Name: Scott Smith
Title: Chief Technology Officer
District: Mooresville Graded School District (NC)
What are your big-picture tech goals for your district?
We’re in the middle of a digital conversion. We’re a 1:1 district; every fourth- through 12th-grade student has a MacBook Air for their use 24/7. The third-graders have MacBooks that stay at school, and there are laptop carts for K-2.
For our digital conversion, we are changing the teaching and learning environment as well as the culture to meet the needs of every student in a technology-rich environment. We can do personalized learning and reach children in new ways. Our professional development effort is huge, and it’s not just the tech side—the culture is shifting, too. When we started on this endeavor it was like every teacher became a first-year teacher again. That gives you a perspective of how massive this is. Our school board was supportive from the beginning and recognized we needed to do a lot of PD. They gave us six early-release days built into the school calendar. Students go home at noon and teachers have PD the rest of day. Now we have 10. When we sold it to the community, we said, “We know you want your doctor to be up to date and know what’s going on. Why wouldn’t you want that for your kid’s teachers too?”
We haven’t bought a textbook in four years, except for college AP courses. In North Carolina we can use textbook money for other things, so we used it for about 20 different digital resources, including Discovery Education streaming, BrainPOP, Study Island, and icurio. We try to buy sources that are aligned to North Carolina standards and/or Common Core. A high school biology teacher can look for a lesson on mitosis. It’s all vetted and aligned, and it lets teachers use simulations, hands-on projects, and other things that cover multiple learning modalities. By using digital resources teachers can do so much more to meet the needs of all students.
We’re also using data more intelligently. We have better, just-in-time, real data now so students get instant feedback. A teacher doesn’t have to spend time grading. She can give a quiz, and as soon as the student submits it he knows how he did. We do quarterly assessments. We were using Scantron, but we outgrew it and now use Thinkgate for assessments. We take the daily and quarterly assessments and use predictive analysis data from EVAAS (Education Value Added Assessment System to get a clear picture of every child. We look at a student over time and can predict how they will do on the next assessment. It’s very accurate. A teacher can look at his or her students and know who will struggle, so he or she can provide individualized intervention early on. Teachers use EVAAS on the front end and do daily and quarterly assessments. These products make everything transparent.
What changes are you taking to achieve them?
Overall, we’re going through a culture shift. Our superintendent has done a great job of selling the digital conversion to the community, explaining why we need a digital conversion, and what it means. He says, “We’re preparing kids for their future, not our past.” We need to teach them how to think, not what to think, and help them to be adaptive and competitive and collaborative.
What are the biggest challenges in your day-to-day life and how do you manage them?
Lack of time is always an issue. I’m focused on maintaining what’s already happening while building new things.
How do you get buy in on ed tech from the school community?
My superintendent is great at it. As he says, you have to answer the “so what?” question to your parents, your community, and your constituents. What can kids do with a laptop? What difference does it make? People understand dropout rate, attendance rate, and graduation rate, but just because we give children and teachers technology and we change the environment, is it making a measurable difference? We can prove it is! Discipline and dropout rates are way down, graduation and attendance rates are up. We look at the data so we can answer the “So what?” question.
What currently has you really excited?
I’m excited by what students can do when you empower them and give them choices. Instead of “write a two-page paper on this topic,” we can give them a topic and a grading rubric and ask them to show that they understand the information. They can make an iMovie, do a rap, make a keynote, or write a paper, or anything else they may choose. When they’re empowered over their learning, they’re excited. It’s a game changer.
Recently, a student told our high school principal that she worked on an iMovie project for three hours and was thrilled. Has any student ever been excited to spend three hours on a paper?