Since its introduction nearly seven years ago, Vancouver Public Schools’ one-to-one technology program has expanded to provide digital tools to all students in grades three through 12. Training and professional development for teachers and administrators are major components of VPS’ successful one-to-one technology program.
Instructional technology facilitators—teachers on special assignment—lead the work to ensure educators have what they need to use technology effectively for teaching and learning. Professional development focuses on the use of educational applications, communication and collaboration tools, innovative instructional practices and robust coaching. The goal is to use the power of technology to amplify student growth and access to rich learning experiences.
At Salmon Creek Elementary School, third- through fifth-grade teachers have embraced digital tools in a blended learning model to offer students choice and ownership of their learning.
“Blended learning can be defined as face-to-face learning combined with self-paced learning and online learning,” said Principal Heath Angelbeck. “We’ve leveraged student voice and choice as a key component at Salmon Creek Elementary.”
Salmon Creek fourth-grade teacher Daphne Russell describes students as digital natives—users of technology at a very young age. Teachers, on the other hand, have adopted technology-rich classrooms, but are not digital natives—they weren’t born into it.
“It’s something we’ve had to embrace,” said Russell.
When she began teaching at Salmon Creek last year, Russell received her iPad and computer. While she was familiar on how to use them, she didn’t know what to do with them as a teacher. She set a goal to attend all the trainings so she could learn to use the devices as a teaching tool. She describes her first training as transformative. The skills she acquired in her trainings led her down the path to learn more.
“I had an opportunity with my teammates to go to a blended-learning professional development, which as a professional development was a blended experience itself,” said Russell. “As a teacher, I sat in a classroom setting and I also did online learning. It was a blended experience to teach me and to teach my colleagues about a blended-learning experience. There was no going back.”
Using digital tools in a classroom environment allows students to work on lessons at their own pace, and at the same time allows the teacher the freedom to work with students in small groups or with those who may need extra help. Digital tools also allow students to be creative in demonstrating their learning and understanding in multiple ways.
Students take ownership of their learning because they can control it. Many educational applications provide online feedback and support. If a student’s response to a problem is incorrect, the student is able to review and learn the material before moving on. In addition, students can take the iPads home and still collaborate with their teacher and classmates online. Parents also can be active partners in their child’s learning through login access to their child’s device.
“The most important thing to me is the equity that happens when you have the iPads and the technology,” said Russell. “When you leverage all these tools, it levels the playing field. It gives each child the same materials that they can use at home.”
As teachers and administrators become proficient with digital tools, they are valuable mentors and leaders with their colleagues. The focus on mentoring creates a model of innovation and change as school technology leaders lead the way for others. Providing educators with tools and support is critical in sustaining the program into the future and improving learning for all students.
“This is not a finished product, it’s a work in progress. With all the tools I have, I can customize the experience for each child,” said Russell. “It’s truly a journey. I suspect this will be a lifelong learning experience for me, and it’s my hope that it empowers students and that it supports their families. It really gives me the opportunity to love what I do all the more.”