Maybe your teachers are asking for
it. Maybe your superintendent has
mentioned it. Or maybe your state
is demanding it.
Regardless of where the
concept originates, a lot of districts
are “just saying no” to textbooks and creating a
Not sure where to start? As always, we turn to
our experts: the districts that are already on board
with this new digital reality. Here are their insights.
As you move into a digital curriculum,
how have you changed your
educational and financial decision making
|Digital math is much more engaging—and tasty!—at Piedmont City Schools.
Karen Fuller, chief technology
officer, Klein (TX) ISD: Last year, we created
a Long Range Technology Plan committee
(LRTP) made up of my team leaders and
a representative from each of the district
departments. Together, we created our new tech
plan. The LRTP committee meets every other
week to review. When a new idea comes up, the
Research and Development committee looks
to see if it’s feasible, asks questions, and brings
other people in that may be impacted by the idea.
If that committee deems it’s something that we
need to do, they bring it back to the LRTP. Then
it goes to the Change committee, who ultimately
determines if the district will implement. This
process helps us to be a lot more cohesive when
we roll out new products or initiatives. We’ve
started really utilizing committee decision making
instead of individual decision-making,
which, to me, is a lot more efficient.
Bob Gold, superintendent, Eureka
(IL) CUSD 140: The decision to move to
the digital curriculum in 7th- and 8th-grade
mathematics was primarily educational. For
math, it just works very well. This model has
provided our teachers with more one-on-one
and small-group instruction time. Kids are
receiving the help they need, when they need it.
Financially, we chose to do this when we were
looking at purchasing new math textbooks. I felt
that our money would be better spent invested in
the technology and the time for the teachers to
develop the curriculum via open source.
Jim Klein, director of information
services and technology, Saugus (CA)
Union School District: As it stands now,
the digital curriculum for most schools is about
delivering hard materials, (i.e., digitizing content,
which is pretty irrelevant, in my view), and we
have not aggressively pursued it. Digital copies of
analog textbooks are hardly transformational—
even if they offer such ‘thrilling’ constructs as
digital quizzes at the end of a chapter or the
occasional manipulative. This will never lead to
the sort of cultural changes we should be seeking.
A more authentic approach would be to create an
environment in which kids learn as we learn—by
searching, sifting, vetting, reading, and analyzing
the vast and ever-growing array of content
online and by leveraging whatever social and
educational connections they have, all under the
wisdom and guidance of an experienced teacher.
Our approach, therefore, is to provide the tools
and training necessary for
our teacher leaders to
build their own guiding
content and resources
online (e.g., wikis and
authentic tasks that
help our students
learn how to learn.
Unfortunately, we can’t
get rid of textbooks
here in California
and those, combined with standards that lead to
standardized testing, make it difficult to break
through the barriers of traditional education and
|7th- and 8th-grade students at Eureka CUSD 140 enjoy working on digital math lessons.
Scott S. Smith, chief technology
officer, Mooresville (NC) Graded School
District: We haven’t purchased a textbook
in five years. We look for digital curricular
resources that are aligned to our state standards
and will be aligned to the Common Core
standards. We like Discovery Education. The
content is aligned and highly interactive. More
companies are moving into that realm, which is
good for all of us.
|It’s time to blog for Saugus USD students.
How do you decide what goes digital
and what doesn’t?
Matt Akin, superintendent, Piedmont
(AL) City Schools: We try to meet our
curricular goals in a digital format that allows for
whole-group and individualized instruction.
Fuller: We look at the resources that are
available to the area that is going to be affected.
If there is an abundant amount of resources that
can utilize the digital content, we will always go
digital first. If not, then we put a plan into
place to migrate the resources to a
Gold: It has to make
complete educational sense
for us in order to go digital,
and we felt that in
these math classes
it was a great fit. We
also have a 6th-grade
science class that is taught
in a digital environment, but
in a much different manner.
The science course still has a
great deal of direct instruction taking
place daily. Assignments, assessments,
and a large amount of student collaborations are
completed digitally. We don’t want to jump on any
bandwagons just to do what is popular.
Klein: In most cases, our digitized
delivery mechanisms for structured
curriculum are provided by our
textbook publishers. Ultimately, it is all
acquired as part of a textbook adoption.
Interestingly, a trend that began some
years ago has been a reduction in the
amount of physical media in favor of an
increase in online content so, in a sense,
the decision is being made for us. This
is something of a Catch-22 as it has the
potential to increase the quality and
relevance of the content while reducing the mass
of materials physically delivered to students.
However, it simultaneously requires some form
of access in terms of technology or denying
access to those who lack the wherewithal to
obtain it. Since most districts are unwilling or
unable (usually it’s the former) to provide said
access, they instead opt to deliver the content
via projection systems in the room, perpetuating
the familiar sage-on-the-stage, delivery-centric
information dumps we are all familiar with. In
addition, this new model enables a publisher to
engage in the practice of ‘licensing’
content and setting expiration dates,
causing content and resources to
become unavailable after a prespecified
period of time (unlike
traditional materials). This, naturally,
leads to further increased costs to
|A 7th-grader at Fort Leavenworth district checks her assignments on Moodle.
Alan Landever, director
of technology; Geri Parscale,
deputy superintendent, Fort
Leavenworth (KS) School
District: Our teachers and principals
decisions. Today’s technology simply
gives them more choices. Sometimes
the best choice is digital and other times it is
traditional media. Our technology services
department provides teachers with tools and lots
of support to transition traditional curriculum
into a digital format. I think that the level of
support we are providing is helping teacher
adoption. We have a full-time technology
coordinator in each building and a curriculum
integration specialist so teachers can rely on inhouse
support and feel comfortable to take risks.
What percent of your digital material
is from a vendor? Created by teachers?
Akin: Approximately 30% vendor, 30%
open source, and 40% teacher created.
Fuller: The curriculum is mostly materials
that we find on the Web or that are created by
our teachers. There are very few that are open
Gold: In the 7th- and 8th-grade math
courses, the teachers have created online videos
of themselves teaching each lesson. The students
watch these videos as they progress through the
assignments in each unit. They also pull in some
outside sources to assist with the instruction.
The daily assignments are primarily completed
using a vendor (IXL Math).
|Learn by doing: Teachers at Mooresville Graded School District use ANGEL.
Smith: We have a combination
of material we subscribe to and that
teachers use for free, such as Khan
Academy, Animoto, and Prezi. The cool
thing is that teachers collaborate a lot so
it’s easy to share resources.
How have you gotten teachers on
board? How are you preparing
Akin: Our teachers have been
on board from day one. Our MPower
Piedmont initiative (piedmont.sharpschool.net/m_power_piedmont)
is truly a community effort and our
teachers are committed to transforming
our community. I believe that is the number one
reason that our initiative is successful. Our staff
needs drive our PD offerings and we have early
release days throughout the year that provide
half-day programs for teacher collaboration.
Fuller: In 2004, we began putting electronic
devices in the teacher’s classrooms that allowed
them to use digital content. We always trained
the teachers in a just-in-time training model. We
have educational technology teachers who work
with all levels of the instructional environment
to use the electronic devices and digital content
in all areas of the curriculum. We continually
offer training to campuses, both in small and
large groups, as well as district staff development
on weekends and after hours.
Gold: I was fortunate enough to have
two teachers who were very willing to take on
this project. They have both invested a great
deal of time into this initiative and they are
loving it. However, people need to know that
they have spent an extreme amount of time
preparing for these classes. (After this first year,
their preparation will be primarily focused on
tweaking and improving what they have already
created). A huge benefit is that they spend less
time grading assignments (this now happens
digitally) and more time looking at student data
to determine where kids are having problems.
Landever and Parscale: We recognize
that handing out devices or LMS logins won’t
change much. That’s why we spend so much time
on professional development. With my team
and the TLA teachers providing leadership, we
began a robust series of ongoing CYBERTEAMS
professional development for
every teacher in every building. I worked
with our superintendent, the BOE, and
our teachers to restructure the school
day to support the Tech Tuesdays and
Macs-n-Snacks Thursday professional
development programs. These programs
build on our PLC culture and are primarily
peer-led discussions on CYBER-TEAMS,
teaching pedagogy and effective use of
technology in the classroom. Every teacher
in the district meets for a minimum of
two events per quarter, with a substitute
teacher automatically provided for each
teacher. Occasionally, outside subjectmatter
experts facilitate the session. The
do-it-yourself atmosphere has led to increased
teacher confidence, willingness to try new ideas,
and sharing. Some teachers even choose to attend
extra programs if a topic catches their attention.
Smith: Honestly, you need to bring your
teachers in before you go in this direction. They
have to be thinking about changing the teaching
and learning environment and how their classes
will change when each student has constant
Internet access. Doing that part early is important
to getting buy-in. Also, they need to understand
why we’re doing this. We have to meet the students
where they are in a digital world. PD is huge to
help teachers learn to rethink the way they’ve
taught a lesson for 20 years. It’s our job to support
them, provide them with ongoing instructional PD,
and deliver good tech support.
What infrastructure changes do you
need to make?
Akin: We made a major commitment to
upgrading our network to provide fast, wireless
access, and we have tripled the bandwidth of
our Internet pipe in the last three years. We also
provide wireless access in all outside areas of
every school campus. One of the most powerful
components of our initiative is that we provide
home Internet access for all students. We were one
of 20 districts chosen to participate in the E-rate
Learning ‘On-the-Go’ pilot, which provided home
Internet access for all of our students last year.
Unfortunately, funding for this grant stops at the
end of February. Providing true anytime, anywhere
learning for low-income kids becomes very difficult
when they can’t access the Internet from home.
Fuller: We are continually monitoring our
infrastructure. We are upgrading our wireless
network to all 5 GHz, making sure our intranet
and Internet bandwidth is robust to handle the
traffic demands of this ever-growing digital world.
How do you give access to the digital
Akin: All of our teachers in grades 4-12 use
the Blackboard LMS. It is amazing to see the
transformation in the learning environment
when all classes are taught in a blended
Fuller: Our students and staff on the
one-to-one campuses deliver their curriculum
through our LMS system. The staff uses
eduphoria!forethought for curriculum and the
students use their shared folders and teacher
websites to access the digital content.
Klein: We’re not big fans of the LMS
because they typically represent digitizing
the traditional structures of school, which is
counter to the culture we want to create. We’re
more about creating an SLE (social learning
environment) by leveraging social tools that
are available and accessible to all, such as wikis,
blogs, and apps.
Landever and Parscale: We have been
introducing our teachers to Moodle and they are
taking to it like wildfire. Getting our curriculum
into Moodle gives teachers the ability to flip
classes and for students to have traditional
lecture-style classes. It really opens up the
potential for personalized learning, wikis, group
work, and blogging. And with applications like
Skype, you’re essentially diving into primary
sources—you can talk directly to people all
over the globe. Real life becomes the textbook.
A 5th-grade teacher had her students write
book reports as Amazon Book Reviews, (www.cyberteamscenter.org/21stcenturyskills/t21stcentury-book-report), causing them to rethink
the way they approach their reading and writing.
Smith: We have used ANGEL [by
Blackboard] from the beginning. We love it. I
don’t think you can go digital without some sort
of LMS. It’s easy to control the environment,
share and collaborate among teachers, and
provide teacher-to-student or student-tostudent
communication. It has all the gradebook
functionality, a parent portal, email, and all the
Web 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis.
Tips from the Top
T&L spoke with Steven Engravalle,
chair of the state technology
committee for the New
Jersey Association of School
Administrators, for more tips on
the digital conversion.
EVALUATE WISELY. Make sure the
digital content is compatible with
your district’s current—and future—
tools. Does it work with laptops?
Tablets? Smartphones? How does
it fit into your data-management
process? Does it work with your SIS
and your LMS? Will the community
be able to access it? The fastest way
for an initiative to die is for it to not
be functional for stakeholders.
DON ’T FORGET ABOUT OPEN
SOURCE. There’s a myriad of useful
open-source resources available
and, best of all, they’re free. Two
open source resources I’d recommend
are HP’s Teacher Experience
and Adobe Education Exchange
(edexchange.adobe.com/pages/home). In New Jersey, I’m working
to create a statewide database of
innovative and effective, teachercreated
lesson plans and instructional
resources that will be searchable
by keyword, grade level, and
Common Core standards.
BRING TEACHERS TO THE TABLE.
Invite teachers into the conversation
to help evaluate digital
resources. You may need to guide
them, but they have to be involved
from the start if you want them to
use the resources.
OFFER HAND S-ON HELP. Tech
coaches are always a great idea.
Whether they go into the classroom
and assist teachers on the fly
or just do weekly sessions, the help
they provide is essential.
You can follow Engravalle on Twitter