Two weeks ago, I was asked by Florida’s Commissioner of Education to join the Florida 2.0 Digital Learning Group. This 30-person task force met for the last two days in St. Petersburg, FL. We were charged with assisting the Florida’s Department of Education to plan changes to our public education system that will make all schools digital by the 2014-15 school year. As of the 2012 Florida Legislative Session, these changes are now required.
I have dabbled in education reform and advocacy for a few years. I seriously considered running for school board. (I have chosen not to do so for a handful of personal and professional reasons that I won’t go into now.) I am a member of the board for our county’s Early Learning Coalition, a group tasked with improving and managing the local quality rating system for childcare and our county’s volunteer pre-Kindergarten enrollment. I sit on a task force for the Jacksonville Public Education Fund, another non-profit group that is doing a visioning process for Jacksonville schools. And, as Vader, Splash and Turtle’s mom, I have a front row seat to observe how the system works (or doesn’t work)…at least as it relates to my kids, their needs and our family.
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I went into this workshop. In truth, I arrived with a few assumptions. Of the three biggest ones I had, one was validated…two were debunked…or at least, tweaked.
1.) I assumed that technology could help my kids…all kids meet their individual needs and achieve their highest potential.
This is true. I saw schools who embraced technology, who have teachers who are trained to use it, and have staff who can support it and resources to distribute it, who were able to better customize instruction to each kid in their charge.
BUT, in order for us to do that, we might have to let go of our notion of what is “normal” or “correct” in public education.
Let me give you an example…
I freaked out last year when Vader, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, was placed in a classroom with 31 other kids. There were two teachers (in compliance with the Class Size Amendment), but there was not enough room in the school to give each teacher their own classroom, so 32 kids, two teachers…
Vader simply could not contain himself and focus on learning with that many kids around him. The day went well for him when he was engaged in “centers,” but things deteriorated when he had to sit on the carpet for 45 minutes and listen to a lecture. If he could have gotten the same “carpet time” lesson from an interactive digital tool, he would have been happier and probably would have learned more. I guarantee his teacher would have been happier too. It would not have required any additional teachers and in fact, would have perhaps allowed the teachers to reach MORE kids like my son.
And that brings me to my second assumption.
2.) I assumed that I would never vote to repeal or even weaken the class-size amendment. I voted for it when we chose to make it a constitutional amendment. After what Vader and I went through in Kindergarten, I firmly and wholeheartedly believed that the only way to teach our kids was in small, manageable groups AND the smaller, the better.
Now, I am not so sure. I have seen first hand, how teachers can use technology to provide relevant, customized and interesting instruction to a large group of kids. AND moreover, they can do it at a pace that is specific to each kid. And isn’t that what every parent wants?
You want your kid to be able to go at his or her own pace, to not get bogged down by the slower kids in the class or to feel lost because the majority has moved forward without him? IF, and this is a big if, we can supplant small classes that all move forward as a unit (which implies that everyone is going to go at the same pace) with digital solutions that allow each student to learn at his or her own pace, then we should.
My last assumption…
3.) I assumed that we already had statewide digital learning.
Again…wrong. I was thinking about virtual learning, more specifically, the Florida Virtual School. Virtual and digital are not the same thing. Moreover, while virtual learning is great for a small percentage of students all of the time, and also great for another percentage of students who need remediation, grade recovery or rapid advancement outside of the traditional classroom, it is NOT digital learning. Instead, successful digital learning is blending technology into the traditional classroom. AND I do not mean simply using smart boards instead of chalkboards or giving every kid a laptop.
Digital learning means using the web, current hardware and interactive software to enhance learning. It means being able to assess each child’s learning style in a cost-effective way and delivering instruction based on the learning style. It means expanding the menu of tools that teachers use to reach each child and capitalizing on the physiological, sociological and other differences in our kids.
I learned a ton and I am glad I am part of this group. I am not saying the digital education is a panacea for all of our ills, but I do think, if we are creative and engaged, we might be able to make things better for our kids sooner than later with digital help.
If you are in Florida, you might want to poke around in this area, especially if you have kids in public school.
If want to bend my ear on the topic, e-mail me at Dabossladyblog (at) gmail (dot) com or comment below.
As always, thanks for reading.