summary of how it improved learning. “Teachers can go through the virtual training at the time and date of their choosing,” says Darlene Rankin, director of instructional technology.


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Impact: Teachers are actively involved in the program because the digital badging platform has a virtual leadership board that displays all of the badges that their peers have earned. Educators also display physical leadership boards on their classroom doors. In 2018-19, 858 teachers received 8,126 badges. “It develops a friendly competition,” says Rankin.

3. Wilson County School District

Program: Name, Strength, and Need Initiative

Challenge: District leaders wanted to improve the teacher student relationship in each school, since many students felt disconnected at home and in the classroom. While teachers communicated with learners, many felt overextended and ill-equipped to meet their needs. Students and teachers also did not have equitable access to digital resources and support.

Initiative: The Tennessee district began the teacher student relationship program by creating the K.I.D.S. roadmap where teachers must get to know each student by name, identify their strengths and determine their needs so students achieve success. Implementation teams updated and uploaded standards-based online resources and activities in a systematic repository. These resources were then organized into uniformed digital courses with common assessments in science and social studies. Implementation teams now provide PD and support on how to effectively use this content.

Impact: From 2015-16 to 2018-19, every high school rose from Level 1 to Level 5 in literacy and numeracy on state assessments. In 2018-19, Wilson County was one of only four districts in Middle Tennessee to achieve Exemplary status on state testing data. From 2017-18 to 2018-19, the number of chronically absent students fell by 500.

4. Huntsville City Schools

Program: Future Workforce and Strategic Partnership

Challenge: District leaders wanted to improve its high school manufacturing programs. Also, the programs’ 3-D metal printers were expensive to maintain and required high levels of expertise to operate.

Initiative: To strengthen these school manufacturing programs, students and teachers at the Alabama district receive additive manufacturing training using two metal 3-D printers from the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence and the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command. This partnership also formed an academic pathway for students entering the workforce, or enrolling in two-year training programs or higher ed. Auburn University and Huntsville City are developing a curriculum so students graduate high school with a certificate in additive manufacturing and college credits.

Impact: At one school, six of the 11 participating seniors who graduated in 2019 are working for local engineering and manufacturing companies. “Our students were ready to work after graduation because of the tools and skills they received through this partnership,” says Todd Watkins, director of career and informational technology. “Our students are learning to work on machines that GE and Boeing use to manufacture their jet motors.”

To learn more about Districts of Distinction, click here.


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