Building a Culture for One-to-One

Those schools that design One-to-One technology plans rightfully spend huge amounts of time and resources in choosing hardware, software, vendors, support and repair, and training. In my previous Blog Post “Building a Community for One-to-One” I shared our school’s, nex+Gen Academy, and my story of working through some of these details. I’d like to share our experience with the actual roll-out and early elements of success. You will see that a strong culture built around core values school wide, along with a purposeful sense of learning community, topped off with ceremony and celebration were all involved in nex+Gen’s story of success.

At the core of developing our school’s One-to-One program was an integration with our wall to wall project and problem based learning model and establishing a strong community of learners built on core values. Through our partnership with the New Tech Network, we found frameworks, tools, and pedagogy for us to build our own unique program. I know that many schools around the country grapple with the idea of loaning, for long periods of time during the day or school year, computer hardware worth from $500 to $1,000 or more. Questions of theft, loss, damage, let alone worries around proper and safe use of the computer on the internet, social media, and chat are very serious issues to be addressed. Our approach to these and other related issues started with a key component of New Tech Schools: each New Tech school maintains a culture that promotes trust, respect, and responsibility. We learned that at New Tech schools, students and teachers alike have exceptional ownership of the learning experience and their school environment. This focus did not just relate to use of computer hardware, but every part of school community. At nex+Gen these core values were tied to our Passport, a students badge of honor and “key” to move freely around areas of the school outside our learning studios alone or with their group members. We designed our school with “cubbies” similar to the ones designed in elementary school classrooms rather than rows of lockers. In fact, we have no doors in our classrooms, what we call learning studios. The core values became the cornerstone of school norms that were co-created by our students and teachers and endorsed school wide for all grades in those first weeks of opening and updated again at the beginning of subsequent years. We believed that by setting high expectations, providing specific scaffolding, activities and workshops on our core values and norms, that we would have an effective culture within our learning community supporting much more than a quality One-to-One model, but an academic environment best suited for developing students for college and career. Please take a moment to see some of what I mean in these two short videos filmed in August 2010 and February 2011 that illustrates these and other important elements of our roll-out.

A key to our successful One-to-One computer program was how we built a strong learning community using our learning management tool customized for New Tech Schools and an effective Google Domain using such tools as Gmail, Word, Presentation, and even Chat. Our teachers had spent dozens of hours that first summer of 2010 with many hours since in refreshing and updating their knowledge and skill set to integrate all of these tools into their projects and problems. They created “Briefcases” online where students had direct access to workshops, pdf’s and other links to readings, scaffolding for project development, tools for planning and organization, and much more. As a result, students became more engaged, involved, and accountable for their place in the learning community. The laptop became an integral part of their interaction in the learning community in many different ways and levels, that it rarely was taken for granted, but rather respected so it could be trusted to be used when needed. nex+Gen Learners became truly responsible for their computer. In fact we we didn’t just check one out to each student as they came into our school. We built that sense of responsibility around a ceremony that included our friends from Dell, Intel, our local vendor TIG, and even our superintendent Winston Brooks took part.

As a result of a purposeful sense of community of learners engaged in school through smart use of their PC in a culture based on core values rather that a list of policies based on do’s and don’ts, nex+Gen has thrived in many ways in our first four years. Yes, we have had high test scores comparable to the highest performing schools in the District. But more than that, we have students developing communication skills and presenting projects to various members of our community on a regular basis. Our students are developing a high level of grit and a growth mindset with our focus on agency as another learning outcome school wide. More over, their smart use of technology has helped develop highly effective collaboration skills and enriched their ability to inquire and analyze within projects and problems. With a properly cared for and ready to use laptop at the ready, all of this and much more has been possible for our students.

Originally published 07/20/14

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