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District : Goochland County Public Schools

State : Virginia

Level : P-12

District Enrollment : 1,001-10,000 students

Community Type : Rural

Related Tags : 1:1 Initiative, personalized learning

A Bold Vision for Instruction Should Ignite the Move to 1:1

Goochland County Public Schools is a small, rural public school division in Virginia with around 2,400 students across 5 schools.They are positioned along the James River midway between Charlottesville to the west and Richmond to the east. Over the past two years significant investments have been made into career and technical education programming and they have become a state leader in the area of balanced assessment strategies.

The Challenge

Goochland County leaders wanted to see improvements to teaching and learning and to see real benefits from their investment in technology.

The Solution

The deliberate creation of a bold vision for one-to-one computing in schools is a critically important step in investing in, starting, and sustaining a new one-to-one initiative. Goochland County Public Schools recently created a new strategic plan under the leadership of a new superintendent and school board. In their district, one-to-one computing supports a revision of a previous instructional program focused on going beyond standards and both individualizing and personalizing instruction for students. After several years of being a top-performing district based on Virginia Standards of Learning assessments, they turned to a new mission of maximizing the potential of every learner. Foundational to this mission was the belief that all employees could and should be considered learners, just like students.

Their one-to-one initiative began in the 2013-14 school year as a pilot program in one elementary school in grades 3-5 with tablets and was deeply rooted in their district’s first strategic goal: “to maximize each student’s academic potential through engaging experiences and deeper learning, preparing our students for the challenges of learning and working in the modern global economy.” Having just completed the second year now, the program expanded to grades 5-6 district wide, while maintaining the program at the pilot school in grades 3-5. For the 2015-16 school year, the program will expand again to grades 4-7. The eventual goal is to support all students in grades 3-12 by 2017.

Any research into a one-to-one computing paradigm will reveal some early innovators who helped pave the way, including Alan Kay and Seymour Papert. Kay was the technical genius working at Xerox PARC who envisioned a small, single-screen dominated mobile computer he called the “Dynabook” that might someday be used by students for learning. As the co-creator of the Logo programming language, Papert envisioned computers as radical change agents in facilitating the development of thinking skills and an important contribution to helping humans to “construct knowledge.” His own learning theory constructionism was based upon the constructivist theories of Jean Piaget. Papert’s ideas about learning continue to be explored in innovative ways today through fabrication labs and makerspaces in schools. As reflective learners, district leaders agree that they learn more deeply about concepts by making and building. These ideas have more recently been expanded by thinkers such as John Seely Brown to include play as a more accurate model for how individuals learn.

For Goochland County’s teachers, it was communicated multiple times the rationale or “why” for the one-to-one program, deeper learning. As articulated by the Hewlett Foundation, they wanted students to have an authentic engagement with their learning that could take root through inquiry, be organized through project- or problem-based approaches, and be personalized in such a way to go beyond the Virginia Standards of Learning. Articulated locally as “projects, personalization, and play,” teachers were asked to reconsider their role as teachers to include risk taking. The biggest risk was stepping back and becoming a facilitator of student learning, all the while integrating new tools to empower learners as problem-solvers and risk takers themselves.

While each of their one-to-one teachers is at a different place with skills and comfort with the deeper learning approach, the vision behind the program drives each teacher’s individual growth towards providing a deeper learning experience for students. Future opportunities for teacher training and growth will develop around making and playing as a regular part of learning.

The project-based approach to learning often allows teachers to combine standards from different disciplines into the learning experience. Their teachers have used common planning and meeting time to find opportunities to collaborate to create project-based experiences; often the technology coaches participate to help support these initiatives. Weekly grade level meetings are another way to provide informal, but effective professional development.

The superintendent’s own vision for the program placed the ultimate responsibility for success on the building principal, the instructional leader in the eyes of teachers, parents, and students. Principals each play a significant role in forming and living the strategic plan. They too share in the vision for deeper learning and they know why it is critical for realizing our division’s mission of “maximizing the potential of every learner.” The first thing discussed with parents at a deployment night is the vision around deeper learning as the purpose behind giving each student a device and asking them to take it home. With that message came a warning that teaching and learning would begin to look different, and all screen time would not necessarily be good. In a video placed on each tablet for parents, the superintendent reminded parents they still have authority to monitor tablet use at home and limit when it could be used.

Their research into one-to-one programs revealed that early adopters of laptops in schools came to believe quickly in the power of an instructional vision behind ubiquitous computing. Beyond guiding device use in classrooms, a clearly articulated vision could help sell the purchase and adoption with community stakeholders. Districts today have a number of different, yet still legitimate reasons for exploring and implementing one-to-one initiatives. This experience has encouraged them to look beyond digital conversion, and instead to put into practice a bold instructional vision that is strategically aligned with the division’s comprehensive vision and mission towards helping students and staff to change the world.

The result so far has shown that their choice of tablets in the hands of students in grades 3-6 have helped maintain high performance with test scores, but at the same time work towards an increase in student engagement levels and reliance upon project-based approaches to learning in classrooms.

Additional Resources

From Goochland County Public Schools:

From the U.S. Department of Education:

District Point of Contact

John Hendron
Ed.D., Director of Innovation & Strategy
Goochland County Public Schools