Downey School District

The benefits of technology-enabled learning spaces in today’s K-12 schools are well documented; research shows that such an environment not only improves teaching and learning, but also helps foster and support real-world career skills.As P. B. Garrett, associate provost and chief academic technology officer at George Washington University, puts it: “Investing in the creation of experiential learning spaces proves essential to preparing students for today’s marketplace.”

Challenge

Create technology-enabled learning spaces in Downey High School that will help give students an edge in future workplaces.

Solution

Implementing high-tech Panasonic solutions in Downey High School classrooms to help students prepare for their professional futures.

Result

Through Panasonic products and their ease of use, Downey High School was able to fully implement technology-enabled learning spaces, which will help their students and faculty prepare for the demands of the future.

 

Other educational researchers support this. In his paper, “What Makes New Learning Spaces Work? New Research on the Importance of Social Context,” J.D. Walker, research associate at the University of Minnesota, says, “new technology-enhanced active learning spaces improve students’ learning outcomes and experiences.”

As a result of these improvements, public school districts throughout the country are looking at how to achieve a technology-enabled learning environment where students can develop skills for the 21st century workforce. One of those districts is the high-performing Downey Unified School District (DUSD), located 13 miles south of Los Angeles, Calif.

DUSD recently launched an initiative to showcase the district’s vision for 21st century teaching and learning by deploying a full range of technology in two buildings at Downey High School.

For the last six months of 2014, The Journal closely followed this development and implementation closely. What follows is a concise report about the district’s process through three phases: evaluation and planning, deployment and training, and evaluation and next steps, ultimately resulting in Downey High School being chosen as a 2014-2015 Microsoft Showcase School and global leader in preparing students for success in the workplace.

 

Phase I: EVALUATION AND PLANNING

“We are proud of the fact that we are closing the opportunity gap in our district,” says Roger Brossmer, Asst. Superintendent, Certificated HR, at Downey Unified School District. “Today, we have a graduation rate close to 95 percent. But we’re not satisfied with just graduation. Our goal is to be college- and career-ready.”

To accomplish that goal, Downey’s District Leadership Team started with a Strategic Plan, where the district’s vision, mission, and shared values were identified and affirmed. The overarching mission was clear: All students would graduate with a 21st century education that would ensure three objectives — students were both college- and career-ready, globally competitive, and citizens of strong character.

The focus of the district’s plan was initially on two buildings at Downey High School —Buildings A and D. “Everything we envisioned had to complement and support our mission,” Brossmer says. That mission centered on the Four C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Downey had also added a fifth C for citizenship.

“Our new superintendent, Dr. John Garcia, had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted to see,” Brossmer explains. “He didn’t want us to start with the tools or technology. Instead, he wanted us to start with what we wanted to accomplish — what student outcomes we wanted — and then figure out what tools would help us get there.”

Technology — though an integral part of the plan — was just one piece of how the district proposed to help their students achieve 21st century skills. It also involved reimaging and restructuring the classes to provide for flexibility and varied learning arrangements. As Garrett points out, “Implementing dynamic active learning pedagogies is best facilitated by fusing technology with classroom elements such as furnishings, lighting and writing surfaces.” — the big picture, so to speak.

That big picture at Downey included everything from technology to the furniture in the classrooms to where students would keep their stuff. “In both buildings A and D, we now have all mobile furniture,” Brossmer explains. “All chairs and tables are on wheels, so they can easily be stacked to the side.”

Choosing the right partner. From the beginning, the District Leadership team knew that choosing the right technology partner would be critical to the district’s success. For Downey, that partner was Panasonic. Dr. Garcia had started conversations with Panasonic at Glendale Unified School District, where he had served as Deputy Superintendent before moving to Downey. Because of this, Dr. Garcia came to Downey excited about how Panasonic could help the district achieve its mission.

According to Brossmer, Panasonic understood what it takes to build effective learning spaces designed to drive real learning outcomes. In the past, the district had worked with a number of different technology companies for different tools and equipment — computers, cameras, displays, amongst other things.

“What I immediately liked about Panasonic,” Brossmer says, “was that they were a single provider for all of our needs. It was one-stop. They were able to bring their certified third-party products and software to the table.” As Brossmer explains, “If there were pieces that we needed that Panasonic didn’t manufacture, they sourced our needs for us, simplifying the technology acquisition and maintenance process.”

This was a major benefit, Brossmer notes, and a real differentiator. “Panasonic has been, and continues to be, more than just a vendor,” he says. “They have been a partner in helping us reach our objectives and goals.”

For example, as a part of the district’s efforts to bring learning into the 21st century and prepare students for the working environment, the school wanted to deploy flipped classrooms. Panasonic helped the school develop a lecture capture system by bringing in professional-grade cameras with unique features like image tracking and recommending SAFARI Montage software.

Now a teacher simply logs into SAFARI Montage, turns on the camera in the room, and chooses presets for the camera, including focusing on the whole group instructional device (an interactive projector) or the small group instructional device (an interactive display). The teacher can also manually control the camera from their computer. There is also additional functionality in splicing, meta-tagging, and sharing video with students to watch later as part of the flipped classroom model.

As the result of such cooperation, the district leadership team developed a relationship of trust with Panasonic. Brossmer explains: “we had one point of contact who always helped us find the best solution and best product for what we wanted to accomplish.”

“We brainstormed, dreamed what we wanted to see, and conveyed those ideas to Panasonic. Panasonic came through, outfitting Buildings A and D with displays, projectors, classroom audio, broadcast, video surveillance, and mobile computing, all integrated to work together, making it easier for teachers and students to use and collaborate.”

According to Brossmer, Panasonic didn’t just sell them a bunch of hardware, but consulted with the Downey team on the instructional technology design to develop customized classroom solutions. “Based on our overall vision, Panasonic helped us select, place and utilize the technology in pursuit of the school’s vision.”

Phase II: DEPLOYMENT AND TRAINING

Of course, none of the technology is of any use if teachers themselves don’t embrace it.

To achieve that goal, Downey initiated a plan that involved a two-day training session in August 2014, followed by an another two-day session after teachers had a chance to use the technology in their classrooms in September and October. The first day of the initial in-service workshop was designed to introduce staff members to the technology, and the next day focused on how the technology could be used instructionally.

Team leaders knew, of course, that they would not be able to help teachers learn everything there was to learn in just two days.


"We wanted to help them feel comfortable with the technology and get them excited about how the technology could help enhance teaching and learning." - Brossmer

 

The training was held in a room at the district office that had been outfitted with all of the exact same technology that teachers would find in their classrooms, including the mobile furniture. This training room, as it turns out, was vitally important to the program: “By experimenting with the technology in our training center first, we were able to work out the bugs and kinks. We went through three or four iterations before ending up with the one that went into the classroom.”

In late fall, after teachers had a couple of months to use the technology in the classroom, they were invited back for another set of training. Prior to that training, the district had sent out a survey to teachers in Buildings A and D to see what they felt was working, what was not, and what they needed more training in.“We were able to tailor the next phase of professional development around the specific needs and requests of the teachers,”


"We knew that English teachers might need something different from math and science teachers, and so we were prepared to customize and tailor the additional training to meet specific needs." - Brossmer

 

The second session also focused on lecture capture video, which was something the district encouraged teachers to use.

During all of this training, Brossmer adds, Panasonic offered additional support with their own professional development providers — educators who not only had classroom teaching experience, but who were extremely knowledgeable about the technology. “Panasonic really put a lot of different assets together to help us accomplish our goals,” Brossmer says.

PHASE III: EVALUATION AND NEXT STEPS

What is the result to date? “Certain teachers have clearly embraced this technology,” says Brossmer.

The culinary arts teacher, he says, is utilizing everything. “She’s utilizing all the displays; she’s using her lecture capture; she’s using her amplified voice; she’s using her video to show her demonstrations of her food preparation. She’s doing everything we could have dreamed. And she is so excited and rejuvenated.”

But not everyone is totally on board as yet. Brossmer says, “We have other teachers who still have their desks in rows and are not utilizing the technology.” He believes this is due to the teachers not being screened about their interest level before placing them in the classrooms.

Other teachers really want to use the technology, but are still a bit intimidated. “We encourage all teachers to call on their students if they have a problem or get stuck,” Brossmer says. “We also encourage those teachers who have embraced the technology to help and encourage those teachers who are not using it.

“In general, though, teachers, students, and parents alike understand the effort that went into the design of the new classrooms, and appreciate what the district is doing to help students achieve those 21st century skills.” Brossmer says. “We’ve learned a lot in the process and are confident that we are helping all students graduate with a 21st century education.”

CONCLUSION

Today, Buildings A and D at Downey High School serve as a showcase for the District’s vision for 21st century teaching and learning — a vision the district has for all classrooms in the Downey Unified School System.

At Downey, teachers and students are not “doing” technology for technology sake. “It’s about finding the right tools to help accomplish the right outcome,” Brossmer says. “Technology gives us flexibility in that goal.”

The goal for the future at DUSD is to replicate the technology-enabled concept in every classroom at every school site. Brossmer says, “We are definitely moving in that direction. Our goal is to get as many 21st century classrooms as possible throughout the district.”

The benefits of these technology-enabled classrooms are many. “With these new buildings, we are minimizing the opportunity gap,” Brossmer concludes. “Our students are going to have opportunities and exposure to things that very few kids will have in this state, let alone in this country. And because of that, they’re going to have an edge when they go out in the workplace.”