Beyond Textbooks

I recently participated in the free, FETC Virtual Conference. There were many people from all over the US, but also other countries. It had a fun, simulation interface. Not as intensive as something like Second Life, and very easy to use. I filled my virtual briefcase with handouts from various presentations and presenters. I also registered for the prizes at each of the booths. I participated in chats and submitted questions to the speaker, while watching the presentations. Just like the face to face conference I attended on Monday. It was funny when I came across Christine Hollingsworth, DESE FCCLA, in the chat room. She informed me that she had just left a comment on my blog regarding the digital storytelling project completed by one of our Child Development classes.

virtual conf

Keynote: Unleashing Teacher Creativity and Effective Instruction in the Digital World

  • Calvin Baker, Superintendent
  • Vail School District in Vail, Arizona; over 10,000 students in 16 regular and charter schools;
  • For the 3rd straight year, all regular buildings in his district have received the highest rating from the Arizona Dept of Ed

Why it is important?

  • We are happiest when mindfully, joyfully creating. It is through creativity that each of us asserts our humanity and individuality.
  • Engaged students and teachers are what we need.
  • Creative work is at the top of the pyramid for what will be needed from our students in the work force.
  • Teachers fully engaged in their own creativity will produce creative students. Standardized teachers aren’t going to result in creative students.

How can it be done?
We can provide digital tools for teachers first, then students. Beyond Textbooks is an example of how digital tools can be used in schools. It provides a structured system with discipline and freedom.  There are 12 other districts that are using the Beyond Textbooks system developed by the Vail District.

There are too many standards to teach in the available time and teacher interpret standards differently. So they’ve identified the essential standards/power standards. Then they unwrapped the standards and placed them on a calendar indicating when they should be taught. This ensures that the essential standards are covered prior to state testing and exponentially increases the teacher collaboration. This is the same process we are going through with CAP.

This work has all been digitized and made available online to teachers with passwords. Teachers are able to view all the curriculum for the district. They can see what is being taught, when, throughout the district. The standards on the calendar are linked to a webpage which includes:

  1. Unwrapped Standard: The standard in student friendly language and the components: vocab, big question, essential questions, scoring guides, assessment, etc.
  2. Lesson Plans: This is a “live” component that teachers contribute to in an ongoing basis. These plans are very detailed and include worksheets created by the teacher, links to websites and videos. The link to email the authoring teacher is available.
  3. Accommodations and Interventions
  4. Forum: teachers can ask questions, make suggestions, ask for help, provide feedback on the resources
  5. Staff development: this piece is being considered but not available yet. This could be a narrative explaining best instructional practices for this standards, videos of these lessons being used in the classroom, etc.

This is what the district is using instead of textbooks. The provided analogy describes the shift well. It is like going from buying CDs to downloading files through iTunes. Before iTunes, you had to buy the CD/album, no matter how many songs you liked. With iTunes you can buy single songs, the best songs. Digital resources allow better selection of instructional resources.

Eighty percent of resources in the system are entirely or partially created by teachers. This wasn’t a requirement. It just happened that way. In many cases, teachers are uploading items they are already using, not something new that they have created just for the site. The uploaded content is monitored for quality and copyright compliance. But since names are required with submissions, teachers select content they are proud to share, and there are rarely any issues. Teachers receive recognition for their contributions through credit on the website, recognition by administrators, prize drawing from contributions from local vendors, etc.  They do purchase content from various providers. New teachers benefit greatly from this vast array of resources. All teachers enjoy the access to the resources outside of school. Teachers are not limited to the resources available in the system. They still have the freedom to use other resources.

This tool has created a culture of creativity with the teachers. They feel empowered and engaged. This is a place where teachers are engaged in creativity and innovation.

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