Wednesday, April 15, 2009
article to appear in NCSA Today publication
O’Neill Public Schools’ Journey into 24/7 Learning
At O’Neill Public Schools, technology is more than the next new gadget. Instead, it is about equitable access and leveling the playing field. It is about enhanced communication, collaboration, and other 21st century skills. It is about amplifying learning opportunities and engaging learners in self-directed work. And, it is opening opportunities to all students beyond what they traditionally see possible in school and beyond. Nearly every classroom, K-12, is equipped with a digital projector, SMART Board interactive whiteboard, and digital tools specific to the discipline (digital cameras, video cameras, graphing calculators, handhelds, probes, etc.) Accompanying the hardware is a vast array of software choices from which every student can explore their talents and preferred learning styles. Most importantly, each 7th-12th grade student has round-the-clock access to a MacBook laptop through O’Neill’s 24-7 Learning initiative, while the elementary frequently utilizes laptop carts to enhance student learning.
O’Neill’s technology integration success didn’t happen overnight. In this K-12 rural district of approximately 800 students, student engagement and student success has always been the focus. A strong administrative team with powerful future visioning supports the day-to-day learning efforts in the classroom. That vision created positions for a technology integration specialist at each building, as well as an IT person to keep the technology up and running. This has made a tremendous difference in infusing technology throughout the curriculum.
Another reason for technology success across the district can be attributed to the classroom leaders. Teachers are encouraged to participate in professional development in numerous areas; they have shown leadership in many organizations such as NATM, NATS, NETA, NAG, and NEA. Many staff members have invested resources in college courses to enhance their ability to effectively use technology in the classroom. Their growth is evident in the work they assign in the classroom. O’Neill’s teaching staff is on the cutting edge of 21st century teaching and learning.
Grant-writing efforts (both small and large) have been a driving force in acquiring equipment and programming funds for many educational efforts. Once funding is secured, the students “sell” the continuance of it with the projects they create while utilizing the technology in the learning process.
Thus, the most significant piece of the “success formula” is the students themselves. Students from O’Neill Public Schools have presented locally, regionally, and nationally with their exemplary work, much of which has been enhanced by the technology resources available to them. In an effort to showcase student successes, Superintendent Amy Shane arranges for a group of students to present a “Success Story” at every School Board meeting. More often than not, students are highlighting the power of technology in their projects, whether through an FCCLA keynote presentation, National History Day research project, original music production and performances, movie productions aired on television, published writing projects technology has enhanced their learning. That’s why when a 1:1 laptop initiative was first proposed for the district, it only made sense to board members. Expanding students’ use of technology to 24/7 with equal access for all, in a more organized, learning-focused school-wide effort was the next step for district success. High School Teachers received MacBook laptops during the summer of 2007 and training that fall. Juniors and seniors received their laptops and piloted the 24/7 Learning Initiative second semester of the 2007-08 school year, and all 400 7-12 graders received Macbooks in August of 2008.
Gains are already being seen by teachers, students, and the greater community. Home-school connections have increased as families benefit from the increased access to information and communication that the laptop provides. Students are more engaged in the learning process. Often learning projects have a real-life purpose that extends beyond the classroom walls, making their learning more meaningful, relevant, and applicable. Students’ work is more creative, more collaborative, more differentiated, and more self-directed than ever before. These 21st century skills, along with increased collaboration, communication, and problem-solving, are essential for our students’ futures. Providing students the opportunity to practice, investigate, and create with a vast array of digital tools throughout their K-12 education is going to put them ahead in their future educational and professional pursuits.
Eagle Eye Sports (Sports broadcasting live with video and student commentary) is one example of extending learning into the community. Many school activities are “UStreamed” and shared with viewers worldwide via the web. This year’s school improvement external team report was streamed live so that all teachers and community members would have the opportunity to listen to it. Students have also connected with the community by designing websites for local businesses as well as creating commercials and public service announcements to air on radio and television. O’Neill’s students have won numerous Robotics and Digital Media awards, continuing to set the bar higher each year.
Future continuance of technology at O’Neill Public Schools includes plans for a school-run local cable access channel, managed by the Digital Media classes, where projects can continuously be shared on a greater stage with the rest of the community, as well as video-on-demand access online. Incorporating more interdisciplinary learning experiences and curriculum models such as “Challenge Based Learning” are also in the district’s future goals.
For more information and examples of technology integration at O’Neill Public Schools, visit the high school website at http://oneillhighschool.org or the 24-7 Learning site at: http://www.esu8.org/~oneill/24-7