Here is an op-ed from three principals at Baltimore County Public Schools in defense of the Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT) program, which will be providing all K-12 students with their own laptop and integrating more technology into the classrooms. The program has been criticized for being too costly and of dubious educational value. These principals, who all work at Lighthouse Schools (the first in the county to get STAT) disagree.
Welcome to three of the ten BCPS Lighthouse Schools. Although each of our schools reside in Baltimore County, we are located in very different areas, where students come to us with a variety of backgrounds and socio economics. We would like for you to join us on a typical day as we walk through our hallways and observe equitable instruction for all, because of the STAT initiative.
The best part of our day is spent in and out of classrooms working with our teachers and students. If you have never visited our schools we want to give you some insight into what REALLY goes on in a school with devices. Join us as we walk through our building … on any given day.
As I head down the hallway I hear conversations that intrigue me, so I join a 5th grade class discussing American history as they debate the start of the Revolutionary War. When I enter the room I observe students sitting in a circle asking higher level questions. As one student shares a questionable fact I see students using their devices collaboratively to research the answer to confirm the addition to the debated topic. In the other corner of the room I see the teacher checking in on students who are working together to create a digital presentation specific to defending their side of the British in the war.
As I leave this classroom to continue my travels I observe several 3rd graders using chart paper and markers to create an anchor chart. Each is able to tell me that they will use their product to explain how to solve for equivalent fractions to their classmates. I am so excited to see how students are owning and sharing their learning.
As I go into 1st grade I see students using their device to record their fluency from the leveled text they are reading. After their first read, they use a check list to self-assess themselves. One student did not feel that she did her best so, she re-recorded to increase her rate and articulation. The highest level of thinking is when students have the ability to self-evaluate themselves. It shows that they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.
Music is in the air! Moving along I hear students playing various instruments. When I venture into the room I see some students accessing Discovery Boards on their devices as they learn about musicians, their music, and how the music makes them feel. They then have the option to choose their product to demonstrate their understanding. Some students select a traditional illustration while others use a digital tool to draw. Each are connected through writing to show how the song makes them feel using supports from their learning experience.
Continuing my journey with special areas, my art teacher is showing students how to create an electronic portfolio, archiving projects from one year to the next. Students are so motivated with the idea of monitoring their own growth in art for years to come in BCPS.
The next room has a substitute today. I planned to stop by to offer support and answer questions but find that the substitute has pulled a small group of students to read and discuss a story using questions the teacher posted online. Other students in the room are reading independently and responding to questions or accessing learning tiles through BCPSOne that the teacher had pushed out to them. Learning never skips a beat with the addition of this resource that is seamlessly integrated by the teacher and intuitively accessed by the students in her absence.
I hit the end of a 2nd grade lesson just as students complete a quiz on BCPSOne. I observe students getting immediate feedback on adding two digit numbers and responsively go back and correct mistakes. Learning in real time!
“What is a Mystery Skype?” I say to myself as I pass by 4th grade. I position myself in the back of the room to observe the assessment of geographical features through a Mystery Skype. Prior to today’s lesson, students developed questions based on their learning of uniquely distinctive geographic features and resources found across the United States. They were then connected with another 4th grade class somewhere in the U.S. During the session, my 4th graders asked the “mystery class” questions they had generated based on their learning. As the questioning continued my students try to deduct where the “mystery class” is located in the United States as they strategically narrowed the location based on the other class’ responses. Talk about real world connections! These two classes, separated by 1000’s of miles, where communicating and collaborating to apply their understanding of geography and, just as important, extend their learning beyond the walls of the traditional classroom with peers in another part of the country!
In the conference room down the hall, the S.T.A.T teacher is facilitating a professional development with 3rd grade teachers on math content through the use of a screen-cast. I hear teachers engaged in standards based conversation of how to teach fractions as students transition from 3rd through 5th grade. Teachers become empowered to develop their own screen-cast to meet the mathematical needs of their students. They can then push out this opportunity for enrichment or re-teaching through BCPSOne where students can access it at home or in school.
As I head back to my office I reflect on the engaging learning I just observed throughout my building and its implications for the future of every child and those that teach them. The transformation of teaching and learning, through the effective integration of technology as an easily accessible resource to enhance instruction, has the power to revolutionize the learning experience for everyone. Right now in BCPS, we have the capability, resources, and understanding to make 21st century teaching meet 21st century learning.
If you can’t figure out in which school these lessons were observed, it’s not surprising. These observations take place on any given day in any of our schools. S.T.A.T. has made learning equitable and accessible for all students in BCPS. This is how we are going to graduate globally competitive students. If we are not going to do this for our students now, then when?
Mr. Stephen Coco, Mays Chapel Elementary
Mrs. Missy Fanshaw, Rogers Forge Elementary
Mrs. Jennifer Mullenax, Halstead Academy