8 Innovative Schools Provide Ideas and Inspiration for 21st Century Education by Lisa Nielsen
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October 29, 2009 By: Developer Developer
Cross posted at The Innovative Educator
As the saying goes, if he woke up today, schools would be one of the few places that Rip Van Winkle
would recognize after his 100 year slumber. Unlike business, medicine,
the media, etc, most schools look very much as they did 100 years ago.
Sadly, even in schools where leaders and educators want to move into
the 21st Century, many don't know what this looks like. One of the best
ways to provide inspiration to leaders and educators searching for
innovative ideas for providing a 21st century education is to explore
successful models of innovative schools. However, it is difficult to
develop a vision of a 21st century school because there are few
well-know publicly-available models that are captured and shared.
Though they tried, Microsoft’s School of the Future became a lesson in failure and while there are islands of success at schools like Science Leadership Academy, CIS 339, and The School of One, there are few known established places that one can visit to read about innovative schools such as these.
is, until now. Under the leadership of Bruce Lai, Chief of Staff,
Office of the Chief Information Officer at New York City Department of
Education eight NYC DOE schools have been identified as those providing
students with an education that looks different from that of their
parents and grandparents. These are schools that are making progress
along the continuum of 21st century success. The
Model Technology Schools Project was created to document and
disseminate effective practices that are already in place within the
New York City Department of Education school system. More specifically,
the project aims to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from some of
the City’s most innovative schools to schools that may need guidance in
moving toward a 21st-century model. A data-driven school in
Queens, for example, may be struggling to use Smartboards effectively,
while a school in Brooklyn may have mastered Smartboard technology, but
needs assistance in setting up a data system. This project is a first
step toward connecting schools like these.
This project was made possible as a
result of a key component of the New York City Department of
Education’s Children First reforms…the empowerment of school
principals. Because principals know more about the on-the-ground
reality of their schools than anyone else, they have been given greater
power over decisions relating to budgets, programs, and personnel. In
exchange for this increased freedom in shaping their schools,
principals are held to higher accountability standards.
Many principals have used their
increased autonomy to develop innovative practices and programs.
However, the tremendous amount of responsibility principals have on
both the instructional and operational sides of their schools may limit
the time they have to communicate with other principals throughout the
City. As a result, best practices can easily get lost in the shuffle of
This is particularly true with
regard to technology, which is a relatively new leadership arena for
principals. For years, technology in the schools has been seen as an
“extra.” However, it has become clear that technology is part of the
foundation of a 21st-century model of teaching and learning:
a blend of face-to-face and online teaching, communication, and
collaboration between students, educators, school leaders, parents, and
educational partners. This model may just be the next game-changer when
it comes to improving student achievement—and improvement is necessary
if we expect our children to thrive in the 21st-century global economy.
The eight schools chosen for this
project—though they in no way comprise an exhaustive list—all reflect
the standards outlined by the International Society for Technology in Education
(ISTE). These schools, which range from very small to very large, span
four of the five boroughs and have diverse student bodies. They are all
eligible for Title I funds and a high majority of their students
receive free or reduced price lunch. The principals are exemplary
leaders who ensure that technology is integrated into instruction and
leveraged to differentiate learning. They have all managed to create
cohesive communities in which technology is understood to be an
inextricable part of the school fabric, and a foundation for their
The eight comprehensive case
studies that follow highlight schools that have used technology to
improve student achievement and operational efficiency. Although they
offer only a snapshot of the exciting advances schools have made, they
are designed to encourage principals to reflect on their practices and
look to other schools for new ideas. When
reading the case study consider if any of these schools provide
inspiration for what could be implemented at your own school site. Then
use the 21st century school visioning tool
as a resource to structure and capture ideas that you may want to
consider incorporating into your school or classroom. Results can be viewed here.
The Model Technology Program Schools
Note: If you would like to connect with a specific school, please feel free to reach out to its principal:
As you read each case study you
will notice a number of themes emerge from this diverse group of Model
Technology Schools. They are as follows:
Student engagement through digital content
is easy for students to disengage when teachers do not require active
participation, or when education is delivered in a one-size-fits-all
model. Digital content makes it easier for teachers to engage “digital
natives,” or students who have grown up with Internet technology.
Principals have reported improvements in behavior and attendance since
the integration of technology in their schools. At The Verrazano
School, students who come in for breakfast go straight to the
auditorium afterwards, excited to play a version of Jeopardy with
Smartboard remotes. At The Goddard School, students are particularly
enthusiastic about a media elective offered in the school’s
fully-equipped television studio.
Motivation and accountability through public nature of work
schools post student work online. School Web sites often feature
multimedia student projects, such as podcasts, videos, and music.
Students are also asked to contribute to class and school-wide blogs,
and to comment on work contributed by their peers. On all grade levels,
principals have found that the public nature of work motivates students
to meet or exceed standards and expectations. For example, the
elementary school students at P.S. 5 express excitement about seeing
their writing “published” and posted on class Web sites and online
educational magazines. The middle school and high school students at
East-West and Brooklyn Tech regularly contribute to blogs. Although
these blogs are not moderated by school leaders, students monitor themselves and meet self-imposed standards of appropriateness. They learn the responsibilities that go along with public presentation on the Web.
Focus on literacy
and writing are often reinforced through specialized software, such as
online leveled libraries, which can assess a child’s reading level, as
well as “speak” the story or specific vocabulary words. Literacy
software can be used in small groups within the classroom, or in labs
(I.S. 318 has a small lab dedicated to Scholastic 180). As mentioned
above, blogs give students an outlet to practice their writing skills,
as well as a forum to express their opinions and engage in discussion
with others. Principals stress that blogs are not diaries, and
emphasize their utility as instructional spaces. In addition, programs
such as Google docs make it easy for students to share documents with
each other and with their teachers, which facilitates peer editing.
Along with reading and writing skills, Internet literacy is also becoming more and more important; 21st-century
schools teach students how to analyze online information for accuracy
and assess the quality of sources. In the past, students relied on
school library books for research. Now, they must learn how to deal
with the tremendous amount of information—of varied quality—available
to them on the Web. Whether or not principals require students to take
a basic technology/Internet course, they agree that Internet literacy
must be explicitly taught.
databases and assessment tools give teachers access to unprecedented
amounts of student data. Teachers and administrators can use this
data—compiled in ARIS or in other systems—to tailor instruction to
different skill levels. Teachers at The Verrazano School and The
Goddard School make extensive use of Smartboard remotes to incorporate
quizzes into their lessons. This allows them to access real-time
feedback on student comprehension, which they can use immediately to
modify their lessons.
computers make it easier for students to work independently, teachers
can create small groups of students according to skill-level. They are
then free to move around the room as facilitators, providing more or
less attention as needed. At P.S. 5, for instance, a group of ELL
students may be working on pronunciation with headphones plugged into
their laptops, while another group may be reading independently.
every student is a purely auditory or visual learner. Technology makes
it easier to engage multiple sensory modalities so that students have a
greater chance of learning in the ways most suitable for them. An
effective Smartboard lesson, for example, may integrate video and audio
clips, as well as interactive components that allow students to answer
questions via remote or touch screen. A multisensory approach can be
particularly helpful for ELLs and students learning foreign languages.
order to connect learning to the larger world, teachers engage students
in project-, or problem-based learning. With so much information at
their fingertips, as well as easily-facilitated connections for
distance learning, students can act as consultants who solve real world
problems. At the NYC iSchool, the curriculum is based around
interdisciplinary modules that connect traditional subject knowledge
with contemporary issues, making learning feel more relevant.
increased facility of communication makes it easier for students,
teachers, parents, school leaders, and educational partners to work
together to reach educational goals. Collaboration can be as simple as
teachers sharing lesson plans with each other through Google Docs, or
as complex as live streaming presentations and sharing student projects
as part of a world-wide Internet conference (M.S. 339). East-West
partners with schools in Shanghai and London, and the NYC iSchool
utilizes video-conferencing to connect students to organizations,
experts, and professors, both nationally and internationally.
of the premises of an education at the NYC iSchool is that students
take charge of their own learning, and at Brooklyn Tech, students are
given access to high-level technologies that are used by professionals
in the field. Technology empowers students to seek information
independently rather than waiting for it to be delivered to them.
Students as tech support
play a crucial role in the operation of their schools as members of
tech-squads. Schools usually need trouble-shooting assistance that goes
beyond the capacity of a tech coach, and trained students can respond
to requests teachers submit, often through an online system. They
usually receive service credit for their work. On an informal basis,
students constantly assist their teachers with technology, which gives
even elementary school-aged children the opportunity to feel like
Overcoming staff buy-in challenges
at different stages of their careers may not see a need to change their
practice, so it isn’t always easy to convince them that technology
integration is important. Principals have dealt with these challenges
in various ways. Some have found specialized professional development
to be helpful in making technology less threatening, and others have
integrated technology into administrative practices first in order to
ease it into instruction. Principals emphasize that teachers should not
be forced into technology use; they need to understand how it can help
them and how it can help their students.
The Model Technology Schools Project is sponsored by the NYC DOE’s
Division of Instructional and Information Technology (DIIT). DIIT in
conjunction with the Office of Educational Technology would love to
hear about innovative technology practices taking place at your
school. To share your ideas or for more information on the Model
Technology Schools Project, please visit our survey link here.
The Model Technology Schools Project
was conceived and led by Bruce Lai, Chief of Staff, Office of the Chief
Information Officer / DIIT. In addition to the principals, assistant
principals, and teachers who were crucial to this project, DIIT would
like to thank the following individuals for their assistance: Cara
Spitalewitz (Education Pioneers Summer Fellow), Catherine White, Marina
Negroponte, Roya Rahmani, Anissa Moeini, Niko Cunningham, Gazelle
Javantash, Hannes Klopper, and Professor Kevin Kelley (Columbia
University School of International and Public Affairs), Celine
Azoulay-Lewin, Lisa Nielsen, Julian Cohen, Gregg Betheil, Andrew
Gallagher, Patricia Paddock, Jane Pook, Troy Fischer, Joel Rose (NYC
Department of Education).
Nielsen has spent more than a decade working in various capacities in
educational innovation at the NYC DOE and Teachers College, Columbia University
including as a technology innovation manager, manager of instructional
technology professional development, literacy and instructional technology
coach, teacher, librarian, and staff developer. Ms. Nielsen is a Google
Certified Teacher, International Edublogger, and creator of The Innovative
Educator social network, blog, and wiki all of which can be found at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are strictly those of the
author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of the NYC DOE, the AVP or any other entity.