Chief Technology Officer and Chief Operating Officer
Interactive digital assignments enhance student achievement
Rutherford County Schools provide students with high-interest digital assignments
Rutherford County Schools, in a rural area of western North Carolina, undertook an initiative that provides a laptop computer to every middle- and high-school student. But having technology isn't the same as using it, notes Benny Hendrix, the district's Chief Operating Officer and Chief Technology Officer. While teachers can assign students to read a textbook online, finding and incorporating interactive digital resources that relate to classroom curriculums can be challenging.
So Rutherford County uses SAS Curriculum Pathways – online curriculum resources available at no cost. Hendrix and his technology coordinators say these resources are well-developed, engaging, relevant and easy for teachers to use. "We want good digital content that's up-to-date and trustworthy. That's something we found with SAS,'' Hendrix says. More than half of Rutherford's middle- and high-school teachers use SAS Curriculum Pathways resources, and some use them daily. To reach that level of usage, Rutherford changed the way it provides professional development to teachers.
We want good digital content that’s up-to-date and trustworthy. That’s something we found with SAS.
Create ongoing, teacher-led, curriculum-driven training
Teachers adopt new technologies at varying rates. Simply passing out a list of resource websites accomplishes little. Rutherford trains teachers not just on how to use their computers, but how to use specific SAS Curriculum Pathways resources and other resources necessary to make the 1-to-1 laptop program meaningful. "It's not been just about the technology, but about the integration of the technology into the classroom,'' explains Hendrix. In addition, each Rutherford County middle and high school has a teacher that works as an on-site facilitator, so training is ongoing rather than one workshop at the beginning of the school year.
Train by subject matter and within PLCs
Teachers learn best when grouped with their cohorts. Science teachers can learn how to use online experiments, while social studies teachers get a tutorial on an interactive Civil War resource. In addition, facilitators meet with teachers in professional learning communities (PLCs), typically organized by subject, to go over resources. "I might meet with social studies teachers for 10 or 15 minutes and highlight a resource that reflects what they are about to teach," explains Donna Hensley, Instructional Technology Facilitator for East Rutherford High School. Hensley keeps easy-to-access lists with the URLs of resources that have been big hits. In PLCs, she organizes teachers into small groups to search for and review a SAS Curriculum Pathways resource. In addition, when teachers find a resource on their own that works well, they are encouraged to share that success.
Make training timely
The facilitators focus on introducing resources around the time teachers will use them. So, for instance, a resource about desegregation of the military is suggested as a good precursor to a lesson on the civil rights movement.
"Teachers quickly saw that the material was relevant and factual to their curriculum,'' says Hensley. "Whether or not they searched by topic, skill or standard, teachers could find it easily. And then when they dove right in, it was right along the same lines of our standard in what they teach. So therefore, it was easy to integrate into what they were already doing and to add to it."
Teachers are more likely to adopt new instructional methods if they understand how well they work for their peers. The district's Director of Instructional Technology, Sonja Smith, used the Writing Reviser – SAS Curriculum Pathways resource that teaches students how to revise their own writing – before Rutherford even adopted its 1-to-1 program. Rather than just teaching teachers how to use digital technology, she shares the success she has had using the resources with struggling career and technical students.
Expand usage beyond the core subjects
Rutherford County physical education teachers use SAS Curriculum Pathways resources on nutrition; vocational medical classes use anatomy resources; and agriculture classes use botany resources. This is where school-based teacher-facilitators are important. It's their job to find ways to integrate online instruction into every class. One facilitator helped PE and health teachers find online resources. "There are a lot of interactive resources about the heart and the bones of the body, and it's been very successful for these teachers," says Jennifer McBrayer, Instructional Technology Facilitator for Central High School.
Focus on the differentiation potential
A teacher who works with special education students is taking advantage of SAS Curriculum Pathways' algebra resources to help learners who need material presented repeatedly to help them master it. "He was very complimentary of the math resources that are available to help his kids reach high levels of understanding," says McBrayer. "Exceptional children do need more practice and more help, and often times in these classrooms everyone is working on different things at their own pace," McBrayer says. On the other end of the spectrum, digital resources give teachers a tool to challenge more advanced students. One English teacher was particularly enthusiastic about the SAS Curriculum Pathways resources that weave literature, history and arts together, and allowing students to work at their own pace.
Emphasize the completeness of resources
There is a lot of good material available online, but how do you know if it is helping students learn? Or if it relates to state and Common Core curriculum standards? SAS Curriculum Pathways is organized so teachers can find resources related to either state or Common Core standards. Rutherford facilitators say having built-in online quizzes gives many SAS resources an added advantage. "The assessment piece is important because it makes sure students are getting something out of the activity," Hensley says.
Point out the day-to-day uses
SAS Curriculum Pathways is primarily designed around core curriculum resources, but there is one feature that can be used almost daily – especially in English language arts classes. The Writing Reviser allows students to submit their work and instantly receive feedback on grammar, word usage, syntax and sentence structure. "When I taught, I required the students to use Writing Reviser before they were even able to submit their rough drafts to me," says Smith. She encourages English language arts teachers to use the Writing Reviser not only to save time correcting for routine mistakes but also because when students get notes from Writing Reviser, "they can correct themselves, and that helps them remember the rules. Sometimes when a teacher just gives the paper back with a correction, they never go back and learn what the rule really is."
Find and incorporate interactive digital resources that relate to classroom curriculum.
Facilitators with teaching backgrounds work with teachers at each school to incorporate SAS online resources into their daily lesson plans. There have been 15,000 log-ins among the 2,600 high-school students in the county. Using SAS, teachers are able to provide students with high-interest digital assignments that are rigorous and well connected to the courses' requirements.