Technology (Enhancing + Engaging + Connecting)

Technology-Assisted Curriculum

Children learning with technology

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA MONTESSORI PROJECT (CMP)

The world of chalkboards and notebooks has given way to one of interactive whiteboards and Chromebooks. During the last few years, districts across the country have begun embracing this new world of technology-assisted curriculum, and schools are learning how to integrate devices into their lesson plans.

At Sacramento-based California Montessori Project (CMP), our students’ education is guided by the Montessori philosophy — a methodology of teaching that prioritizes the concept of “following the child.” Specifically, CMP embraces the idea that education is most successful when teachers assess where the students are in their learning experiences and then collaboratively work with the students to promote their individual and collective success.

Recently, CMP applied for, and received, state funding to construct two new schools. We saw the building projects as an opportunity to expand our IT capabilities and to further invest in technology-assisted curriculum. Acquiring and implementing new technologies wasn’t simple and required significant strategic planning. We knew that we wanted to stay true to our philosophy, while also embracing the digital age. With those goals in mind, we upgraded our cabling, added advanced Aerohive wireless access points, installed state of the art Cisco-managed switches and completed a bandwidth upgrade through our Internet service provider.

Ensure your classroom meets student needs

Students use an ever-expanding list of devices and applications at home. We believe that introducing many of these same technologies into schools has a positive impact on educational outcomes.

Chromebooks in the classroom

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA MONTESSORI PROJECT ( CMP)

A lot of our technology upgrades address the elements the students never see — Wi-Fi coverage and bandwidth, cabling, the network, etc. And, while students want to be connected and will benefit from those advances, the piece they will see and interact with directly is the in-classroom device. After extensive research, we decided to deploy Chromebooks. They were the right price point and provided flexibility, along with support, for the various types of programs teachers wanted students to access.

Now, our students use the devices to access computer-based curriculum and cloud-based applications, and benefit from self-paced, tech-assisted curriculum. Students are also excited to interact with their teachers and peers online.

As we share with viewers on our website (www.cacmp.org), “Technology provides access to the information, tools and personnel that were once only available through extended research and in laboratories. Through technology, students no longer have to work with just textbooks or available, outdated reference books to learn such lessons as weather patterns; they now have the capability to download real-time data and make predictions about the weather.”

Adopting technology into school curriculums brings a lot to the classroom. But prior to purchasing devices or software, we do caution schools to be mindful, and assess what services and programs their students will truly benefit from.

Student learning on a tablet

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA MONTESSORI PROJECT ( CMP)

Evaluate and address challenges

CMP administrators met with architects and contractors to discuss how we could bring all of our campuses into the digital age. Prior to replacing the IT infrastructure and network capabilities on our campuses, CMP’s eight schools were each facing a variety of challenges that kept us from optimizing our use of technology in the classroom. At some locations, network connections were so weak that the IT department had to time and monitor how many students were accessing the network at any time, limiting their ability to work online.

We saw our new construction projects as a gateway. While making state-of-the-art updates at our two new locations, we also began to assess how we could implement a major upgrade across our school network to provide the same services to each of our 2,500 students.

It is vital for us to maintain consistency in programming and operations. Our team wanted to avoid a situation where some students were at a disadvantage because they had less access to technology than those students elsewhere in our network. So, we decided to address all of our schools’ technology needs at the same time.

As such, we worked with CDW-G K-12 IT strategists to orchestrate a solution with partners, including Aerohive Networks, Cisco, Intel and TelePacific Communications. CMP and our technology partners built a reliable network infrastructure at each of our locations, installed interactive whiteboards into classrooms and provided a Google-based Chromebook for each student in fifth to eighth grade. Additionally, we installed a WAN that provides 100Mbps speeds at each site, wireless networks at each campus, access points of varying speeds, web security, firewalls and content filtering. Now, CMP can facilitate testing, utilize cloud-based programs and provide users with access to educational applications, such as Rosetta Stone, Learning.com and online typing programs, as well as Renaissance Learning products, including Accelerated Math and Accelerated Reading.

Student learning on a computer in the classroom

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA MONTESSORI PROJECT ( CMP)

Incorporating technology like Chromebooks or interactive whiteboards into a curriculum can boost students’ excitement in the classroom and personalize their educational experiences. Since introducing these devices to our students and giving them access to a reliable network, we have seen a dramatic increase in student enthusiasm and confidence as teachers communicate with students in real-time, and students are able to work on devices they are comfortable and familiar with.

We believe that embracing digital learning is a critical component of student success in the 21st century. We recommend identifying where your school or district can strengthen its technology. Talk to other school districts who have undergone similar projects to see what worked for them, attend technology conferences to see what new capabilities the market is offering and seek expertise from technology specialists who will work with your IT department to identify the most valuable and cost-effective solution to meet your specific needs.

student working on a Chromebook in the classroom

PHOTOS COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA MONTESSORI PROJECT ( CMP)

Encourage Digital Age teaching

Adopting a tech-assisted curriculum approach has dramatically improved our students’ creativity and classroom engagement. To ensure your school experiences the same success, familiarize faculty and staff with any new devices and services.

Giving your staff time to become comfortable with the tools provides them an opportunity to embrace the technology. Addressing the fact that students’ learning methods are changing will encourage educators to re-evaluate how their teaching strategies can evolve too. Be sure to share with teachers the positive impact these devices can have in a classroom, such as personalized learning and college and career preparedness for students. Developing and executing a plan to empower your staff will ensure they get the most out of the new devices and learning materials that your school has invested in.

Initially, the switch to this new world of technology-assisted curriculum can feel like a heavy and daunting lift, so it’s important for everyone involved to approach this type of IT overhaul with patience. Ensuring your classroom technology meets students’ educational needs, evaluating and addressing challenges in new device adoption, and encouraging digital learning amongst teachers and staff are key steps to success as schools and districts move into the digital age of education.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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