The days of raising your hand in school are over. Now, there’s an app for that.
Taking attendance, reading books — it’s all done with a swipe of a finger in Flagler County. And other school districts are taking notice.
Leaders from Flagler schools hosted neighboring districts this week for a learning summit at Flagler Palm Coast High School to discuss the way technology is transforming classrooms. Topics for the meeting ranged from how classroom space should be redesigned, the role of mobile technology, and how to properly equip students with skills necessary to compete in the digital workforce.
Flagler schools were showcased as models to other districts at the summit. Front and center in the Bistro at Flagler Palm Coast were representatives from Hamilton, Duval and Orange counties, among others, ready to take note. With engineers from Apple on hand, iPads were passed out to every person in attendance with a digital book created by the school to showcase the possibilities.
The first topic during the summit was how Flagler is making the digital transformation. Jacob Oliva, assistant superintendent for Flagler, provided the background that started 10 years ago with voters approving a half-cent sales tax. Oliva pointed out that the referendum was supported again in November with approximately 65% of the vote.
"Our community is very supportive of some of the programs and initiatives that we have because it’s apparent in what we’re doing," Oliva said.
Oliva said the support means a lot, given the tough economy. He said the number of students on free or reduced lunch has climbed from about 30% to more than 60% in recent years.
The school district began its digital revolution by first gathering teachers together to get their input. They concluded that, in the 21st century, mobile technology and the use of iPads will pick up where classroom computers fall short. Oliva said that people value customization, and education has been slow to adapt. With everything from hamburgers to automobiles as an example, Oliva thinks education has been crammed into the hours of 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and that model must change.
"We need to look at how can we personalize or customize that learning experience," he added.
With the framework in place, building classrooms around the technology was step two.
Lynette Shott, principal at Flagler Palm Coast, was tasked with carrying out the changes in her school.
"When you start to implement a large distribution of technology, the toughest part is making sure we’re using it in the way we’re wanting it to be used," Shott said.
Shott began her presentation by saying what the technology was not used for. Presentations, taking attendance and convenience are not the focus. The focus for her is making sure the students have technology at their fingertips to be used in classroom discussions.
Teacher Kerri Sands said technology is incorporated in every aspect of learning; many of the classes are completely paperless.
Classes in web development, PC support, and app creation were instituted. The web development class teaches students how to build websites and troubleshoot problems. The school website is administered by students within the class. To provide real world knowledge, businesses within the community have students build their corporate websites, as well.
"It’s not just me telling them what I want on a site anymore or the coaches telling them what they want on a site, it becomes a real life client that isn’t giving them a grade but is kind of their boss," Sands said.
Students in the PC support class learn the hardware making up a computer and how to use networking to connect systems. The students also act as technicians, going around the campus to help teachers with equipment malfunctions and teaching them how to use new technology. The hope is for students to graduate with skills that will give them a leg up in the business world.
After the presentations by Shott and Sands, the meeting then took to the sidewalks to tour the Phoenix Academy on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast. Within the Phoenix Academy, students are provided with laptops and use hands-on activities for learning. The students also have specific course teachers who instruct the students throughout the child’s grade progression, allowing the teacher to know how each student learns, and adapt accordingly. The entire idea for the Phoenix Academy is to have students learn in a 21st-century setting with a focus on using green methods of teaching.
A 21st-century environment is exactly what school officials from nearby districts are moving toward, and Flagler County Public Schools have been a model for change. The key for the area districts may have been summed up perfectly by a quote that was prominently on display by Lewis Carroll: "One can’t believe impossible things." To prepare students for new technology, nothing can be considered impossible.