In 2014, Palmdale School District was experiencing a major digital divide. With 28 campuses spread across the Southern California district, each managing its own technology decisions, some schools regularly enjoyed the benefits of technology in the classroom, while those in higher poverty areas had minimal tech interaction, if any. District leaders knew that something had to change, and it needed to happen fast.
In 2014, Palmdale School District was experiencing a major digital divide.
So, in 2015, the “Palmdale Promise” was born. The goal was simple: provide students with a well-rounded education—including technology competency—designed to help them throughout their lives. Yet, rolling out a district-wide initiative to a student body of more than 19,000 individuals is no easy feat.
We spoke with Christine Jones, coordinator of Educational Technology at Palmdale, and Scott Whitney, teacher and media technician at Oak Tree Learning Center, to learn how they rose to the challenge. Discover how the district leveled the technology playing field across its schools, created new opportunities for students, and enhanced learning experiences for all.
Promethean: How did Palmdale Schools double down on digital for its students? What gaps did you have to fill?
Jones: Some of our school sites were fairly well outfitted with technology, while others had absolutely nothing. There was huge disparity. Part of our Palmdale Promise was to provide equitable access to technology for all students, regardless of school or location. We knew we needed an affordable solution, not to mention the training for teachers to utilize it. After months of searching, testing and focus groups, we landed on the Promethean ActivPanel as the perfect solution to fit each of our schools’ unique needs.
What key considerations went into your decision to go with the ActivPanel?
Jones: We had to keep in mind that, whatever decision we made, it would need to be a long-term priority. In other words, we needed a solution that would serve us for the longest period of time possible. That is one of the reasons we landed on the ActivPanel. Likewise, we established a process around technology decisions. Rather than have individual principals making purchases on their own, we created a centralized website for them to see which pieces of technology were approved for the entire district. That way, our IT team can easily support any troubleshooting or necessary repairs. This limits the need for additional training, whether for educators, administrators or IT.
How did the ActivPanel help Palmdale create a collaborative classroom environment for students?
Every student is different, and this allows teachers to engage them each individually.
Whitney: We selected the ActivPanel because of its user-friendly, collaborative interface. The flexibility to mount it on a mobile stand that moves freely throughout the campus was a huge benefit to our educators. It offers them the flexibility to break up the class into groups, lower and raise the panels for easy access and allow multiple students to collaborate at once. It has changed the way teachers in the district approach their lessons. Untethering teachers from the head of the class allows them to determine how best to structure their classrooms for students. Every student is different, and this allows teachers to engage them each individually.
A recent study found that 48 percent of teachers feel they don’t have the proper training to leverage their classroom technology. How do you combat this trend?
Whitney: At Palmdale, teachers come together for after school training sessions—known as ‘Tech Tuesdays and Thursdays’—to work with skilled Promethean coaches and connect with one another to learn new ways to use the technology, share best practices and useful tips and tricks that are working in other classrooms throughout the district. With these regular training sessions, every teacher feels more comfortable with the panels’ features and accompanying software.
What other tools help you engage with students?
Whitney: Leveraging technology in the classroom has helped me go paperless in all of my classes. All of my books are online, and all of my lessons are digital. My students use Google classroom on their Chromebook notebook computers, which can then be projected on the ActivPanel. And if a student misses a lesson, I deliver it using ClassFlow. We’ve created a 21st century learning experience so that when students go to high school and have to use digital portfolios, they’ll have that experience.
What is on the horizon for Palmdale Schools?
Whitney: Not every school is the same; not every student is the same, but the district has been pushing hard to make sure that all students have an equal playing field with their peers. It is an awesome sight to see the district doing all it can for these students because, when they are ready to learn, we are here to give them 100 percent. I personally teach in an alternative school, so the district’s commitment to making sure my students have the same level of access and opportunity as other schools in the district makes a real, meaningful difference in their lives.
Reflecting on Promethean’s impact at Palmdale schools, Christine Jones shared these closing thoughts:
You just cannot minimize the effect of happy, engaged teachers on the learning environment!
Our teachers have widely adopted the use of the Promethean panels in their classrooms. Having immediate access to digital content and resources has enabled them to quickly create and present more exciting and rich lessons for their students. On our annual district technology survey, student engagement has increased an average of 22 percent districtwide with a few sites reporting a more than 40 percent increase. Our alternative sites have seen some of the greatest increases in engagement in learning as Promethean boards offer a wonderful visual connection to curricular content that so many students need. An unforeseen (but happy) by-product of providing up-to-date technology tools in the classroom has been an increase in the general technology skills of the teachers themselves. They have been excited to learn new skills and many have reported that the new technologies have forced them to move "out of the box" and to keep content fresh for their students. You just cannot minimize the effect of happy, engaged teachers on the learning environment!