Tullahoma City Schools Enhances Student Engagement and Teacher Effectiveness with Implementation of CK-12 and Chromebooks

January 12, 2013 | admin

Tullahoma - mod blog headerTHE BUSINESS: Tullahoma City Schools was chartered by the City of Tullahoma, Tennessee in 1885 and established for the purpose of providing local secondary educational programming for a growing railroad community.  Today, while enjoying many advantages of a sleepy southern rural community, Tullahoma also enjoys a rich academic history as home to the Arnold Engineering Development Center and the University of Tennessee Space Institute.  Today approximately 3,500 students access educational programming at Tullahoma City Schools (TCS)  provided by ~250 dedicated teachers.

THE CHALLENGE:  As an update to the technology vision that was accomplished by stakeholders, they readily realized that two glaring deficiencies were preventing progress: lack of adequate usable devices to connect with the digital world and curricular materials that were too expensive and designed for paper delivery significantly behind the curve of expected and needed updates.  In concert with that disconnect of vision versus reality, TCS faced a decline in average per pupil expenditures and a growing demographic of free/reduced meal eligibility.  In other words, the school district was spending fewer dollars per pupil while the students in the school system also became less able to provide technology for themselves.  

 

TCS was confident that a partnership with CK12.org could assist in the development of standards based dynamic curricular materials, but had no means to accomplish the delivery given the costs of high quality digital devices.  Furthermore, TCS readily realized that the acquisition and implementation of the wrong digital device could create major challenges to a small technology department. The team had no confidence that if devices were acquired the budget would support added technical maintenance personnel. The challenge in a nutshell became this: TCS had to create  and acquire digital content, acquire devices, and maintain those newly acquired devices with a relatively static budget!  

 

THE SOLUTION: Dianne Darlington, the TCS Technology Director was tasked with the responsibility of building a network to support the academic vision and acquiring devices on which the CK12 and locally developed open educational resources (OER) could be delivered.  Additionally, under the leadership of Susan Sudberry, teachers were provided training on building high quality, standards aligned curricular content on any computer.  

 

Under Darlington’s leadership TCS had accomplished a transition to a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) environment  and had saved substantial budget dollars in the utilization of Google Apps.  In that transition, software license fees were diverted to a technology budget to acquire added bandwidth and added devices. Furthermore, the transition to Chromebooks was not an obstacle, instead it was simply a way of life for most of our school community.

 

While some communities are challenged with a detour in implementation because of arguments about operating systems and name brands, Dr. Dan Lawson, TCS Superintendent, worked to avoid that challenge by insisting that TCS was to focus on function in a brand agnostic manner.  Lawson charged Sudberry and Darlington with responsibilities of demonstrating the function and application of CK12 on several different devices to both the Board of Mayor and Alderman and the  Board of Education. Nearly every member experienced the content on a device that they had not used in their own life.  In both instances, Lawson, directed them to make the work about the digital experience and not the device.  Function always trumped form!  As an understanding of the CK12 template and library was accomplished, so too was a better understanding of Chrome and Chromebooks. Both Aldermen and Board members could readily see that our focus was on the content and CK-12’s content looked the same on all devices that we used in our training.

 

In her recommendation to her superintendent Darlington stated that “…the Chromebook is the obvious option for implementation because of initial cost, ease of management, and ability to effectively deliver the content we are building…” and as Lawson shared his recommendation to the TCS Board of Education he was able to do so confident that the “….Chromebooks would meet a price point that we could afford in TCS and provide the ease of maintenance and use that could assure our roll out to be a success.”

 

THE CAPABILITIES: In less than two years, TCS has acquired “Chromebooks” for our students and are well on the way of building a digital curriculum as dynamic as the world around us.  Lawson opined that “…our vision was never about simply putting a computer in the hands of each child, instead our vision was to provide access to the best academic content available in a manner that we could afford, maintain, and update.” Lawson further stated that “Today all of social studies content is delivered via CK12 template and storage and all of our math will be delivered in the 2015-16 school year in the same manner.”  Teachers in TCS are excited about the level of engagement that students enjoy in each class and happy with the fact that the “Chromebooks” require little direction by adults.

 

Perhaps the major change has as a philosophical underpinning, Lawson’s belief that “…relevance in TCS is NOT how the curriculum related to the assessment, instead relevance is how the curriculum relates to the learner!” Implementing a dynamic standards based curriculum has allowed TCS sixth grade students to study Mars in a science class with a focus on the rover “Curiosity” while watching videos created by NASA and content from Arnold Engineering Center where components were tested.  Lawson believes that “curriculum becomes relevant when students are able to apply that curriculum, as well as people, places and things in their experience to their lives.” Jon Wood, a TCS teacher suggests that one of the real values of our work has been recognized as teachers better learn both standards and content.  As Wood produced his work, he advised that “I enjoyed taking a static set of standards and making them align with content that our students could understand, enjoy, and find meaningful.  Another of the TCS development team members, Karen Lawson at West Middle, shared that “… some concepts that students found boring in texts becomes more real and important to them if they can relate to the stories.” She went on to share that the typical social studies book with Tennessee Standards would have had limited information on “real people that my students know, and in this format I can enrich to add local people, like Dustin Lynch, and places that match the standards and are important to our kids.”    

 

Both CK-12 and Chromebooks have been essential to the TCS solution and function seamlessly together.  TCS reports increased student academic engagement, parent surveys of high level of satisfaction (95%) with the Chromebook experience, and a better grasp of newly implemented academic standards by their teachers. The Tullahoma community at-large hails the Chromebook roll-out as an indicator of commitment to high quality educational experiences while being fiscally prudent in the work.  

 

PULL QUOTES:

 

Karen Lawson at West Middle, shared that “… some concepts that students found boring in texts becomes more real and important to them if they can relate to the stories.” She went on to share that the typical social studies book with Tennessee Standards would have had limited information on “real people that my students know, and in this format I can enrich to add local people, like Dustin Lynch, and places that match the standards and are important to our kids.”

 

Jon Wood, a TCS teacher suggests that one of the real values of our work has been recognized as teachers better learn both standards and content.  As Wood produced his work, he advised that “I enjoyed taking a static set of standards and making them align with content that our students could understand, enjoy, and find meaningful.”  

 

Lawson (Dr. Dan) opined that “…our vision was never about simply putting a computer in the hands of each child, instead our vision was to provide access to the best academic content available in a manner that we could afford, maintain, and update.”

 

Perhaps the major change has as a philosophical underpinning Lawson’s (Dr. Dan) belief that “…relevance in TCS is NOT how the curriculum related to the assessment, instead relevance is how the curriculum relates to the learner!”

 

Darlington stated that “…the Chromebook is the obvious option for implementation because of initial cost, ease of management, and ability to effectively deliver the content we are building…”

 

AT A GLANCE: Tullahoma City Schools enhances student engagement and teacher effectiveness with implementation of Chromebooks and CK12.  In less than two years with limited budget improvements and an actual overall reduction in per pupil expenditure, TCS has changed their instructional acquisition and delivery model embracing FREE OER materials and locally developed content.