In a public school district just 40 miles southwest of Dallas, Texas sits 750 students learning on HP mini PCs: this is the scene at the Alvarado Intermediate School (AIS), but it was not always this way. On paper, the Alvarado Independent School District (AISD) does not look like a candidate for one-to-one learning: more than 70 percent of its residents are economically disadvantaged. However, after building a new intermediate school, bond funds became available for technology integration and Kyle Berger saw an opportunity for change.
As executive director of technology services, Berger initially planned to purchase ten laptops for each classroom. He believed this would set the stage for a one-to-one computing program in the future, but his plans quickly changed after testing HP’s mini PC. The affordability, size and power of the mini PCs made it possible for the district to implement a one-to-one computing program sooner than expected.
Funding the program was just the beginning of AIS’s 21st century learning transformation. Berger had a long list of tasks to accomplish before implementing the one-to-one program: everything from preparing the infrastructure, funneling the curriculum and conducting professional development. Another important task on his list was investigating classroom management software. He knew it would be a primary ingredient to the success of their one-to-one program.
“We knew the teachers would have concerns about how they were going to manage student behavior,” said Berger. “So providing them a way to actively manage and control the computers was a natural progression. We needed to lower their inhibitions so they would feel comfortable using the devices.”
In addition to all of the classroom management functionality, Berger had a list of technical requirements. The solution had to work in a wireless environment, use minimal bandwidth and integrate with a student information system.
After testing all of his options, only one solution met all of his technical requirements, and exceeded functionality expectations.
“All of the software we tested failed miserably in our wireless environment except for DyKnow Monitor,” said Berger. “It scaled the way we needed it to and it didn’t eat up bandwidth. Plus it had all of the functionality our teachers would need, and some.”
With hardware and classroom management under control, the next phase was training the teachers. Berger reached out to Julie Holland, the district’s instructional technology coordinator. Together they developed a one-year training plan to acquaint teachers with the new technologies. However, Berger and Holland agreed to do something unique, and perhaps a little risky.
“We decided not to give teachers DyKnow Monitor right away because we wanted them to identify the challenges of managing a digital classroom on their own,” said Berger. “We also didn’t want them to become so reliant on DyKnow Monitor they weren’t using the computers for teaching and learning.”
With each new phase of the program, Berger and Holland surveyed teachers, observed classes and tracked student achievement. They not only used the data to gauge the success of the program, they also used it to determine when to introduce DyKnow Monitor.
“We surveyed the teachers at least once a month to take the pulse of the program,” said Berger. “We asked what their challenges were and reviewed the data to determine how we can help make the program better.”
Survey responses indicated three resounding pain points for teachers:
“We knew [DyKnow Monitor] would alleviate a lot of the teachers concerns and challenges so we showed them the software,” said Holland. “It was really exciting to watch their reactions when we first showed them what they could do with the software: they were very eager to use it in the classroom.”
Intermediate school teachers attended a quick training workshop where they were encouraged to learn the software by mastering one feature at a time. The method worked well because computer usage more than doubled just six weeks after introducing DyKnow Monitor.
“We ended the first semester with about 40 percent of the teachers using the computers regularly,” said Holland. “Just six weeks in to the spring semester we had around 90 percent of our teachers using the computers regularly. DyKnow really removed that barrier many of our teachers were having with the computers.”
Jane Clark, fourth grade science teacher, agrees. Before using DyKnow, her best classroom management method was confiscating computers.
“DyKnow allows me to see what students are doing at all times,” said Clark. “If they stray, I can immediately help them get back to where they belong. Since using the software I have not taken away any computers.”
William Vandygrift, fifth grade math teacher, noticed similar situations before and after using DyKnow Monitor.
“During the first semester when I walked past students’ desks they lowered their screens or exited out of the browser so I knew they were doing something they shouldn’t be,” said Vandygrift. “Now I am able to view their laptops [using DyKnow Monitor] and I can send a message asking them to get back on task.”
The ability to quickly and discretely manage students’ computers also saves precious class time.
“Before we introduced DyKnow Monitor the teachers would literally have to stop the flow of class to get a student back on-task,” said Everett. “Now they can redirect quickly and continue teaching: they don’t have to derail everything just because a few students aren’t paying attention.”
Clark also says the interactive features save time and make class more engaging. She uses the Attention Tool to send motivational messages to one or more students. She also uses the Screen Broadcaster feature to demonstrate teachable moments. On the other hand, Vandygrift uses the Polling tool to gauge how well students grasp a concept. He believes this responsiveness motivates students on a new level.
“I can review the results from a poll and then assist students with their mistakes immediately,” said Vandygrift. “They work much harder and try to get the answer correct knowing their held accountable for the problem.”
However, classroom management is just one element of a larger success story. Berger and Holland have done a number of things to make sure the program continues prospering: everything from evaluating teachers’ challenges to monitoring test scores and retention rates. So far, all of their “success” criterion are lining up. The district witnessed:
These precursory results are exciting milestones for the school; however, receiving exact data on student achievement will take time.
“The test scores and student retention were two big reasons we did this program,” said Everett. “We probably will not have strong data for a couple of years but the results we have seen this far are very compelling.”
Administrators and the community took notice of the positive changes too. At their urging, the school board approved purchasing 525 more laptops in May 2010 for the seventh and eighth grades. All of the computers will be equipped with DyKnow Monitor, and also DyKnow Vision® interactive education software. Berger and Holland both believe the software has been a vital component of the program’s success.
“I can say quite confidently the level of success and growth we experienced would not have been possible without DyKnow Monitor,” said Holland. “It would have continued to grow because we have great teachers, but instead of exponential growth, it would have been linear.”
While exact numbers are not available yet, the decision-makers are quite confident in the program: just look in one of their classrooms.
“The program has dramatically changed how students view learning – we can see that just by observing classes,” said Berger. “There is a distinct difference in focus and engagement in the classrooms where students are using computers. We are not only leveling the field for our students, we are also bridging the gap between the way they live and the way they learn.”