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Mundelein Elementary School District, IL

Giving students fresh, fun pathways for learning can lead to greater student success. And if any district knows the recipe for that success, it’s Mundelein Elementary School District.

Two years ago, math scores at the district’s middle school were in decline. Superintendent Dr. Andy Henrikson said they sought out Discovery Education’s Math Techbook to help get instruction back on track. Math Techbook is a digital math textbook that specializes in engaging students by giving them real-world problems worth solving.

After pairing Techbook with Professional Development for educators at Carl Sandburg Middle School, student engagement in math classrooms has been revitalized, the superintendent said.

“Math Techbook has turned our scores around,” said Dr. Henrikson. “I attribute that not only to the PD that Discovery Education has given us, but truly the product has been engaging, relevant and rigorous and the students are responding so well.”

Techbook is helping students build conceptual understanding. They are engaging with math problems in a more meaningful way, because the examples come from their own lives, said Dan Swarz, the district’s Director of Teaching and Learning.

“What sets Techbook apart from other curricula is its ability to engage kids in constructivist thinking,” said Swartz. “Getting kids to play with ideas and then look for patterns. Where the patterns emerge is where the teacher then can interject the math language or math concept.”

Douglas, a 7th grade student at Carl Sandburg Middle School, said Techbook is helping math become more fun, and that’s helping them become better learners.

“We can learn something as well as have fun,” he said. “And with Techbook, it’s really fun.”

9 Steps for Superintendents Guiding a Districtwide Digital Transition

Laying the foundation for a modern, digital learning environment can be thrilling — and terrifying.

School administrators may be excited by the prospect of students learning at their own pace on devices loaded with interactive, customized lesson plans; or envisioning teachers as facilitators in classrooms where students are empowered to lead their own learning. But the step-by-step process of transitioning to a digital curriculum can be daunting. It requires much more than simply providing devices to students. A digital transition is a multi-faceted, multi-year process that must be carefully considered, planned and communicated.

We are three superintendents with 16 years of superintendent experience and 20 years of K-12 teaching experience among us. As heads of school districts — one small, one medium and one large — we have steered the transition to digital learning. We know first-hand what works and what doesn’t. We’ve experienced setbacks and successes. Sometimes we moved too fast, other times we wished we had been bolder. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we’ve brought our experiences together to provide helpful steps as others consider making the transition to digital.

Digital transition is the shift from physical textbooks and paper handouts to digital, interactive learning tools.

  1. START WITH THE ‘WHY?’

    In our experience, this crucial first step is the foundation for a successful digital transition. Consider how digital learning will align with standards, add value for teachers, and enhance the student learning experience. Then make sure you broadcast this message clearly and frequently. Begin by involving all stakeholders — principals, teachers, parents, students, the Board of Education, local businesses and community residents. Is the goal of digital learning to provide education for all levels of learners? Is it to prepare students for the workplaces they will encounter? Is it to engage and challenge students with inquiry-based lessons? Your answers will be tailored to your community and school.

    Why we took the digital leap:

    “We wanted to level the playing field and make sure all students have access to the technology that prepares them for the future.” — Susan Allen, superintendent of East Irondequoit Central School District, N.Y.

    “We knew the future of our students was going to change, and we wanted to make sure we could provide our students with the best learning tools that were available.” — Christine Johns, superintendent of Utica Community Schools District in Michigan

    “In Las Vegas, teachers had a lot of learning levels in their classrooms. Technology allowed teachers to bring more differentiation into their instruction.” — Dwight Jones, former superintendent for Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev.

  2. ASSESS YOUR DISTRICT’S READINESS FOR A DIGITAL TRANSITION

    Spend time building broad-based understanding and support through meetings with the board of education, principals, teachers, parent teacher associations, and other local stakeholders. Develop and communicate a roll-out plan that takes into account which schools in your district are most ready for digital transition as well as which schools are most in need of digital investment. Some school districts will start with a particular grade or subject, while others will begin with the teachers who are most eager to learn about and use digital learning tools.

  3. MAKE SURE YOUR DIGITAL RESOURCES ARE STANDARDS-ALIGNED

    Just like printed materials, digital materials must deliver on the standards that students are expected to know and be able to do. There are many great resources – both print and digital – that generate highly engaging classroom experiences, but have nothing to do with the curriculum. Invest in digital resources that enhance your teachers’ abilities to deliver the learning objectives they’re expected to teach.

  4. CLEARLY AND RELENTLESSLY COMMUNICATE YOUR VISION

    As you embark on a digital transition, use the communication tools you already have to provide a framework, and make answers to questions easily available to all stakeholders. There is no such thing as over-communication. Your district must be relentless in its effort to explain the importance of the digital transition you are planning. Do not expect anyone in the district, not even teachers or principals, to automatically know the value of digital tools.

    In addition to proactive communications describing the goals and benefits of the initiative, it is important to keep lines of communication open throughout the process. Be transparent about challenges, setbacks, and promises with all stakeholders. Listen to concerns, and address them as they arise. For example, a common concern about digital transition is that students will be distracted by devices in the learning environment. Anticipate this concern, acknowledge it, address it and then let stakeholders know exactly how it was addressed. An effective strategy for handling this type of concern would be to provide professional development around it for teachers, and a book study for parents, and then write a blog post about it to share what has transpired with your community.

  5. ENGAGE YOUR NAVIGATORS

    Purchasing digital content without someone who deeply understands the nuances of different providers truly is flying blind. Dedicate knowledgeable staff to guide the purchasing process, for both hardware and digital curriculum, and to help steer and encourage professional development opportunities. These navigators will become the champions to help your district move this project forward and to provide answers throughout the process. Before they begin their work, encourage them to reach out to colleagues in other school districts to learn about their experiences.

  6. TRANSITION SLOWLY — TARGET A GRADE LEVEL AND ITERATE

    Ask teachers who are enthusiastic about the transition to opt-in to the process, and allow them to pilot the transition. Those teachers can then serve as resources who can share their insights and experiences with other teachers preparing for digital learning. Honor this learning by celebrating teacher leaders who are risk-takers, leading every day by example.

  7. PROVIDE ONGOING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

    Professional development should be embedded and ongoing so that teachers and other system staff gain a real facility with utilizing technology and digital content to create self-directed student learners. Administrators must become versed in digital learning so they can observe and evaluate teachers. Much of the professional development should focus on nurturing digital learners. Provide professional development beginning the spring before roll out, and continue through the summer. Once the school year begins, bring a curriculum mentor into the classroom to work with students and teachers. Professional development can be offered in person, online and through webinars. Teachers can be pulled out of their classrooms for instruction, or instructor/mentors can provide digital learning guidance during the instructional day. Make sure teachers have access to resources throughout the school year so they always have a place to turn with questions or when seeking lesson ideas. Be prepared to provide professional development that meets teachers on all different levels. Some teachers are going to be skilled and eager digital instructors, while others will be wary of change to their established lesson plans. Full-scale professional learning should be based on the content that will be taught, not on grade levels or familiarity with the intricacies of the devices. Teachers want to know how to teach content effectively and with ease. Show them how.

  8. LEARNING > TECHNOLOGY

    Demonstrate to teachers how technology can be used to support a variety of teaching styles, including small-group collaboration, rotating through technology stations, student presentations and teacher-led instruction. The goal is to create classroom environments where students are directing their own learning and teachers are guides, not dispensers of information.

  9. EMBED LESSONS OF DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP

    Ensure students learn digital citizenship and sourcing skills. Devote classroom instruction time to teaching students how to be good digital citizens. That includes knowing how to interact online without bullying, how to advocate responsibly and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources. Students also need to learn how to resist the siren call of a device. One student said a digital learning environment helped him learn how to resist distraction: “I had a choice to make. I could remain distracted and my grades could go down, or I could use this tool to get better grades.”

About the Authors:


Dr. Christine Johns —
 superintendent of Utica Community Schools District in Michigan

Susan K. Allen —
 superintendent of East Irondequoit Central School District, N.Y.
 
Dwight Jones — 
former superintendent for Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nev.
Posted in K-12 TrendsLeave a Comment on 9 Steps for Superintendents Guiding a Districtwide Digital Transition

Park Ridge Schools, FL

A shift in focus to STEM learning results in improved student testing scores and engagement at Broward County Schools, according to a recent report.

A two-year study of Park Ridge Elementary School in Broward County, FL showed marked improvement after education leaders implemented the STEM focus supported by two services from Discovery Education — Science Techbook, a digital science textbook, and STEMformation, a standards-based professional development program.

The gains at Park Ridge followed an initiative at six elementary schools in Broward County designed to improve student outcomes by focusing on STEM studies. Students at all six schools demonstrated improvement on state assessments, but Park Ridge’s students in particular saw significant gains in their reading and math scores. Researchers attributed some of that success to Discovery Education’s implementation at the school.

“The [STEMformation] program at Park Ridge ES, specifically, the integration of Discovery Education digital content and instructional practices into classroom instruction, has produced positive impacts on teaching and learning over the past two years,” according to a report by Metis Associates, a national research and consulting firm.

Student results were measured based on their performance on the Florida Standards Assessment (FSA) between 2016-2017. Park Ridge students showed a 6.1 percent increase in their reading scores, and a 3.1 percent increase in their math scores during the course of the study.

“Techbook has opened their eyes to the wonder of how things truly work.”
Joseph Balchunas
Principal
Park Ridge Elementary School

Fort Mill Schools, SC

Fort Mill Schools partnered with Discovery Education’s STEM Leader Corps, a comprehensive program that helps scale digital and instructional leadership in school districts. Schools in Fort Mill were already using the company’s Science Techbook digital textbook, and it plans to expand into Discovery Education STEM Connect in the future. The district’s partnership with Discovery Education has been powerful and unique, said district STEM Coordinator Chad Allen, adding that it was unlike any of his previous experiences with education service providers.

“Discovery Education’s people have been right alongside us every step of the way. They’ve invested themselves in the community, they talk to parents at PTO meetings—it’s almost like they work for the district,” said Allen.

Through the Leader Corps, Fort Mill’s educators are being prepared for effective STEAM instruction and establishing a team of teacher leaders that will help drive systemwide change. “Having a clear professional development structure for implementing STEAM is important to focus our efforts to achieve our goals,” said McGinn. “It also fosters communication and collaboration within and between our schools.”