In the rural, rolling landscape of upstate South Carolina, the 11 schools of Spartanburg School District One serve more than 5,000 students. This highly accomplished district has four blue ribbon schools, four schools awarded “Palmetto’s Finest” by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, and one of the state’s top three performing high schools. It’s also been a Google for Education™ Reference District for more than a decade. Classroom of the Future.
These impressive successes have been achieved despite Spartanburg One having limited resources. The main source of school funding comes from taxes on businesses, but the district’s small towns are mostly bedroom communities, with the local workforce commuting to bigger cities outside the tax area. Furthermore, about half of the district’s students come from lower-income families with limited exposure to computers and devices at home, so kids are dependent on schools to provide access to technology.
Reclaiming the instructional space with better technology
Dr. Jimmy Pryor, Assistant Superintendent, Accountability and Technical Services at Spartanburg One, attributes the district’s success to being both innovative and careful about its financial decision making. “We don’t have the luxury of making a mistake with the monies that we have, so we are very measured in our direction and very measured in our vision setting,” he said.
With that strategic mindset, more than 10 years ago he began determining what the classroom of the future should look like. At the time, classrooms had a mishmash of hardware that took up valuable space. But Pryor believed that classrooms should be open— enabling engagement and movement. “What we were looking for was a panel that could replace a projector, a screen, a set of speakers, wires running across the floor, wires running up the wall, a document camera,” he explained. “I noticed that students were shoved to the outer corners of the room, and the teacher was taking up a lot of instructional real estate in the middle. We set out to reclaim that instructional real estate by removing as much legacy hardware as possible.”
Interactive Display was the Key
Pryor determined that finding the right interactive display was the key. He began a pilot program to test a variety of displays in the classrooms of special education teachers and educators who had been awarded “Teacher of the Year.” When Pryor asked those teachers which panel they preferred, it was always Promethean. “None of the others were ever chosen,” he said. “So it was a hands-down easy choice.”
When it was time to convince the superintendent and board to invest in interactive panels, Pryor simply had to point to the positive experiences of his pilot program participants. “They became our beacons, our shining examples,” he said. “This is what we’d like to emulate in every classroom across the district,” he told the board, and ultimately, they agreed.
The classroom of the future, in action
Within the first six months of using the ActivPanel, teachers have already seen a shift in their rooms. “Before, everybody was sitting at a desk and everybody was facing all the same way—the way that the projector projected,” explained Hillary Thompson, reading interventionist and Teacher of the Year. “With these panels, my classroom can be any direction I want it to be.” According to Thompson, her students have become a lot more active in their own learning. “It’s an exciting new tool that the kids are totally engaged with, and it changed the flow of the traditional classroom,” she said. “It’s not just every child at the desk stationary for eight hours. It gives them freedom to get up and move.”
The positive impact is felt across all grades. At Chapman High School, teachers use their panels both to lead instruction and as a resource where students can collaborate in small groups. “There are a lot of stations where the teacher is not only leading but also facilitating,” noted Dr. Andrew McMillan, Chapman High Principal. “That builds community within our classroom.”
With a 95% graduation rate, Chapman is focused on making sure students are well equipped for life after high school.
“We’re preparing these kids for a global 21st century economy, and they need to be competitive in the workplace,” explained McMillan. For example, the school has started an AP computer science class and is trying to move young women toward STEM fields. “Having these tools allows us to strike while the iron’s hot with these kids.”
The ActivPanel has also been helpful for the many floating teachers who move around the district and teach in a variety of classrooms. Rather than hauling their supplies and books from school to school, they can simply turn on their panel and access all the materials and lesson plans they need. McMillan described how a traveling art teacher in the district could pull up crisp, clear images on the ActivPanel— easily accessing the tools required for that particular group of students. “An hour before, she was doing a lesson with kindergarteners in a building two miles away. She’s seamlessly able to move from point A to B without any interruption in instruction.”
With an eye to the future, Spartanburg One’s vision evolves
While the technology is still relatively new, educators have quickly and effortlessly integrated it into their daily lessons, and students have responded well. McMillan anticipates seeing positive outcomes right away. “We’ve got several state-mandated, end-of- course tests where we really think we’re going to see growth in our numbers because of the tools that the ActivPanel allows us to use.” But he believes that impact goes beyond grades and test scores. “We think we’ve got a very special thing here, and you can feel it when you walk into our school,” he noted. “It’s part of our culture and our climate. And these kinds of tools that we’ve been blessed with just add to that feeling.”
Teachers throughout the district are eager to continue going deeper into the capabilities of the ActivPanel. “They want to know more about ClassFlow, about resources at Promethean,” said Assistant Superintendent Pryor. “They’re ready to start enriching their lessons and augmenting what they’ve been doing.” He foresees teachers growing even more nimble in their ability to pivot during instruction, increasingly using panels to cast to and from students’ devices and having greater visibility of students’ work. “People know the great product they have and the impact that it can have,” he said.
SOURCE: Classroom of the Future