Technology and Learning in Clark County School District
You know you’re witnessing learning in action when you see children clamoring to answer a math question, hardly able to stay in their seats with hands stretched to the sky. For those who are often removed from the classroom, analyzing data, processing paperwork in human resources or working in national advocacy, it is always refreshing to be in the presence of educators and their students. Two weeks ago, I participated in a National School Boards Association Technology Leadership Network site visit to Clark County. More than 300, 000 students are enrolled in the Clark County School District (CCSD) in Nevada, the nation’s 5th largest district. The district has 37,361 employees on payroll, making it the state’s largest employer.
In 1998, Clark County voters approved a bond measure that was to generate $4.9 billion over the following decade. In total, they built 101 new schools. The district, under new leadership, remains committed that every child is “ready by exit”. Clark County is an entirely wireless district, a considerable accomplishment for its size, and the district incorporates technology as part of its commitment to preparing students for the 21st century. During my two days in Nevada, I was fortunate enough to visit several schools where technology was a cornerstone of the student learning experience.
We made a total of six stops, which regretfully cannot be covered in one blog post. A few highlights include Becker Middle School, where an English teacher used Edmodo to engage students in discussion about the different texts they’re reading for class. She posted a prompt, the students posted their reactions in a Facebook feed format, and then each responded to two of their classmates’ answers as well. A math teacher at the same school used Edmodo to offer a quick quiz, which students took on their handhelds (it’s BYOD – bring your own device – at this school) and then the teacher generated the aggregate scores and reviewed the questions where students struggled. In a data-driven world, technology can allow for individualization and aggregation.
At J Marlan Walker International Elementary, a language immersion school, a math teacher was using a smart board to teach her students fractions, the properties of triangles and other functions in a Jeopardy style game – all in Spanish. A math teacher at Walter Bracken Elementary School used an Ipad application to help students understand units of money, each student working at his or her own pace while the teacher helped individual students who were struggling or had questions. Another instructor at Bracken used Study Island (an online site with state standards-based learning programs) to customize the classroom experience for students learning at different rates. The program is compatible with any given state’s standards and allows teachers to track individual student progress.
Teachers in Clark County generally seem to enjoy the freedom that technology provides, allowing them to walk around the room and work one-on-one with students, as well as the programs that let students work at their own pace and track their own progress, providing individual performance assessments that allow students to understand the concepts they need to spend more time on and when they can move on to new material. Technology supplements the classroom environment - it does not take the place of teachers.
There are always downsides and challenges when it comes to implementing such a technology-rich learning environment. First, Clark County is wrestling to secure a sustainable funding stream for equipment maintenance and upgrades. While the bond investment enabled tremendous growth for a decade, they face unexpected costs including firewalls and security updates and purchasing new machines from computers to routers, in addition to maintaining basic technology from phones to fax machines and copiers. These expenditures are not insignificant. And Clark County is facing budget constraints. Per pupil expenditure is $7,484, with most revenue coming from local sales tax, property tax and state funding. Government services tax, federal support and other comprise just 6% of funding. But today, Nevada’s unemployment rate is the highest in the nation at 12%, and it is one of the state’s hardest hit by the bursting of the housing bubble – property values have plummeted in recent years.
Additionally, as new programs and software become available, teachers must be familiar with the technology to teach it to their students and understand how best to incorporate it into their lessons and classrooms. Often times, teachers will utilize online trainings, but practice is often the best way to learn.
Technology in classrooms, for the sake of technology, is not an effective use of its capacity. However, after witnessing several classrooms, it is easy to be impressed by the possibilities. Students like technology, they’re adept at it and they look forward to using Ipads and handhelds. Some of the most interesting and engaging examples of technology were in instances where human and virtual blended seamlessly, where students appeared focused and engaged, working to produce a high-quality response or thoughtful reflection. In an era where technology in education is a hot-topic, it is also worth remembering that technology does not have to consist of the newest device or most advanced software to be helpful and effective.
Click here to browse dozens of Public School Insights interviews with extraordinary education advocates, including:
- 2013 Digital Principal Ryan Imbriale
- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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