Lancaster Central School District - Technology Innovation
In 2010-11, Lancaster Central School District began its technology journey by granting students permission to use their cell phones in the high school cafeteria. Following a 2012 bond issue that addressed technology infrastructure, the district has become a leader in technology implementation, policy development, and innovative practice. This article outlines Lancaster Central School District's journey over the past eight years, considering not only hardware and software, but also policy development, collaborative leadership, and instructional choices framing technology choices for the district.
In 2010-11, students were given permission to use cell phones at Lancaster High School. The decision was made on a trial basis as a possible solution to the number of discipline referrals created daily by “illegal” cell phone use. It was decided that cell phones would be permitted for personal use in the cafeteria, with students using their own data plans as the District’s technology infrastructure was seriously bereft and outdated.
During this same period, 44 Interwrite boards were purchased for teachers to enhance their instruction. However, while these boards engaged students, they still promoted the concept of instruction being delivered from a central point in the classroom, generally directed by a teacher. However, their potential for expanding the classroom beyond its walls was embraced by a small group of teachers.
In May of 2012, voters in the Lancaster CSD, a suburban school district in Western New York of approximately 5,800 students, approved a $19.5 million Capital Project that addressed deficits in the technology infrastructure of the school district. Wiring and an expanded copper infrastructure provided support for video steaming, the use of YouTube for instruction, and additional bandwidth intensive applications. Wireless network capability began to provide support for wireless applications, including Chromebooks and tablets across the campuses. A Wi-Fi network was opened, giving access to students and staff, as well as visitors. Students began to “Bring their own Devices” (phones and tablets) to class, using them securely for research and assignments. Students could now access the District network, saving untold data minutes from their personal plans. Some classrooms became paperless, with teachers developing curriculum that was supported by Chromebooks and tablets. Opportunities emerged for shifting traditional classroom instruction to paperless classrooms and classrooms without walls.
In 2011-12, options were opened for districts to use textbook money for hardware and software purchases, related to curriculum and the delivery of instruction. Lancaster CSD began to make ample use of these monies specifically to purchase Chromebooks and instructional software. In addition, Smart Schools monies were approved in 2015 for the purchase of Chromebooks. There are currently 5,844 Chromebooks deployed across the District. The District adopted a vision of “full saturation” of Chromebooks and tablets/iPads. Devices are not assigned specifically to students, but are readily available to all classrooms throughout the District each and every day. Currently, each building has developed a management procedure which works for them, insuring effective distribution and maintenance. K-12 students complete assignments and testing on the tablets and Chromebooks, and the District has participated in NYS Computer-Based Testing of 3-8 assessments for the past two years. Students also interface with 285 Interwrite boards and 258 iPads and tablets (used primarily with K-2 students).
While Interwrite Boards continue to be used, the integration of Chromebooks, with each student managing their own device, addresses instruction from a central point in the classroom to student-centered instruction. Teachers stream information to student devices, and students at all grade levels are able to approach instruction from a personal perspective as well as being part of a class. Interwrite boards are still utilized, and a second generation model is currently being piloted, but they are less the center of instruction and more an option for instruction. Across the District, interactive TVs are now being used as an alternative to the Interwrite boards, at reduced expense and maintenance. The added features of mobility encourage more efficient use of the TVs across multiple classrooms.
In July 2013, the District appointed three Technology Mentors, who are teachers on special assignment, to assist teachers and students in the use of technology for instruction. The Tech Mentors support Genius Hour and Makerspaces endeavors and suggest emerging instructional technology, such as z-Space and Technology/STEM Makerspaces. With the assistance of Techsperts, high school students assist teachers in their own building and across the District. In addition to Tech Mentors, a District Technology Committee, comprised of teachers and administrators and moderated by the Tech Mentors, meet throughout the year to share innovative practices and discuss challenges and successes; they provide direction and leadership for technology integration in the District.
The District also engaged a collaborative team of administrators, IT personnel and teacher union representatives to craft an encompassing Acceptable Use Policy after District network restrictions were lifted on internet accessibility. The overarching consideration of the District involved permitting students to have full access to material on the internet, expecting that staff members would be responsible and adhere to elements of good judgment and morality. Since that policy has been adopted in 2015-16 (updated in 2016-17), the trust of the District has been upheld, with teachers appreciative of the availability of material while understanding the responsibility required. In 2016, a comprehensive Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) was crafted to address the responsibilities of students and teachers using personal devices for classroom instruction.
The District has adopted Google Classroom as its platform of choice, with assignments and assessments completed and shared through Google Classroom applications. Documents are shared both in and across districts through Google, and student and staff email is conducted through Google as well.
Assessments, curriculum and teacher/administrative observations are conducted through eDoctrina, an online program that has expanded significantly over the past five years. Lancaster CSD was one of the first districts to engage the services of eDoctrina, tracking students’ assessments and teacher SLOs for accountability. Lancaster regularly requests, and receives, updates and changes in eDoctrina, based on the volume and variability of use across the District. All teacher and administrator evaluations are completed, calculated, and stored in eDoctrina, due in large part to efforts within the District by the Director of Accountability. Currently, the District is piloting an interface between eDoctrina and eSchool, assisting the systems in communication with each other and facilitating the movement of data between the systems.
Lancaster “pilots” projects with regularity, engaging new technology on a small scale to ascertain its effectiveness and appropriateness. One of the current pilots involves the use of Keyboarding Without Tears, a software program that attempts to teach younger children appropriate keyboarding techniques. Our 2nd graders are using the program this year as a center activity, and the software is being received with enthusiasm. It is expected that the District will expand the pilot to include other grade levels, perhaps within the 2017-18 school year.
Another set of pilots involve Project Lead the Way curriculum from Grades 5-12. Project Lead the Way programming has been in place in Lancaster since 2000, one of the first such programs in the state. One of the program’s first purchases was a 3D printer, and instruction was focused in the High School. In the past three years, the program has expanded to Grade 5, with an expanded program in the Middle School which includes robotics and computer programming. The Grade 5 curriculum engages students in STEM and Next Generation Science standards through innovative tasks delivered through iPad technology. The students design and build race cars, collecting and analyzing performance data, in addition to many other projects. There are now three 3D printers in the District which support instruction. During the past year, students in the Middle School worked on projects that involved design and development, including a study of prosthetic devices.
Flipped classrooms are commonplace, with teachers utilizing videos posted on their websites which successfully support effective instruction and review. District administrators monitor the effectiveness of “flipping” through observations, conversations with teachers, and student data. If flipping is not proving conducive to student achievement and success, teachers are given additional training or urged to pursue another modality for instruction.
Teachers in all disciplines are encouraged to expand their understandings of instruction through technology, supported by summer curriculum monies as well as in-service opportunities throughout the school year. Recently, an orchestra teacher began to deliver lessons and scores on iPads, eliminating the need for paper scores for performances. The District’s technology infrastructure effectively supports this data-heavy application. Additionally, chemistry classes became paperless, with all labs and coursework delivered and recorded through the iPads. This application facilitates the use of interactive lab software which students will encounter in future studies in college and beyond.
Currently, the District’s fleet of buses is being outfitted with Wi-Fi technology. Students will be able to access their District files, as well as internet, while travelling from field trips and sport/music competitions. Policies and procedures will be developed around this application, as it was for cell phone usage and Bring Your Own Device.
Technology is fully integrated into the fabric of instruction in Lancaster. This would not have been possible without a consistent effort to involve IT personnel, curriculum personnel, and District administrators in conversations and planning. Regular meetings and the development of relationships among the parties facilitates communication of concerns and innovative ideas across constituencies. This was particularly apparent in the first year that the District field tested Computer-Based Testing for 3-8 assessments. Administrators were eager to try the new format, as it was to be the future of 3-8 testing in 2019. The building administrators worked with IT personnel, the Tech Mentors and District administrators to plan the effective utilization of available Chromebooks as well as consideration of technical requirements for testing. An issue on the first day of testing was readily resolved and students proceeded without interruption, all because of effective communication and planning among the groups.
Through careful and collaborative planning, the engagement of varied stakeholders across the District, and responsible spending, the Lancaster CSD has been able to move student instruction into the 21st century. This year’s incorporation of z-space virtual reality technology opens even more possibilities for student engagement. Teachers, administrators and students will continue to explore new avenues of technology, and we will continue to grow.