Technology Adds Flexibility to the Modern Classroom

In Pennsylvania, the Carlisle Area School District benefits from the flexibility in one-to-one initiatives where each student has access during the school day to a laptop computer or some other device.

by Joe Cress, The Sentinel / January 2, 2020
Shutterstock

(TNS) — The past decade has seen technology add flexibility to instruction, enabling educators to better customize the experience to the individual learner.

At Carlisle Area School District, one form of flexibility has been the one-to-one initiative where each student has access during the school day to a laptop computer or some other device.

This initiative began with a pilot program in the ninth grade in 2013-14, which expanded the following year to all the grade levels at Carlisle High School, said Stephanie Douglas, director of digital learning and technology.

Since then, one-to-one access was implemented at the middle schools in 2017-18 and at all the elementary schools at the start of the current academic year, Douglas said. Prior to one-to-one, student access was limited by the ability of individual teachers to reserve time in a building computer lab, she said.

Switching to one-to-one has made it easier for teachers to incorporate technology and the Internet into classroom lessons and activities, Douglas said. “This allows teachers and students to go into more depth.” By that, she means greater research opportunities that expand access to digital resources.

This has freed up students to operate more independently as engaged stakeholders in their own education, Douglas said. Teachers also are better equipped to individualize the instruction of each student to include remediation and acceleration where appropriate, she said.

“Our curriculum is driven by state and national standards,” said Michael Gogoj, district director of curriculum and instruction. “Our learning goals are rooted in the content areas. How we teach and learn those goals has changed significantly.”

For students and staff, the past decade has seen an even greater movement toward instant access to information at their fingertips. This can present challenges as educators shift part of their focus to teaching students how to navigate and use information.

In particular, students need to have an understanding on the nature of bias and the ability to spot a reliable source from a misleading one, Gogoj said. Educators are also teaching students about the appropriate and responsible use of technology in the digital age, he said.

Custom curriculum

Like Carlisle, the Commonwealth Charter Academy has changed its approach to curriculum in response to student needs. In this decade, the public cyber charter school bought “curriculum in a box” direct from suppliers, said Maurice Flurie, its chief executive officer.

As a result, the majority of its earlier online courses had content that was organized on a strictly linear basis, Flurie said. Teachers did not have the autonomy to tailor the content to the student. Instead, students enrolled in these courses were expected to keep pace with the same static lesson plan with few allowances for remedial instruction or accelerated opportunities.

In recent years, CCA has entered into licensing agreements with a variety of curriculum content providers, Flurie said. The charter school then uses this content to write its own brand of curriculum, which enables students to move through instructional formats suited to their individual pace and style of learning. Depending on the unit and how they are progressing, the student could be receiving instruction through online lessons, video conferences, field trips or live lectures provided by one of the 14 family service centers across Pennsylvania.

The switch was done out of necessity, Flurie said, adding that about two-thirds of the students enrolled in CCA were struggling academically in one or more subject areas. CCA has seen an increase in its statewide enrollment from under 2,000 students in 2009 to just over 10,000 students in the current school year, Fluriesaid. He attributed part of that increase to growing dissatisfaction among parents with the traditional model of public education.

Carlisle Area School District has offered a virtual academy since 1999. Part of its challenge has been to draw Carlisle-area families away from cyber charter schools to the district’s own in-house offerings.

One approach Carlisle has taken is to emphasize a blended approach that incorporates online courses with the hands-on experience of its career and technical education programs, Douglas said. The district also includes in its marketing pitch student access to tutors and counseling services, she said.

AgWorks

About two years ago, CCA launched AgWorks in Harrisburg to provide students with the opportunity to participate in a hands-on internship in an industry standard laboratory setting, Flurie said. Located across from the Farm Show Complex, the AgWorks facility emphasizes careers associated with agriculture.

Because students have the flexibility to tailor an internship to their own interests, their projects can vary from raising Venus flytraps to learning about gene splicing to studying the supply chain management of handling an agribusiness, Flurie said. Planning for AgWorks began about four years ago when school officials decided the school needed a hands-on lab component to teach students marketable skills.

One feature of AgWorks is a fully accessible web-based monitoring system that enables students in remote locations to interface with students working in the labs, Flurie said.

A TechWorks facility could open in the Pittsburgh area starting in the 2020-21 school year, Flurie said. That facility will focus on areas such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and drone piloting along with the basics in computer programming and web development.

A MedWorks facility focusing on the health care field is planned for the Philadelphia area.

©2019 The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Begin Workforce Development Early to Better Prepare Students for Future Careers

Research shows workforce development programs can help narrow the gap between labor shortages and the skills needed for highly skilled positions.

Helping Young People Graduate and Thrive in the Future

The AT&T Aspire program aims to remove barriers to academic success and career growth and help all students — regardless of age, gender or income.

One Teacher’s Mission to Level the Playing Field

Workforce preparation efforts and strategies will only be successful if special attention is paid to the underprivileged and minority populations in schools.

Platforms & Programs