Cincinnati Public Schools is in the middle of a technologic transformation. As the 2016-17 school year begins, all students in sixth through 12th grades will have their own laptop.
“We call it one-to-one [technology],” says Sarah Trimble-Oliver, CPS’ chief information officer. “Our school district is in the midst of a shift, as many school districts are in the country, shifting toward digital learning.”
The one-to-one initiative started in fall 2014, providing seventh through 12th graders with their own devices. This year, all 55 schools will be part of this initiative after sixth-graders were added over the summer. In addition to the sixth-grade rollout, CPS is re-imaging and refurbishing 5,000 devices that were included in the first wave of the initiative.
But to make sure the technology fits in with the district’s goals, CPS is focusing on the curriculum and the teachers’ professional development.
“We have to start with ‘What do we want to do? What do we want to teach?’” Trimble-Oliver says. “Our role is really to support our teachers making this transition. We have teachers all across the span. We have early adopters who we just have to give the tools they need because they’re off and running. Then we have the majority who are in between. We just say ‘Don’t be afraid, just try one thing.’”
As part of CPS’ My Tomorrow initiative, digital learning is equipping students with the skills to compete at every level, including job competition, working in teams and getting ready to live and work successfully in a digital world.
Blended learning is part of the digital learning initiative that combines online learning with a face-to-face education. With 500 students already in the Advanced Placement Blended Learning program, CPS will increase the number of digital AP courses, to give them more opportunities.
Students are also able to take classes they normally couldn’t take through cross-school blended learning. For example, a student in sixth grade at Hyde Park Elementary can take an Algebra I class at Walnut Hills High School via Skype. In other programs from third through sixth grade, students participate in station rotation. They split into three groups to learn subjects like language arts and math, then rotate from one group to the next where one group works with a teacher and the other works on group projects. In the third group, students engage in individual online self-instruction where they can learn at their own pace.
“It helps teachers figure out what their needs are, whether they’re behind or ahead,” says Trimble-Oliver. “When students have choice or control, they’re more engaged.”
Additional technological tools available to students and teachers include Aquos boards, tablets, iPads and laptops, as well as a portfolio of curriculum tools for core content, such as language arts, science and social studies. Each of these areas has its own digital curriculum. CPS is also a Google Apps for Education (GAFE) district. Like Google Drive, GAFE offers free access to Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Docs and Sites to schools and educational institutions.
This summer, CPS added new software to its arsenal with Schoology, a learning management system, that gives students and teachers the ability to have all their assignments, tests, quizzes and more in one place. Many higher education institutions use a similar system, Blackboard.
“We feel it’s very important to use a centralized system. We want students to get familiar with a learning management system so when they go on to college, they’re already used to it,” says Trimble-Oliver. “Technology is just part of college and career readiness.”
Taft Information Technology High School students have had the ability to get ready for college or go straight into careers with the school’s successful technology curriculum that includes courses such as networking, video and sound, and animation. And Hughes STEM High School adjacent to the University of Cincinnati has several curriculum pathways including health and bioscience, engineering futures and software development that incorporate extensive use of technology to prepare students for life outside CPS.
But CPS wants to help students prepare for their futures starting in elementary school.
This fall, Hays-Porter Elementary, which is less than a half-mile from Taft in the West End, became one of the first “High-Tech Elementary Schools” in Ohio. Students can take a variety of tech classes such as coding, gaming and makerspace, a course where they can create products like multimedia videos or posters, and have access to a 3-D printer.
According to Trimble-Oliver, CPS hopes to launch a survey to gauge whether the digital learning initiative is successful. It will ask whether students are integrating tech into their daily lessons, whether they are using their laptops to solve problems or create products, and whether technology is helping them be more engaged in learning.
With this technology at their fingertips, CPS also wants students to be safe digital citizens. In age-appropriate online courses, students will learn safe use and how to protect their privacy through real-world examples.
“It was already in place, but we’re beefing it up, making it more available and easy for teachers,” says Trimble-Oliver.
“All this is going on while the state is implementing online assessments. This is not new this year, but that’s the minimum a school district has to get ready for. I feel like we’re so far beyond the minimum requirement. We’re off and running.”
Cincinnati Public Schools is located at 2651 Burnet Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45219. For more information, call 513.363.0000 or visit www.cps-k12.org.