Engaging students at Spartanburg School District 5

Spartanburg School District 5 has expanded learning and fostered enthusiasm by working with Dell to implement student-centred learning

Lindsay James
Lindsay James
By Lindsay James on 09 November 2016
Engaging students at Spartanburg School District 5

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Record.

To help prepare students for the rapidly changing expectations of universities and businesses, Spartanburg School District 5 in South Carolina wanted to adopt a ­student-centred model. It considered various technology options to facilitate this shift, ultimately choosing to issue each student in grades 3-12 with a Windows 10–based laptop.

Amanda Dobson, director of instructional technology at Spartanburg School District 5, says: “Most of the kids use Microsoft PowerPoint and Publisher, and they know Excel – so choosing devices that run Windows 10 would make the transition easier, and it gives us more opportunities to collaborate. Also, kids need to be able to go home in the evenings and do their homework wherever they happen to be. With a Windows 10 device, they can access digital tools and classwork offline. The operating system is also easy for our teachers to use and it’s compatible with the different platforms we already have. For example, our network is already set up for these devices to be added.”

Although the district reviewed offerings from numerous vendors, it found all the services and technologies it sought from Dell. Scott Turner, superintendent of Spartanburg School District 5, says: “We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. Dell Professional Learning Services has helped districts all over the country. It knows what works and what doesn’t.”

For devices, the district chose Dell Latitude 11 laptops running Windows 10. “We wanted a very sturdy device that would hold up to what students do,” says Turner. “Our technology people  liked it, and I’ve also heard nothing but good things about Latitude 11 laptops from other superintendents.”

Rather than just following a boilerplate implementation plan, Dell Services consultants worked with the district to understand its unique requirements and goals. This included meeting with students, teachers, parents and administrators to garner input and share expectations and goals. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood why we were implementing 1:1 in our district,” says Turner. “This wasn’t about changing instruction because it was ineffective. This initiative opens up a whole new world of opportunity in terms of teaching and learning.”

“We learned that we need to do more than just teach our students how to use technology,” says Dobson. “We need to teach our kids how to collaborate, problem solve and manage their time better.”

To partake in the initiative, teachers must sign up for a four-day training session conducted by Dell consultants. Once they have completed the training, they can sign up to participate in a model classroom or request a co-teacher. Model classrooms are held during the school day and facilitated by a Dell consultant. Teachers choose to participate as a student or an instructor of a “trial” lesson. To increase learning outcomes for everyone, the Dell consultant talks with the instructor beforehand to understand the lesson’s objectives. After the lesson, the instructor talks about what went well and what could be improved. The Dell consultant and class participants also provide feedback.

As part of the district’s implementation plan from Dell Services, teachers are assigned a ‘tech buddy’ – someone who can provide quick answers and personalised training. Dobson explains: “A tech buddy can go into a classroom, help plan a lesson with a teacher, co-teach it, and then sit down and talk about it.”

By engaging Dell for Professional Learning Services and technology, Spartanburg School District 5 quickly made the paradigm shift to student-centred learning. “Our classrooms are truly changing because of the support our teachers receive from Dell Professional Learning,” says McCants. “When I walk into a classroom today, I see children presenting but also teaching teachers. I love the fact that teachers are now acting as facilitators and not just lecturers. That’s really transformed how our students see learning. They’re enjoying it more.”

By using different digital tools, teachers can personalise lessons because they have more insight into students’ learning requirements and individual interests. Kristy Fulbright, teacher at Beech Springs Intermediate School, says: “Today, 100% of my students are engaged in lessons most of the time; before, maybe 80% of the class would be engaged. Even the shy students who are not prone to participate are now active in group assignments that use web-based tools for collaboration. And because I also receive a lot more data now about students’ progress, I can differentiate instruction. This includes backing up to help those kids who need more of a foundation before they can move forward.”

Collaborative projects not only help students learn skills that business leaders want to see more of, but they also increase engagement. Dobson explains one of her favourite stories from the year involved an absent student who still wanted to participate in the discussion about a project she worked on. “When I walked into the class, she was Skyped in because she wanted to make sure she could give examples of her work and be a part of her group. That’s an outcome you cannot measure. It’s hard to explain the excitement that children have when they’re in charge of something and they have some responsibility. So they’re no longer just turning in work to a teacher. When they work in a group, they depend on each other, and that’s a really big deal at this age.”

The district will continue to roll out its ­student-centred teaching initiative with the help of Dell Professional Services. “It’s really exciting to see our teachers get excited about student-centred learning,” says Turner. “I’m hoping that this level of excitement catches on and reinvigorates teaching and learning processes for all our people.”

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