Preparing Students: For Digital Living and Lifetime Learning

By Sellors, Wendy; Wilson, Vicki | Multimedia & Internet@Schools, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

Preparing Students: For Digital Living and Lifetime Learning


Sellors, Wendy, Wilson, Vicki, Multimedia & Internet@Schools


EDUCATIONAL initiatives that prepare students for 21st-century living must unite revolutionary teaching tools with an evolution in teaching methodologies. The Teaching and Learning Initiative we educators and administrators of the Henrico County (Virginia) Public Schools (HCPS) launched in September 2001 seeks to deliver this total educational package by combining one-to-one wireless laptop distribution with teaching methods that facilitate constructivist learning.

At this stage, the Teaching and Learning Initiative has placed Apple iBooks in the hands of nearly 28,000 students and teachers. Approximately 13,000 high school and 11,000 middle school students, as well as all full-time teachers, have laptops.

Although the initiative is only in its third year, change is already evident in classrooms, library information centers, teacher workrooms, and even cafeterias and hallways. HCPS, a microcosm of the U.S. in terms of economic and ethnic diversity, is moving students across the digital divide and into their futures.

Commitment to Learning and Shared Leadership

Before we could bridge the digital divide for our students, we first moved our teachers ahead by migrating to an electronic platform for administrative tasks such as 4 grades (eClass) and attendance (MacSchool). Likewise, in each phase of the Teaching and Learning Initiative, we have distributed laptops to teachers 4 to 12 months prior to one-to-one distribution to their students.

During the tenure of Superintendent Mark A. Edwards, HCPS has become a community of learners with shared leadership at every level and the belief that every leader is a learner. Funding for professional development attests to this belief. All employees are eligible to receive $1,000 annually for college courses, and teachers are compensated $18 an hour for workshops held before or after school hours. Commitment to continuous learning and to building leadership capacity at all levels is essential for creating a culture that is change-ready.

From this commitment comes a reliance on data to measure effectiveness. Software applications track everything from transportation to test scores. Data at each site is culled and deaggregated by our research and planning department. Leadership teams, composed of the principal, assistant principals, guidance counselors, library information specialists, and department chairpersons, use this data to allocate educational and financial resources that will maximize student achievement.

From these discussions, the idea of the Teaching and Learning Initiative began to emerge. Through 6 years of professional development in methodologies and differentiation of instruction, some progress had been made to move the primary mode of high school teaching away from didactic teacher talk. The cycle had also arrived for planning a technology refresh at this level. The time was right to blaze a trail to a new instructional paradigm.

Preparing for Change

As discussions broadened to include teachers, parents, and school board members, support grew for providing a laptop for each student. The search for a partner led the county to Apple. "Education is part of Apple's DNA," Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Corporation, stated in a preliminary meeting with the Henrico team1. Apple's commitment to education and Henrico's commitment to student achievement united them in a common purpose with a common idea at its core: "This is not about computers; this is not about Henrico; this is about our children," said Edwards2.

In the spring of 2001, the complex work of preparing to implement this initiative began. Henrico's teachers and specialists collaborated to design customized digital lessons centered on Virginia's Standards of Learning. Content teams then organized these lessons in a Web-based toolbox for teachrers and developed a partnership with Beyond Books [http:// www.beyondbooks.com/] to provide student and teacher access to relevant online resources. …

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