Students and staff within Washington Community Schools celebrated National Digital Learning Day Thursday. Started in 2012, the day serves as a venue to highlight teachers embracing the use of technology to create new learning opportunities for students.

Digital learning is defined by the National Digital Learning Day website as “any instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s learning experience”. Washington Community Schools implemented the one-to-one program for students at the junior high school, and added the sixth grade this year. Teachers at other schools have also been integrating technology into their lessons.

Washington Community Schools Assistant Superintendent Kevin Frank said the one-to-one program offered to students in grades six through eighth allows the students to utilize a Chromebook and Google apps to enhance learning.

“Our training for our teachers started during the 2015-2016 school year and has been on-going ever since that time,” said Frank, adding that teachers were asked to use their Twitter accounts to help promote what they were doing. “We were awarded an Indiana Department of Education Digital Learning Grant of $75,000 for this school year that has funded our teacher training as well as provided us with some funds to purchase other technology tools like wireless mini-keyboard for out teachers to use in the classrooms.”

Frank said the best part of the initiative though, is that it’s district-wide.

“It’s truly a district-wide K-12 effort,” he said. “We have had teacher “trainers” participate in training with a technology integration specialist from Five-Star Technology Solutions, and, in turn, these teacher trainers support their peers understanding of how to utilize new technologies in the classroom.”

It’s that collaboration that Frank calls the highlight of the progress.

“While it does have to do with increasing availability of digital tools to all of these students, it also has to do with focusing our instructional strategies that develop 21st century skills in all students,” said Frank adding those skills include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication.

The schools are also integrating digital citizenship ideas into their curriculum to direct students how to use technology in an appropriate way.

Staff at each of the schools were also treated to special t-shirts with a design that features the school vision statement on the back and a one-to-one technology design on the front.

“Our guiding coalition that has helped with the action plan came up with the t-shirt design,” said Washington Junior High Principal Mark Arnold. “The coalition helps us decide where we are going next.”

Arnold said teachers don’t necessarily use the Chromebooks every day in class, and there’s still a lot of traditional learning taking place, but using the devices come with several perks.

“The kids can share and collaborate on projects,” said Arnold. “We can have three kids all at different houses working together on a project. Teachers can give quick quizzes and get instant feedback so they know what kids are understanding and what they need to reteach. There’s also software out there that’s progressive.”

The use of the Chromebooks, at least for junior high science teacher Ray Arvin, means students are also a little more apt to complete their assignments.

“They fight that pencil and paper assignment but there’s something about being able to do it on the computer. They just get it done,” he said adding he’s enjoyed the addition of the devices in his classroom. “And some of these kids are Chromebook veterans. Some of them have been using these for a couple of years now. If you don’t know how to do something, they can show you.”

Angel Zollars, an English teacher at the junior high, said her students have been using the Chromebooks to help prepare for the upcoming ISTEP testing.

“Students have been working on vocabulary ISTEP prep enhanced by their Chromebook technology,” she said. “Every student is very used to working with and manipulating digital files on Google Classroom. Students also have their own Google Classroom page and submit all of their assignments to me electronically.”

While the technology is used in each classroom differently, Arnold said that giving students learning opportunities like this wouldn’t be possible without the support of the school board and the technology department.

“It’s great to have our school board on board with this,” said Arnold. “And our IT department is just incredible. This has been a process but now we can focus on creating even better learning experiences for our students.”

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