Kevin Ryan, Director of Educational Technology and 21st Century Learning
The schools in Kildeer Countryside School District 96 had already been recognized for their academic excellence by the US DOE and the Illinois State Board of Education. Still, district administrators recognized that significant changes needed to be made to our classrooms, and better technology needed to be acquired, in order to help our students acquire the new skills mandated by today’s educational standards: effective communication and collaboration. So, we focused our attention to revamping classrooms to fit the learning needs of 21st century students, and we turned to our most trusted partners to get the job done. Working closely with these partners made all the difference in our successful implementation. Following are the lessons we learned along the way in terms of products and partnerships, which are inextricably connected.
- Don’t Rush In…Phase In.
Three years ago, we began phasing in a 1:1 iPad program at Woodlawn Middle School and Twin Groves Middle School. We were working with an excellent partner and knew they could get the job done. But as the project got underway, we all noticed that the traditional classroom setup really didn’t provide the environment and flexibility needed for success with integrating 1:1 technology. Whether we set desks up in traditional rows or arranged them in mini-pods, it was difficult for kids to maneuver, share information, and collaborate with each other.
So in an effort to create a freer environment, the district began to phase in reconfigured classrooms. During the 2014-15 school year, ten classrooms were redesigned – five rooms in each of the two middle schools. We tore down to the stud walls and redesigned from there. During the summer of 2015, the district completed renovations on 22 more classrooms, concentrating on our schools’ math and language arts classrooms. Our plans for the 2016-17 school year include redoing the rest of the middle schools’ science classrooms.
- From Resellers to Technology Partners, Know the Company You Keep.
We had previously worked with Fathom Media, a reseller whose specialty is serving as audiovisual integrator and partner. They knew we wanted to create interactive areas that could be truly collaborative and hands-on. Drawing on their vast industry network and expertise, they presented touch projectors as the best option for what the district was trying to accomplish. That’s what partnering is about: bringing about optimal execution of goals! We replaced our interactive projectors with the touch projectors, which turned our conventional dry erase boards into touch boards. Now teachers and students (up to 10 at a time) can work together. It was crucial for us to be able to let multiple students work together.
Partnering is also about staying the course. At one point during the installation, something occurred that left a strong impression. The schools had used the included adhesives to attach the devices to the walls. We were having a very humid summer and the devices were just sliding down the walls from the humidity. That set us back. For a week we were kind of struggling. But we contacted Fathom Media, who got Mimio directly involved. And together we worked through a solution that would get us back on track.
I was especially appreciative of the fact that the Mimio representatives came to the buildings to provide support. They gave us suggestions online, but they also came to the buildings in person and spent a few hours troubleshooting with us to make sure any problems were corrected.
- Build a Structure of Trust.
When talking about a partner versus a vendor, it’s important to understand what trust is and what it isn’t. I believe three factors make trust. It takes five stages to build it, but just one factor can break it. The vendor you first work with – and who eventually evolves into a trusted partner with your school or district – brings credibility, reliability, and familiarity to the relationship. But it can all come undone with a simple fixation on self-orientation.
The factors grow in stages, starting first with engagement. Getting my attention means earning the right to share with me, but that doesn’t happen by sending multiple emails or leaving countless voicemails trying to sell me the next greatest widget. I have lots of vendors selling me goods and services, but my partners listen – they have ears bigger than their mouths. They frame up the situation by acknowledging and affirming what they heard me state about the problem I’m trying to solve. My partners envision a solution: they see what needs to be done to meet our education goals and provide a roadmap to get there. And finally, they make a commitment – not just to sell me a product, but to also meet deadlines, provide exceptional service and support, troubleshoot when needed, and truly share in the challenges we face.
- Don’t Take Relationships for Granted.
As we worked with our partner, they shared new ideas and brought to my attention products or solutions I wasn’t yet aware of. They regularly communicated, shared information, and were very responsive. But most importantly, they continued to nurture the relationship – they don’t just manage our account.
- Learning Goes Round and Round.
In Woodlawn’s newly-configured classrooms, two walls bear 65-inch televisions and a third wall bears a touch projector. Each of these devices is connected to an Apple TV.
Our classrooms are set up so that there is really no “front-of-the-classroom.” If a smaller group is working on a project collaboratively, they can move their workspace around because the tables are on wheels. So they can slide closer to the touch projectors or to one of the televisions. Then they can send what’s on their iPad to the television through the Apple TV, and share it with the class.
At any given time, there can be three different images: one image on the touch projector and different ones on the two televisions. Or the teacher can have the same image playing on all three. So, if kids were presenting to the whole class or if the teacher wanted to demonstrate something, a student could be sitting or standing anywhere in the room and have a great view.
We felt that the original projectors we used didn’t have the image quality and size that were conducive to what we wanted. The new image just seems to be much clearer, and the students love the interactivity. You can have up to 10 “touches” at once. So you can have more than one student interact with the board at any given time, which is really one of the coolest features about it.
- Results Matter.
Yes, there is increased student engagement in the new classrooms. Plus, teachers can now differentiate at a greater level with students, and they’re better able to meet every student’s needs with the technology. And that's due not only to the new interactive environment, but also to teachers making a huge shift in their instructional practice. We train them on different strategies that help them create a learning environment that’s really collaborative and make sure that every student has a say. Now there’s no way a kid can hide in our classrooms!
Many partners can offer you a variety of training options; they have the experts on staff that know how to really utilize these tools and bring that knowledge to your schools through PD.
District educators have told me that the new classrooms facilitate compliance with the Common Core standards, and even allow teachers to delve deeper into those standards. We’re able to make sure that students achieve the deep understanding that the standards require, especially for those standards that emphasize communication and collaboration.
It’s important to remember that you’re never really “done” – you’ve got to stay focused on figuring out what will fit your students’ learning needs. In the end, it’s all about student learning AND the partnerships that can get us there.
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