Digital Native Innovations

Posted by Beth Stewart on March 28, 2011

A new challenge is on the horizon.  The digital natives are growing up and crossing over to the teaching profession—and their way of handling issues is very different from ours.

This is a new complication for our industrial era schools, the ones some of us enjoy and are comfortable with just as is.  We find ourselves living on the edge, being pushed to engage students in new ways, possibly having to leave behind our old, tried and true methods.

What will become of us?  Can computers, social networking, and video games take the place of teachers?  Do cell phones, podcasts, or video games have educational purposes?   Is it possible that a blend of our institutional wisdom and the knowledge and enthusiasm of the new recruits might be the ultimate synergy?

We’re starting to find answers to some of those questions at Morrilton Junior High School in the South Conway County (Arkansas) School District where the digital natives among our new teachers  have made us rethink what is possible.  No longer is a rainy winter time for students to meet the physical activity requirements by walking around the gym.  We have Wii tournaments!  No longer does a letter in the mail suffice for communicating with parents and the community.  We stream video messages from the Web.  No connectivity at home?  No problem.  The same videos loop on monitors in the office at high traffic times.

There seems to be no question these new teachers cannot answer.   Indeed, the quiet, steady beat of the digital natives’ drums are a constant reminder that we must look for new ways to engage our students.  No longer is it “traditional tribal customs” but “digital native innovations.”


A Creative Partnership for Success

Posted by Skip Johnson on January 17, 2011

Last November, as we were revising our Tech Plan, we noticed that the amount of hardware and software available in our district had increased fourfold during the previous four years, yet there was not much change or innovation in the types of software being used in the classrooms.  We decided to make the creation of a timely and quality professional development program the number one goal of our new plan.

For help we turned to a unique program in a nearby community college district.  The Krause Center for Innovation (KCI), located at Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills, California, has for more than a decade provided a first-class, technology-focused professional development program supporting the usage of all types of technology in K-12 schools.  I approached KCI Executive Director Gay Krause with the notion of replicating the KCI vision in our district.  The result is a partnership between our school district and KCI that may serve as a model for other districts.

El Crystal School, where I am principal, was chosen as the site of our new center for three reasons: it’s already a demonstration school for implementing technology, it had an empty classroom, and yours truly offered to serve as the new center’s director.  We’ve dubbed it the Danford Center for Innovation in recognition of the Danford Foundation, which has donated thousands of dollars to support technology at our school.

How it works

The partnership between KCI and the San Bruno Park School District is defined in a memorandum of understanding that specifies responsibilities for both institutions while offering a great deal of flexibility as well.  District responsibilities include providing the facility, IT support, all technology equipment, and the director.  KCI provides faculty, determines the fee structure, advertises course offerings, and gives enrollment preference to district employees.  Working in unison, we are responsible for creating a Certificate of Technology Competency, based upon ISTE standards for teachers, that participants can earn through participation in the new center’s classes.

Once the Certificate of Technology Competence is designed and implemented,  KCI instructors will teach the specific courses in the Danford Center.  Teachers who enroll will pay tuition, which allows them to receive immediate credit on the district salary schedule.  A great advantage of this arrangement is that, since KCI is part of the community college system, tuition is very affordable.

The Danford Center will not serve only our school.  Our district will use the Danford Center to offer workshops as needed—such as a recent one on ways to use Thinkfinity—to meet  educational goals.  In addition, courses at the center will be open to all teachers in our county.

This venture is bold.  However, we believe it is our  task to give our students the essential skills, knowledge, and learning experiences they need to thrive and succeed in the 21st Century.  Learn more about:


“What path innovation?”

Posted by Butch Owens on October 12, 2010

Are common standards and national tests the panacea for our nation’s woes?  Some seem to think so, but I’m not so sure.    Just last April I had the opportunity to hear Yong Zhao, author of Catching up or Leading the Way,  speak at our annual Leadership 3.0 Symposium.   He argues that while for years, politicians and the public have been looking for what is wrong with American education by constantly comparing the test scores of American students to those of students in such places as Russia, Japan, Singapore, and China, test scores don’t measure how well a country itself is doing. One striking example is how far America is ahead of all other countries in the number of patents issued; China, by contrast, is ahead in toy production.

The irony is that while we are busy trying to catch up with countries that have better test scores, those very countries are trying to emulate our educational system—or at least the one we used to have.  China, Korea, Japan and Singapore, for example, all have national initiatives to move their educational systems toward more local control, more autonomy, less emphasis on test scores determining a student’s or school’s future, and greater choices for the individual.  These are traditional characteristics of our system which have contributed to our success in turning out well rounded and innovative citizens.  And all of the latest literature argues that the ability to innovate is what we need in the future.

How would you judge an effective school?  Here are some top criteria on my list:

  • The number of  varied opportunities a student has beyond the core academics
  • The degree that students enjoy their school and feel they are important
  • Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students can learn
  • Opportunities for students to progress at their own rate
  • Strong art and music programs and curricular activities that connect students to school

When you look back on your school days, is it the test scores that really motivated you to excel, or all of the opportunities you had to be an individual and find your own purpose and passion?

Take away those things that have enabled our system to produce the inventors and innovators of today and what will be left?  At best, a technically capable American engineer competing for the same job as an equally capable engineer from India who will do the job for $7500 a year.  A better alternative is an educational system that creates an American engineer with not only the technical skills but the imagination, innovation and creativity to design the new ideas that will need the $7500 a year engineer in India to help develop.

In an earlier post I wrote about what students really need to know and learn in school in this 21st century and ended with  the comment, “If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize, and if it’s easy to digitize it can be done easily by a computer.”  What we really want are well rounded, innovative students prepared for a lifetime as productive, innovative citizens.  Will common standards and national tests ensure that outcome?

As you ponder that question, listen to Harry Chapin’s “Flowers Are Red“; how common do we want our standards to be?