The concept of personalized learning is not new but it is emerging as a trend in education due to several factors. The students we meet in today’s classrooms need to be engaged and the learning needs to be relevant in order for them to transfer the knowledge beyond the classroom and to apply it to the real world situations that await them in the future. The industrial model of education, where one-size-fits-all, is no longer appropriate for today’s learner. With increased access to technology students can learn in self-paced, personalized spaces and at times that are conducive to the most productive learning.
For several years the North Reading Public Schools have been exploring the concept of 1:1 devices for our students. Our first task involved providing a digital learning team to support our educators in answering this essential question: “What are the opportunities for improving instruction that are made possible through the 1:1 initiative for our students?” We know that the first step to a successful 1:1 program is not purchasing devices. Providing ongoing support and professional development was paramount for us to ensure that there would be a shift in the instructional practice to allow students to learn in new and exciting ways with their new devices.
Over the past five years we have established five digital learning specialists, one at each elementary school, one at the middle/high school, and one who is K-12. We have also hired Dr. Daniel Downs as the Director of Digital Learning to oversee the department.
Our digital learning team has built the support network for digital learning in the district. We have also built a physical wireless network capable of supporting additional devices. For the start of the 2017-18 school year there will be a robust wireless network capable of supporting classroom sets of devices at all schools in the district.
In choosing where to begin our 1:1 initiative we examined our financial means to provide devices to students. With the support of North Reading’s Capital Improvement Planning Committee (CIPC) the district worked to support the introduction of 1:1 devices to all students in grade seven each year. The plan is for these students to continue to use these devices each year as they advance through the North Reading Public Schools, with new devices being offered to incoming grade seven students each fall.
We are excited to offer middle school students the opportunity to begin learning the best practices for 1:1 personalized learning and we believe that grade seven is the optimal grade to introduce these devices. In grades K-6 students are using similar devices to those that will be purchased for the 1:1 program, Chromebooks, in carts that are managed at the classroom level. Students entering grade seven have been using the Chromebooks for several years and are familiar with the Google Apps for Education suite for learning.
Our grade seven teachers have been preparing for our 1:1 program through a year-long pilot with their current classes. Students in the class of 2022 have had access to Chromebooks in every class and their teachers have been developing lessons that incorporate the technology tools in anticipation of all seventh grade students having personal devices in 2017-18. The class of 2022 will continue to have devices available in every core academic classroom as the pilot moves forward and the eighth grade teachers engage in a year-long professional development program similar to what their seventh grade colleagues experienced this year.
Our digital learning team has also participated in sharing activities with many districts to learn from one another. These conversations have allowed us to reflect on our readiness to implement personalized learning and how to measure the success of this initiative across the district.
It is important to note that technology alone will not bring about increased student learning opportunities without the further alignment of student needs and instructional methods. Technology is a tool that, in the hands of an engaging teacher, can make a difference in the learning opportunities for our students.
Our essential question has allowed us to focus on a vision for the classroom that represents a change from the status quo. Flexibility is the key in terms of the space, time, place, and the mode of the learning. As a district we are very excited to continue to explore the concept of personalized learning and to more fully realize the potential benefits for our students with our new 1:1 program for seventh graders.