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Irving ISD: A Longtime One-to-One District Takes on New Challenges
When you hear about the ambitious technology initatives at Irving Independent School District in Texas—including an 11-year-old, one-to-one program and a “net zero” middle school—you might think it’s a wealthy district. But you’d be mistaken; in fact, a full 82 percent of Irving ISD’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
Irving ISD launched its one-to-one program in 2001, determined to provide a technology-rich learning experience for its student body, many of whom would never be exposed to technology otherwise. The district started giving out laptops at one high school and added a grade level each year. Along the way, administrators learned some important lessons about one-to-one implementations.
The Importance of Professional Development
For starters, you can never offer enough professional development. “When I arrived, it was the first year we had one-to-one implemented at all high school campuses,” says Alice Owen, division director of technology. “We quickly became aware that teachers needed more training.”
Realizing that the high school teachers needed training aligned to their content area, Owen and her team encouraged teachers to form learning communities based on content area so that they could share ideas. At the time, there wasn’t much material online for teachers to tap into, so the Irving teachers had to figure it out for themselves.
Owen brought the groups together monthly, after school for three or four hours, and fed them dinner. Some groups, particularly the science teachers, clicked immediately; others took a bit longer to connect. “The science teachers had a similar philosophy about how to teach, and there were a few more resources for them,” she says.
An interesting outcome arose from the teacher groups. Over time, the groups morphed into curriculum development teams that started writing their own technology-integrated curriculum. That organic process helped teachers move away from textbooks because, as Owen says, “The laptop is a textbook with unlimited resources.”
Looking at the Results
In 2006, Irving ISD posted results of a three-year study of its one-to-one program and its impact on teaching and learning. Here are some of the highlights:
· Teachers changed their practice, adding more group work to their lessons.
· The classroom dynamic shifted to become student centered, and behavior management became an issue for some.
· Some teachers reported the program revitalized their teaching.
· Change takes time; teachers became more comfortable with the program after three years.
· Student attendance and behavior improved when the program was first implemented.
· Students reported they liked school more when they used technology.
· Home Internet access increased when laptops were provided to students.
· About 1/3 of the students went home and taught their siblings or their parents how to use the computer.
· Elementary students took the best care of their laptops—they did not lose a single one during the three-year grant period.
An Ever-Evolving Process
Today, Irving ISD provides a netbook for every high school student. The ratio in the elementary and middle schools is two-to-one, but those laptops remain at school. Moving forward, Owen knows it will be challenging to continue funding all of this technology.
“We’ve been very successful in passing bonds,” she says. “The community supports and likes the program, but we’re getting close to the end of those funds.” Past bonds have been attached to building and renovation projects, but the construction has come to an end. Owen is planning to investigate other funding sources so the district can continue to replace one-fourth of the laptops each year. “We’re applying for grants, but that’s not the answer to sustaining the program. We have to find other ways,” she says.
One option is to ask students to bring in their own technology, but given the relatively low average income in the district, this may not be the right solution. In fact, not many students participated in a BYOD pilot program last spring.
Another popular initiative that the district has already begun working toward is offering a virtual and blended learning environment by turning the alternative high school into a virtual school. Thanks to the lessons the district learned in the early one-to-one days, there’s a huge professional-development effort underway. The alternative high school teachers (and any others who are interested) are rethinking their schedules and offering a mix of online and face-to-face lessons. They are flipping their classes by offering hands-on activities at school and letting students watch video lectures on their netbooks on their own time. In addition, they are learning how to do more project-based and collaborative activities in their classes. “This kind of learning gets students excited and engaged, and the laptops allow them to connect to people outside of school,” says Owen.
Although there is a high percentage of families without Internet access, the district came up with a way to address that, applying for and winning a $125,000 state grant to provide home Internet access to those without it. “We have prioritized a list of close to 320 needy students, beginning with our alternative school,” says Owen. “Those families will get to check out Verizon MiFis, which are small wireless receiving devices with 4G service. They will remain at home, since the students will have access at school through the district network.” Through the grant, the district will be able to cover the monthly fee of $37.99 for the service and will work with Verizon to re-route the Internet traffic back through the district’s content filter to comply with CIPA.
“I think this is where we need to head,” says Owen. “We must figure out the best use of our time when we come together in a brick-and-mortar environment.” She believes students need help mastering the skills that will earn them jobs: problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking, and teamwork. “At school, students can work together, manage projects, and work on tackling real-life problems.”
Goodbye Textbooks; Hello Digital Resources
The district is moving toward being totally textbook-free. A textbook server that was set up internally has hosted digital versions of textbooks for a long time, especially as more publishers offered that option. Once a student downloads the digital version, he or she doesn’t have to carry the book. At the same time, teachers have stopped going through the textbook page by page, preferring to supplement it with online and other digital resources.
“We’re using a lot of open-source materials. There are tons of great materials online that are just as good as any textbook, if not better, particularly because of the interactivity component,” says Owen. “Textbook publishers have been holding on for a long time, but I think it’s a losing battle. In Texas, we pushed to use textbook funds on technology and that flexibility helped us develop additional resources. And, thanks to all the crowd sourcing, we can easily find out which ones are the best.”
· Irving Independent School District serves more than 35,000 students in pre-K through grade 12, with 39 schools.
· Approximately 71% of the district’s students are Hispanic, 12% Black, 12% White, and 4% Asian.
· Between 1999 and 2003, Irving ISD earned a Recognized District rating from the Texas Education Agency. Three schools in the district have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools. Good Elementary is one of 12 schools in the U.S.—and the only school in Texas—to receive special recognition in technology in 2001. MacArthur High School was named one of the two best high schools at the Intel/Scholastic 21st Century Schools of Distinction Awards in 2004, and Microsoft Corporation selected the Irving ISO as the first Microsoft Center of Excellence.
· In 2004, Irving ISD won the first Sylvia Charp Award for District Innovation in Technology from ISTE. In 2010, it won the CoSN Team Award for team efforts. In 2012, Alice Owen received the Lifetime Achievement for the Advancement of Technology in Education from the Texas Computer Education Association.
· Students have access to technology through numerous ASUS netbooks, HP minis, and Dell minis in computer labs and mobile multimedia stations. Since August 2003, all students in grades 9–12 have laptops for use at home and school. In addition, all teachers receive Dell, hp, or Lenovo laptops.
· In October 1997, $47 million in bond funds were approved that funded a five-year instructional technology plan that included networking schools and other facilities. In October 2001, $54.8 million in bond funds were approved to replace aging equipment and to provide equipment for new facilities and new programs. In November 2007, $49.8 million in bond funds were approved to replace aging equipment and to provide a new telephone system and a student information system for the district.