People are usually surprised when they hear that I am the technology integration coach at Portsmouth Middle School in Portsmouth, Rhode Island because in most school systems, this position doesn’t exist. Although I am hardly an impartial observer, I think that many people who work with coaches like me would agree that we’re integral (pun intended) to any system transitioning to a 1:1 technology program and seeking to use technology best practices in order to support student achievement.
Portsmouth School District decided to transition to a 1:1 technology program in 2014. The administration envisioned a school system in which students would be able to easily access technology in order to customize their learning, collaborate and expand their skills and knowledge. Acknowledging that this would be a huge undertaking involving many stakeholders, the district decided to hire someone who would plan and carry out the implementation in the middle school. At the time, I was a recent college graduate with an education degree, a background in educational technology and the desire to learn more about increasing student success with digital tools. I became the Technology Integration Coach for Portsmouth Middle School in June 2015, and recently, a technology integration coach was hired for the high school as well.
This will take shape as a three-part blog series:
- Part one I will share my experience laying the groundwork for and implementing the first year of a multi-year rollout plan for our 1:1 technology program at the middle school.
- Part two will drill a little deeper into the implementation, and discuss the challenges and successes so far.
- Part three will offer some suggestions, gleaned from our teachers, of ways to leverage technology to support learning.
The Rationale for 1:1 Programs
1:1 programs can support and foster student achievement (Bebell, 2005; Great Maine Schools Project, 2004). They also enable students to move through the curriculum at their own pace and become more independent learners (Bebell, 2005). The Portsmouth School District looked to a 1:1 program as a way to differentiate classrooms so students were challenged at the appropriate level.
Although studies highlight the positive effects of 1:1 programs, many neglect to consider the time, commitment, and funding needed to support such a huge undertaking.
Drafting the Transition Plan
The most important takeaway from the planning process was that any plan must have room for feedback and flexibility — critical to creating a shared vision for how technology can best support learning.
The following list of tasks provided the road map for our transition plan:
- Choose the right devices for teachers and students
- Solicit honest feedback from teachers and students
- Get support from teachers and parents
- Provide continuous professional development opportunities for teachers
- Integrate technology into the curriculum
- Establish 1:1 policies
Below are the highlights of the planning process.
Pilot Year (2015-2016)
The focus that fall was on training the teachers. The principal of Portsmouth Middle School and I decided that it made the most sense for me to create my own schedule from week to week for maximum flexibility to meet with teachers, collect resources and design professional development seminars.
My first goals were to develop relationships with the teachers and to learn about the school’s culture and existing technology. In the early meetings with teachers, I discussed the district’s vision for the 1:1 initiative. While many teachers were excited, an equal number were nervous about the transition because they had little experience with technology. It quickly became clear that an important part of my job would be to build teachers’ skillsets, confidence levels and excitement about the new technology.
I designed a Google Form to collect data about what technology tools teachers needed training on (see below) and the most convenient times for them to receive that instruction. I tailored the trainings to their needs —letting them choose how long they wanted the sessions to last, frequency and location. I also offered them the option of individual or small-group instruction. I assured them that I would provide as much assistance, training and classroom co-teaching—— as they needed. (When we co-taught, the teacher’s focus was typically on content and mine was on using the technology to deliver the content.) My goal was to earn their trust and respect so they felt like they could rely on me through the transition.
By the winter, many teachers were adept at using the G Suite for Education—Google’s classroom tools —and subject-specific applications to enhance their curricula. They were now ready to pilot the devices.
Portsmouth School District delivered two technology carts to the middle school: one had 30 Dell Chromebooks and the other — 30 iPads. I met with teachers during their weekly grade-level meetings to explain the pilot program, encourage them to use the devices as much as possible and request honest feedback about the devices’ suitability for their classrooms. I also created a schedule in which all grade levels were given the opportunity to pilot both devices. Since there were only 60 devices, teachers could sign out the cart for only one to three days at a time. They emailed me if they needed other devices — such as headphones— to accompany the cart, applications installed or assistance teaching.
After all of the grades had piloted the devices, teachers and students provided anonymous feedback through Google Forms. I compiled the feedback by grade and presented the results to the administration and school committee (see below). Both were eager to implement a 1:1 program using Chromebooks, which were not only teachers’ and students’ preferred devices, but also were the most affordable. The administrative team and IT department decided that the 1:1 rollout would occur in stages for grades 6, 7 and 8. Plans for the fifth grade rollout are still being determined.
Approximately, 90% of teachers said that they preferred using Chromebooks over iPads to enhance their instruction. Teachers felt that the iPads were great for delivering specific lesson plans and for students to work on independently, but that the Chromebooks were superior for the collaborative work of a classroom. They also said the Chromebooks were easier for students to type on and more compatible with programs such as Google Classroom— a learning platform that enables the creation, distribution and grading of assignments in a paperless way.
Survey of 8th grade students
Quotes from 8th grade student interviews
- Google saves automatically so none of my work is lost.
- Having Google Classroom keep track of all of my assignments. I am able to see which assignments I have submitted and which ones I’m still working on.
- I like the fact that my email, documents and assignments are all saved in one place.
- If my teacher is busy, I can use the Internet to research my question and problem-solve.
- Voice type was helpful because I’m a slow writer.
- It makes working with a partner easy.
The eighth-grade teachers were by and large enthusiastic about the Chromebooks. We asked about their overall experience with the Chromebooks, and here’s how they responded:
- Great! I was able to have students access many more resources. Classroom management was nice because students were so engaged.
- The students felt that it slowed them down. They said they preferred teacher-led instruction for math
- Love, love, love having the Chromebooks in class! Using them together with Google Classroom and Google Drive made life easy for teachers and students.
- I really enjoyed having the Chromebooks in class. It was so nice to integrate technology easily.
The Rollout Plan
It was decided that the 1:1 plan would roll out for the sixth grade in the 2016-2017 school year, in the seventh grade the following year and in the eighth grade the year after that. In preparation for the grade 6 rollout, the administration asked me to run a professional development day for the 6th-grade teaching team, which we held the day after school ended. The district’s IT department has been critical to the successful implementation of the 1:1 program. During the summer, the department set up, labeled and programmed all of the devices for the coming school year.
I worked closely with the IT department to plan a Chromebook Orientation Night for incoming 6th-grade students and felt it important to also invite families. The two-hour event took place two days before the start of the school year. Information about the 1:1 program was distributed, data from our surveys were shared, protocol (how do we deal with students forgetting their devices at home, accessing inappropriate content, etc.) was discussed and devices were distributed. We assured them that the 1:1 program would increase student achievement.
Families with qualms about the 1:1 program stayed after to share their questions and concerns. The IT director and I assured families that the Chromebook’s filters would block unsafe content, even at home. Eventually, all of the families signed the “Chromebook Contract” and took the devices home.
The plan for this coming year is to continue the 1:1 initiative in grade 6 and start the implementation for grade 7 (These students will have a year of the program under their belts, but it will be new to the 7th grade teachers). Last year’s 6th grade students will bring their devices to 7th grade, and our current fifth graders will receive their devices at Chromebook Orientation Night.
My primary activities this year will be:
- Introducing the Chromebook initiative to the students who have not yet experienced it
- Continuing to share best practices and provide teachers with resources and professional development
- Continuing to offer workshops on new technologies and applications
- Focusing on planning and co-teaching with teachers who have new curricula. For example, we are transitioning to a new math program so I plan to spend additional time helping teachers leverage technology with the new program.
Stay tuned for part two of this series in which I will drill down a little deeper into the first year of implementation and what it takes to be a successful technology integration coach.
References: Research Studies
Bebell, D. (2005). Technology promoting student excellence: An investigation of the first year of 1:1 computing in New Hampshire middle schools. Retrieved from www.intac.org.
Bebell, D. & O’Dwyer, L.M. (2010). Educational research outcomes and research from 1:1 computing settings. Journal of Technology, Learning, and Assessment, 9 (1). 5-13.
Great Maine Schools Project (GMSP). (2004). One-to-one laptops in a high school environment: Piscataquis Community High School Study; Final Report. Retrieved May 29, 2017 from https://www1.maine.gov/mlti/articles/research/PCHSLaptopsFinal.pdf.