The conventional classroom where students only use pen, paper, and hardback textbooks for assignments is becoming a thing of the past. Many schools, including those in the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, are moving towards a more tech-savvy, blended classroom.
According to UCISD director of school improvement and accountability Sandra Zuniga, a blended learning classroom uses traditional and digital tools, such as interactive media-rich content with online discussion boards, video tutorials, and webinars that engage students, fostering critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity – or the “Four C’s” as Zuniga calls them.
Zuniga and deputy superintendent of curriculum and instruction Michael Rodriguez presented the district’s blended learning support initiative, 2 Tech 3, during the board of trustees meeting held in June.
In a follow-up conversation with Zuniga and Rodriguez, they explained that student use of technology is integral in the blended learning equation, and although UCISD has been using iPads in classrooms in a one-on-one fashion for several years, a recent survey of the district’s program revealed that there are barriers to making their use efficient.
“Some of our campuses have done really well with the one-on-one iPad initiative, and some have not,” said Rodriguez. “We want that to be consistent.”
As a result, the district created a compilation of “tech coaches,” seven teachers – one from each of the district campuses – to evaluate the best way to use technology and to decipher where the district wants to go. They came up with a three-year vision.
“We sat down, with Apple, campus principals, and with the two “tech coaches” from the secondary campuses to see what are some of the barriers are for using digital tools such as iPads, and how do we remove those barriers,” said Rodriguez.
Some of the barriers that were identified via survey is that teachers want more professional development in regards to teaching and engaging students with technology. Another barrier discussed was student accessibility to iPads in the classroom.
Rodriguez said that the district survey revealed that sometimes students do not bring the iPad to class, or it is not charged, or a teacher will pick them up from a student. Also, sometimes parents are hesitant about letting their child use and take home a district issued iPad.
“We are going back to the drawing board and revamping the way we look at these devices,” said Rodriguez.
The district intends iPads to be viewed as a tool for learning, on the same platform with textbooks, and pens and pencils – items that don’t get taken away from students, Rodriguez explained.
“Students at the secondary level, Morales Junior High and Uvalde High School, will be receiving iPads at registration this year,” said Rodriguez.
In years past, iPads had been distributed for student use two or three weeks into the school year.
“We want them to be ready to use their iPads on day one,” said Rodriguez.
Going forward, at each campus, the teachers will have access to back-up iPads so if there is an issue with a student’s device there is a charged one, ready to go.
As for more professional development for the staff, the district is embracing the teachers-teaching-teachers model, where the “tech coaches” are on-hand to help and guide teachers and staff. Also, Apple will visit the district and do training at the secondary campuses.
Zuniga said that research has revealed that there is a tight connection with engaging students with digital tools and college and career readiness.
“Also there is a strong research-based connection with student engagement and student success,” added Zuniga. “We are pushing the Four-C’s for engagement, and technology is one way we are trying to get students engaged.”
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