Name: Rick Cave
Title: Tech Director
District: West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, NJ
We are trying to transform instruction and feel that instruction has to change to better prepare students for the 21st century. We want them to use tools effectively and appropriately, but if we want to truly transform instruction we have to address the instructional side.
We are moving from traditional, teacher-directed instruction to a more student-centered model, giving children more ownership. They already have tools available to them, which is why BYOD is so appealing to us. At the same time we are also training teachers so they will be comfortable with BYOD so they can take off and run with it.
What changes are you taking to achieve these goals?
In terms of instruction, last year we started with a new evaluation system for our teaching staff based on Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Professional Practice. We are training our teachers to provide a more student-centered environment. Teachers want to transform instruction and we’re adding in technology to support that mission. We have also defined 21st-century competencies throughout our curriculum. Our teacher evaluations are now based on Danielson's Framework and tied to competencies.
It’s taken a long time to get to this but we believe that technology will not reach its instructional potential unless we modify our instructional practices.
In terms of technology, we are building out the infrastructure, putting everything online and pushing to have all resources online.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
It's culture, hands down. We’re a successful district as defined by traditional methods; most of our kids graduate and go to college. But as we introduce new things, our parents are concerned that their children aren’t going to get into Ivy League schools. They see high school as a stepping stone. We need to make changes without undermining the status quo. The ironic thing is, that from a tech perspective, our community is inundated. Our parents are techie people, university people who use technology all the time. At the same time, our parents can be very resistant to changing the curriculum/instruction.
How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?
The community is very supportive of technology and the students are interested as well. At the high school, 200 kids take programming each year. The community wants labs and networks, but when we talk about integrating technology into instruction they are hesitant. It's an interesting problem. The community is very tech savvy, but getting people to buy into combining the two and changing instruction is a challenge.
Every other year, we have a showcase to demonstrate how tech is being used in our K through 12th-grade classes. The students present projects that incorporate the use of technology. The project does not have to be a tech project and the point is not to show how great you are at using PowerPoint but to show how technology allowed you to achieve a deeper understanding.
Two years ago, we started doing an 8th-grade exit assessment. It's an end-of-year, week-long project. Students are broken into teams of four or five and assigned a third-world country. They pick one of the UN Millennium Goals, develop a way to address the goal in their assigned country, and do a presentation on the fifth day to a panel of community members who judge them.
What currently has you really excited?
We’ve been trying to get teachers to utilize technology for a long time and I’m starting to see signs that our staff are starting to understand. Instead of us having to always come up with integration ideas, they are coming up with them on their own. We’ve hit a tipping point; teachers are recognizing the role tech can play in instruction and are eager to give it a try.