Tag Archives: Technology-Rich Learning

Award Season

Monday, October 17, 2016

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Recently I shared news that Rich and Deb had been honored with the Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award from the UVM Foundation. It was a wonderful honor, and a great opportunity for me to reflect on the many things accomplished through the Tarrants’ generosity to our communities.

Rich would be the first to tell you that we can’t do any of this on our own. Our work is only as good as the many incredible people out there who turn our investments into action at the community level.

Top of that list in our minds is Dr. Penny Bishop, Associate Dean and Professor in UVM’s College of Education and Social Services, and Director of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at UVM. For the past decade, Penny has contributed outstanding leadership, vision, wisdom, and hard work to manage our investments in middle-level education throughout the state. Her partnership has turned that investment into something far more meaningful and far more effective than could ever have been achieved without her.

But don’t take our word for it.

amle-penny-award

Last week at the Association of Middle Level Education’s (AMLE) national conference in Austin, Penny received the John H. Lounsbury Award for Distinguished Achievement. This prestigious award is the association’s highest honor, given only in those years when a sufficiently meritorious candidate emerges.

It was a great pleasure to see Penny honored for her many important contributions to the field of middle level education, and for the groundbreaking work she undertakes here in Vermont. Our board and staff are incredibly lucky to benefit from her leadership of the Tarrant Institute, and from her friendship as well.

Congratulations, Penny! You earned it.

amle-student

Penny’s award wasn’t the only highlight of this year’s AMLE conference. Members of the Tarrant Institute team made a record 14 presentations at AMLE, featuring stories, strategies, and research from their many partnerships with Vermont educators. Attendees even got to visit directly with some Vermont students (above) to learn about how personalization through technology is working for them!

For more information on the AMLE sessions or about the Tarrant Institute, check out their blog here.

                                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has served as Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

An Innovative Partnership

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.  This post originally appeared on the blog of the Council on Foundations, a national philanthropic affiliate organization in Arlington, VA.

Ten years ago this month I waddled – enormously pregnant – into a job interview with the founder of a billion dollar healthcare tech company. “I have this crazy idea about education,” he said.

Technology, he hypothesized, could make learning more interesting for students. He saw it as a platform enabling kids to learn at their own pace, pursuing courses of study according to their own curiosity. This style of self-driven, high-tech learning, he thought, would keep kids engaged, and graduate them with skills necessary in our evolving economy.

He planned to explore the idea through his foundation. “What do you think?” he asked. I thought a lot.

In my experience, philanthropy and public education had not made the most successful of bedfellows. The work is notoriously hard, and structures and nuance on both sides can hinder effective partnerships.

Even promising strategies contribute to “initiative fatigue” in schools, the result of constant new mandates, tools, and big ideas. An Education Weekly commentator recently observed of the term, “I hear it everywhere I go.

Compounding that weariness is an understandable frustration among some educators that their work is disproportionately subjected to the opinions, advice, and occasional interference of outsiders. Teacher and writer Trent Kays declares,

Politicians, business magnates and venture capitalists have become the educational experts now.

Some of Kays’ generalizations are unfair, but his tone strikes me. He’s speaking out for those who are in the education system every day and have made it – and its evolution – their life’s work. He continues:

Perhaps most frustrating is that there are dedicated educators and researchers who are actively trying to change and improve education. But, their voices become minimized because they’re not millionaires, billionaires or have started a company in Silicon Valley.

Ten years and $12 million into our foundation’s journey in education, we’ve attempted to draw strength both from our board’s entrepreneurial experience and from within the education community. We’re not alone in that attempt – many of those Kays criticizes have done the same, engaging scores of experienced educators to ensure respect for school cultures, professionals and daily realities as they seek to influence systems change.

For us, though, how we’ve done it is unquestionably key to our success.

In 2009, we established the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. There, an independent team of researchers and educators is now on track to partner with half the middle schools in Vermont, supporting technology-rich learning and innovative school cultures.

I disagree with Kays’ argument that educator voices are subjugated to those of wealthy philanthropists. It’s been useful for us to consider, though, how the establishment of an independent entity grounded in the education community itself supports our goal of authentic, effective, peer-driven innovation.

And what have we achieved? A longitudinal study is now underway, but discreet pilot results are compelling. Researchers observed a 21.2% decrease in male absenteeism after just one year. Students, teachers and parents have further reported improved engagement, participation, behavior, and core academic outcomes – all harbingers of later academic and earnings success.

To put a finer point on it, my venture capitalist boss declares simply: “it’s a home run.”

                                                                                                                                   

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

 

Momentum Moment

Monday, April 6, 2015

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.

Foundations work a bunch of different levers tackling the sets of challenges that constitute our agendas.  Most obvious is the money lever, as in aggregate we grant some $50 billion each year throughout the United States.  Makes a lever long enough to move some awfully weighty issues, if not quite the world.

Our most successful work, though, comes when we add other resources to the mix: our experience, creativity, sweat equity, leadership, relationships and voice.  Rich calls these “force multipliers” – the things that can stretch the value of our invested dollars and increase our impact.

Last week yielded a bit of a force multiplication opportunity.  We were invited to the Statehouse to describe what we see as a time of great innovation in many Vermont schools, and our role in contributing to the broader positive momentum now building throughout Vermont’s education system.

Find below a reprint of testimony given to the Senate Education Committee during a few precious hours of spring sunshine.

 

Investing in the Future of Education

Prepared for the Senate Education Committee

Lauren A. Curry, Executive Director

Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation

April 3, 2015

 

Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee this afternoon.  I will keep my comments brief so we can all get out to enjoy Vermont’s fine spring weather.

My name is Lauren Curry and I am the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation.  We are seldom participants at the Statehouse, and though I have previously addressed your colleagues in the House, this is my first appearance before the Senate Education Committee.

Over the last decade, the Tarrant Foundation has been one of Vermont’s most active philanthropic agents.  Our corpus is comparatively small, but we spend aggressively – investing roughly three times the resources in Vermont communities each year as a typical foundation our size.

Our largest single investment is in Vermont’s education system.  Since 2005 we have funded an independent team of researchers and educators at the University of Vermont to partner with teachers and school leaders around the State.  Their object is to help schools provide learning opportunities that better fit who Vermont’s students are, how they learn, and the world in which they live.  

The technical description of the team’s approach is embedded, sustained leadership support and professional development to increase student engagement through learning that is student-centered and technology-rich.  Said more plainly, we believe in engaging today’s youth, with today’s tools, for tomorrow’s jobs and society.  

The Tarrant Foundation is compelled in our investment by a clear need to better serve today’s youth.  In other areas of our grantmaking we see the impact of a stubborn achievement gap, and of comparatively low rates of post-secondary education and training.  

We are more troubled still by the disproportionate share of these burdens borne by young Vermonters who are economically, traditionally, or geographically disadvantaged.  We join Secretary Holcombe in her urging about those who fare statistically worst in our system, as she recently declared:

… one of our highest priorities as a state needs to be improving the learning of our boys who are growing up in poverty.

Equal to these needs, we believe, are the opportunity and strength found in Vermont schools.  Our education system is among the highest performing in the country – and by some measures the world.  We enjoy strong leadership, involved communities, and legislative tools like Act 77 that can facilitate crucial innovation.  Committed partners including the Tarrant Foundation, the J. Warren and Lois McClure Foundation, and the Permanent Fund for Vermont’s Children help further strengthen that system and its outcomes.

UVM’s Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education has now partnered with more than a dozen schools in five counties, reaching over 5,000 students and their teachers.  The Tarrant Foundation’s recent new investment in the Institute will enable it to dramatically expand its work, now on course to involve at least half the middle schools in Vermont in the coming years.

The Tarrant Foundation’s continued investment in the Institute and in Vermont schools – already more than $12M – is fueled by several factors:

1.     Early research indicators.  A longitudinal study is now underway, but discreet results from the Tarrant Institute’s pilot sites are compelling.  In one school, the Institute observed a 21.2% decrease in male student absenteeism after just one year.  More meaningful still, reduced absentee rates for boys and girls persisted through high school – long past the active phase of their program.

Students, teachers and parents further reported improved student engagement, participation, behavior, and core academic outcomes – all harbingers of increased academic and earnings success later in life.

2.     The courage and commitment demonstrated by Vermont’s educators.  This is intensive and transformative work, requiring teachers and school leaders to establish clear goals and new infrastructure that develop schools as innovative organizations, reflecting in our schools the same agility and dynamism demanded of organizations beyond their walls.

Every day, school leaders are guiding their teams and communities through new conversations, teachers are leaving behind established habits and curriculum, and students are encouraged to take up new responsibility as leaders in their own education.

A teacher at one of our partner schools described what he observes, saying:

I think it’s getting easier to keep [students] excited about things because we’re not teaching them to use the tool anymore. They already know how to use the tool better than any of the adults or teachers could show them. So we can refocus on the content, and the information we want to get across to the students … This year I’ve really seen them go farther than I could imagine.  (Joe Speers, Peoples Academy Middle Level)

This is just one of countless comments we’ve heard from educators, students, and parents capturing the impact, vulnerability and great potential of this evolutionary journey.

3.     A clear moment of opportunity.  Conversations that ten years ago started with “if” – if technology should play more of a role in education, if employers would be asking for new skills in our workforce, and if schools could make fundamental changes to how they deliver learning – are now focused wholly on “how”.  How teachers can get the time and support they need to innovate, how to ensure learners have access to relevant tools, and how schools can use new technology to create efficiencies and increase learning opportunities for all students.

More than 40 schools reached out to the Tarrant Institute this year to pursue what most acknowledge as the most intensive and challenging school change they have ever undertaken.  The Institute sees this – and their daily experience in classrooms – as evidence of an incredibly and productively dynamic moment in Vermont’s education history.  As a Foundation, we see it as evidence of an investment in change that’s working – an indication that schools, teachers, families and communities are ready, able and excited to move forward.  

Next week the Tarrant Foundation will join the McClure Foundation and the Vermont Community Foundation as hosts to 45 funders from around Vermont and New England.  We will gather for a day to listen to experts in the education community speak about goals, pressures, tools and opportunities they perceive in Vermont’s system.  

As co-convenors of that meeting, the Tarrant Foundation believes greater shared understanding of education in Vermont will give important context to arguably all philanthropic activity in the state, regardless of field of interest.  We more specifically hope this will serve as an opportunity for funders to consider new ways to support Vermont learners and schools.

I think each of us here today could point to numerous examples showing that people all over Vermont – in word and deed – are aligning themselves with the notion of change: change to increase opportunity in education, change to create greater equity, and change to ensure the sustainability of our system – and our communities.  

I’m proud of the Tarrant Foundation’s role in fueling that momentum.  I’m also grateful to those who work in Vermont’s education system – and who are charged to support it – as you work carefully and with courage to ensure the greatest possible future for every Vermont child.

Thank you.

                                                                                                                                                 

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

A Great Day

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry

Most days in this job are pretty great. Today was extra great.

This morning I watched as Rich and Deb Tarrant announced a second $5 million investment in Vermont kids. The funds will go to the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont to support up to 60 new partnerships with middle schools statewide over the next five years. The Institute works with schools and teachers to create learning that is technology-rich, personalized, relevant and – most of all – engaging for today’s youth.

As a professional, that’s a pretty exciting moment. It’s as a parent, though, that I find myself most grateful for this extraordinary investment.

More than 9 years ago I sat down for a conversation with Rich and Deb Tarrant. I was meeting them for the first time, and was interviewing for a position with their new foundation. I was also 8 ½ months pregnant with my first child.

Rich asked me during that conversation what I thought of an idea he had to use technology to modernize education and improve learning opportunities for kids. Our discussion was exciting and, while I confess to focusing a bit much on the challenges involved, Rich’s passion and determination were compelling.

Not long after, I had a job offer … and a baby. And the Foundation had a new partner: Dr. Penny Bishop and her remarkable team at UVM’s College of Education and Social Services.

In 2006, after a long hot summer spent huddled around desks with a gifted group of teachers from Milton Middle School, we piloted our first student cohort. In 2009, with both Edmunds and Manchester Middle Schools on board, we formally launched the Tarrant Institute.

The Foundation’s gift to create the Institute was the largest in our history – by a lot. It marked a major turning point for us as an organization. Today marks an even bigger one. Rich told the audience gathered at the press conference this morning that we are “doubling down”, investing a further $5 million in a strategy that works.

Which brings me back to my perspective as a parent.

That beautiful baby boy born those many summers ago is now a 4th grader. He is smart, creative, and sometimes a handful in class. He thrives on technology. He is one of many kids who I think would chafe in a traditional middle level classroom. And he – along with every kid – deserves to learn in a setting that values his individuality, challenges his intellect, puts relevant tools in his hands, and positions him for success in his life ahead.

I am grateful that my son’s school and so many other middle schools in Vermont now have the opportunity to draw on the expertise, resources, and supportive partnership of the Tarrant Institute. Thank you Rich and Deb.  Thank you Penny.  Thank you to all of the wonderful, committed educators who bring this work to life.  As Rich said, “writing the check is the easy part … without these people we would be nowhere.”

You can listen to the complete press conference here, including remarks from a remarkable young 7th grader at People’s Academy in Morrisville. Educators can learn more about partnership with the Tarrant Institute at joinus.tarrantinstitute.org.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Ben’s Story

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.

Last Thanksgiving I struck up a conversation with a young man at a neighbor’s cocktail party. I had met him a few times over the summer while he worked taking care of the neighbors’ kids. I knew him as personable and funny, with a seemingly endless well of patience when it came to managing the munchkins (mine included).

I asked Ben how college was going, and he was eager to tell me about his classes and how he’d been selected to participate in a highly competitive study abroad program next year. It was easy to see that he is both enjoying and excelling in the college environment.

“Where did you grow up, Ben?” I asked. “Milton,” he replied, prompting my immediate next question: “when?”

It turns out Ben was a student at Milton Junior High School (now Milton Middle School) at the same time the Tarrant Foundation was piloting our very first technology integration program there. Ben wasn’t part of the main cohort of students involved, but a couple of his classes were in the pilot. In those classes, he’d gotten to experience first-hand what, at the time, was considered a risky new strategy.

While platters of tasty hors d’oeuvres circled the room, I got to listen to Ben talk about what a difference it had made for him and his peers to have access to technology throughout their learning day. He described feeling lucky, because technology made school more interesting for him. He used words like freedom and flexibility and creativity. And he talked about using the skills and thought processes developed back then in doing his college coursework now.

My kingdom for a tape recorder!

Er, digital recorder … but you get my point. The most powerful advocates for any intervention are those who experience it. While I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with scores of kids about their experiences at our partner schools as they go through them, this was the first time I ever spoke to a student after the fact—to someone who was looking back on how our work did (or didn’t) affect his path forward in life. It was powerful testimony.

One of our board members suggested we reach out to Ben and see if we could capture his story on video. Happily for us, he was excited by the prospect. And so on a snowy, gray day during his winter break, we met at RetroMotion Media and Ben told his story again, this time to cameras and a boom mic. You can watch it here.

When I watched Ben in the studio—and as I watch this video now—I think about that tiny first cohort of kids. I think, too, about the many that have followed in its footsteps. There’s no doubt that the scale of our impact and outreach now would have been difficult to imagine then. Hundreds of Vermont teachers draw on the Tarrant Institute for professional development, support and encouragement as they move forward in tech-integrated learning environments. Thousands of their students experience learning that is more personalized, more relevant, and more successful as a result.

For me, though, the moral of Ben’s story is that even if we had never gotten beyond our pilot phase … even if we had never touched more than that very first handful of kids, it still would have been worth it. It would have been worth every penny.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Misfire

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Contributed by Lauren A. Curry.

In a recent blog piece, Shifting, I was excited to talk about schools and districts around the country that have chosen to move past traditional textbooks by embracing new technologies.  Instead of outdated, dog-eared, back-bending tomes, students in these districts now have efficient access to current information in dynamic formats – all in a 1 lb. package.

The incentive to write the piece, though, wasn’t just the opportunities offered by the tools themselves.  Rather it was the scale at which these tools are now being deployed.  Specifically of note was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s passage of a $1 billion bond to support technology integration in all of its schools beginning this fall.  660,000 students would benefit from this massive investment.  Exciting stuff.

Or at least that was the hope.

News hit Twitter in early October that the LA technology rollout didn’t go so well.  Problems snowballed and the district made the dramatic decision to recall the devices provided to students just weeks prior.  Effective immediately

District officials cited numerous reasons for the recall, all of which boil down to failed deployment.  It happened too fast, with too little engagement of teachers, students and families, lack of attention to effective policies, inadequate professional development, and a host of other issues.  You can read more about them in Stephanie Banchero and Erica E. Phillips’ recent Wall Street Journal piece, “Schools Learn Tablets Limits”.

While it’s awfully tempting to write a blog piece about what went wrong in LA and who is responsible – because let’s face it, a failure of this magnitude has repercussions for all of us working on technology integration nationwide – it’s the WSJ story with which I’m actually going to take issue.  Failed technology integration is bad, but I think failure to tell the story right is worse.

The Banchero/Phillips piece uses the LA story as a hook for an article about the controversy surrounding tech integration efforts.  It cites conflicting research, categorizes those involved in the conversation as “skeptics” and “advocates”, and profiles districts that have struggled to negotiate the fraught transition to a 1:1 device environment.  While some experts are quoted as emphasizing the potential of technology to create learning opportunities that best fit students’ needs, the balance of the piece tips heavily toward the obstacles.  And no wonder, with the LA story in the mix.

The problem in this framing, though, is that it lumps too much into one pot.  It tries to debate the question of whether technology integration improves learning, while referencing examples where – it must be argued – technology integration never really took place.

Making hardware available in schools is only one of many, many complicated steps in the technology integration process.  If the hardware arrives before these other needs are attended to (as evidently was the case in LA), its potential to positively impact student learning is greatly reduced.  Even worse, resulting frustrations, confusion, and course-corrections damage morale and cost essential learning time and resources.

The LA Unified School District experience isn’t evidence against the effectiveness of technology integration.  It’s evidence of a district that failed to actually achieve technology integration.

The Maine Learning Technology Initiative, one of the country’s oldest ubiquitous technology integration initiatives, sought to develop and attend to what are now widely accepted standards of what constitutes effective technology integration.  Their 2011 report is filled with compelling evidence demonstrating that – when the standards of effective integration are met – both students and teachers benefit.

Here in Vermont, where the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education works with educators throughout the state to support effective technology integration, results are similarly positive.  Students saw improved semester grades in English, science and social studies.  Boys experienced a 21% decrease in absentee days (a key measure of engagement) after just one year of technology integration, and students involved in a middle-school-level program had a lower high school drop-out rate than their peers statewide.  Put more simply, it works. 

One would likely be hard-pressed to find a school that would say technology integration is easy.  Pressures of time, financial resources, mandated testing, and parallel initiatives to name a few can imperil the shift before it even begins.  Some schools, though, are deftly managing these challenges.  And their students are thriving.

The fact is that a billion dollars was easier to come by in LA than the leadership, time, flexibility, and learning needed to ensure the returns on such an investment could be realized.  That’s both bad and worth writing about.  Let’s not confuse a discussion, though, about the challenges of managing effective technology integration, with one about whether it works.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Kicking Off

Monday, September 30, 2013

Contributed by Deborah L. Tarrant

The Tarrant Institute at the University of Vermont and Mater Christi School are embarking on an exciting journey.  The kick-off for this endeavor was held in the Mater Christi library, and two things struck me as Rich and I were participating in this event.  First, the excitement in the room was palpable, and second, as much as I love books, traditional school libraries now feel like a setting from another era.

The teachers at Mater Christi School in the middle grades will soon begin professional development through the Tarrant Institute.  Through the Institute, they’ll learn new methods of teaching that involve one-to-one technology for the students and a completely different set of parameters for the teachers themselves.  The days of having an instructor lecturing from the front of the room hour after hour, while students sit passively absorbing information are a thing of the past.  Mater Christi is modeling a new paradigm for middle school students that involves interactive learning between students and teachers and also between students and their peers.  Students will gather information from multiple sources (available on their electronic devices) and apply the information they glean to relevant situations and assignments in creative ways (animation, pod casts, videos, and skills I’m not even aware of) to showcase their proficiency with both the information and the tools at their disposal.

Along with the excitement in the room at this kick-off, where the Mater Christi participants included the Principal, the Assistant Principal, the IT Specialist, and several teachers, there was also a nervous energy.  This is a big undertaking when you consider that parents and teachers will be ceding, to a degree, their role as the ultimate purveyors of knowledge. Young people have innate expertise with technology that often surpasses that of adults.  But in a way, that’s the point.  There’s a whole new world out there in terms of information and the way it gets accessed.  Portable electronic devices offer students their own personal libraries wherever they go.  It only makes sense to incorporate these devices into their learning experience.

The Tarrant Institute has had tremendous success to date with their middle school partners, and the parents of these middle-school students often share their thoughts with us.  Across the board, the kids are more engaged with their school assignments and look forward to being in the classroom situation.  Anecdotally, I’d like to share a message we received recently.  The father of a sixth-grader at Peoples Academy Middle Level in Morrisville wrote:

“This year, the 6th graders received iPads, and I just wanted you to know how incredibly excited the kids are and how jazzed they are to use the technology in their education environment. ……  On Sunday, we had a family meeting to discuss what was working well for the family and what wasn’t.  My son says ‘let me set up an online survey so that we can collect the data in digital form.’  He set it up and sent it to my wife and I at our email accounts.  Pretty cool stuff.”

Pretty cool stuff indeed!

                                                                                                                                                                

Deborah L. Tarrant is the Vice President of the Tarrant Foundation.  She serves as board liaison for the Foundation’s new Catholic Schools Initiative, which will invest $850,000 to support technology integration in area Catholic schools over the next four years.

Shifting

Friday, April 5, 2013

The surge of technology integration in our country’s schools continues.

In March, the Los Angeles Unified School district announced it would invest $50M initially, and likely $500M over the next few years, to provide 1:1 technology devices to each of its 660,000 students.  Companies like Apple, HP and others are expected to bid on parts of this massive contract – competing to provide the very best in education technology at a price point that schools can afford.

This latest broad-scale, ubiquitous technology integration comes in the wake of many others.  Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative began providing Apple laptops to all of the state’s middle school students – and now high school students as well – more than a decade ago.  Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and others followed suit with large-scale programs involving multiple districts, schools and grade levels in their K-12 systems.

The LA announcement, though, signals a major domino in the progression of school-based technology integration.  It’s the second largest district in the country, with more than six times the total number of public school students and educators in the entire state of Vermont.

The New York City School District is even larger.  Nearly twice as large, in fact, and it too is taking important steps.  The Associated Press reports in its article “Schools Shift from Textbooks to Tablets” that the District is considering doing away with the $100M it sinks annually into paper textbooks for students to lug around, and instead investing those funds in tablets.  Even in a district with 1.1 million students, that kind of money could purchase a new tablet for every single learner every two years.

And of course those tablets can do so much more than a traditional textbook ever could.  They can fit all of a student’s books into a single, thin package at a fraction of the weight.  They can be constantly updated with the most current information and thinking.  They can do double-duty enabling learners to engage electronically in class discussion or take on-the-fly assessments testing for reading comprehension.

In other words, the tablet can fit — and grow with — the learner.

How big of a shift is this really?  For the young people who are using these tablets, laptops and other devices, it isn’t one.  “Students, unlike some of their parents, aren’t blinking,” the AP article observes.  The real shift for them is being asked to leave behind their technology-enabled world and make the backward leap to a clunky, outdated textbook.

It’s imperative that districts, schools, parents, students, foundations like ours, businesspeople, and community members do everything we can to support the transition to digital tools for our learners.  We’re chipping away at the digital learning divide here in Vermont as elsewhere around the country, but we still have a very long way to go.

At some point, technology integration in school can no longer be thought of as “an initiative” or “a program”.  It needs to be thought of simply as the way we do business.

And lest we think it takes a massive budget or outside funding to make this work, we should look at places like Coachella Valley Unified School District in California, where some of the very poorest schools in the nation rolled out 20,000 iPads for students this year.

The time for widespread, effective technology-supported learning is now.  It is who our students are, how they want to learn, and the world in which they live.  Onward.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the Executive Director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.

Techonomics?

Friday, March 22, 2013

Earlier this year I was sitting in on an economics class at an innovative high school in the Bronx.  Students were working with their teacher to define core concepts in a capitalist system.  Private property, economic justice, profit motive and … competition.

“What’s an example of competition that we’ve seen here in the neighborhood,” the teacher asked.

After some guessing the chorus went up.  “The bodegas!”

Turns out a few years ago a price war erupted among local bodegas.  Not over how much they were charging for a PowerAde or a bag of chips.  This was a price war about phones.

When the school banned the possession of cell phones on campus, the surrounding bodegas started charging students $.50 a day to stash their phones.  Competition eventually drove the price down to $.25, which is what kids pay today for the privilege of not bringing their phones to school.

The bodegas score points here for innovative business practice, and the teacher for latching onto an economics lesson that is so personally relevant to her students.  It’s the students though who are losing.  And much more than $.25 a day.  They’re losing access to a powerful, free (to the school anyway), and engaging learning tool.

Don’t get me wrong.  There are legitimate, important reasons to be cautious about integrating phones in schools.  I can’t begin to imagine the challenge that building leaders and educators face trying to design a set of rules that will keep students safe and on-task.  Phones can be distracting.  Worse, they can be damaging or even deadly if turned into cyber-bullying weapons.

Many schools have taken up these challenges, though, and are – on large and small scale – finding ways to support kids using their phones to learn, collaborate, document and share.

Take this economics class.  For kids facing a steep uphill climb to an affordable postsecondary education, learning how to use a phone-based personal finance tool – one that builds from a student’s actual earnings, spending, savings and goals – could be life changing [Econ Ed Live!, Mint Personal Finance].  There’s also free access to stock trading and simulation games [Stock Wars, iTrade, Tap Tap Trader], study aid and flashcard apps [Flashcards+, gFLASH+, Economics AP Free], business simulation games [Coffee Shop, Lemonade Stand, Rags to Riches], and grade-level-appropriate economics quiz games – including ones that will test your ability to define competition [Financial Football, Economics Review, Economics Study Aid and Quiz].

When drawn into other subject areas, students can tweet or backchannel into class discussions ensuring that all voices are active and heard, capture images from a compound microscope to illustrate study notes or a lab report, or … my husband’s personal favorite … take video of a spectacular explosion in chemistry class to enjoy with students (ahem, I mean analyze) over, and over, and over again.

I don’t ever check my phone at the door in the course of my working day.  I use it – as I do all of the technology to which I have access – to facilitate my productivity, my curiosity, my professional collaboration, and my progress.

Schools across the country are turning over every funding stone they can find to help give learners more access to technology in the course of their school day.  I think it’s up to us to figure out how to make better use of the technology that’s already in their hands.

I’ll keep my $.25 cents, thanks.  And my phone.

                                                                                                                                               

Lauren A. Curry has been the executive director of the Richard E. and Deborah L. Tarrant Foundation since 2005.