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ESNT coverage of the twelfth annual Consortium for the School Networking Conference is sponsored by Smart Technologies, N Computing and CCC Video on Demand in cooperation with Cable in the Classroom with Consortium for School Networking. On day two of the Consortium for School Networking Conference annual conference in San Francisco attendees learned of a revolutionary high school reform initiative in Pennsylvania called Classrooms of the Future that is believed to be the largest state-wide ed tech initiative in the nation.

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httpv://nz.youtube.com/watch?v=XI6gCSG6xXM

Over the next three years Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell aims to spend $200 million to make sure every high school student in the state has a laptop, higher technology coaches for high schools and trained teachers to take full advantage of these tools. Rendell addressed the conference in a pre-recorded video. “This isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity; I believe it’s a must. No child should graduate from any Pennsylvania high school, or for that matter from any high school in the United States of America without knowing how to use a computer, how to access all of the things that can be accessed, how to program and do the things that are necessary for them to be competitive.”

Pennsylvanians have used this as an economic reform initiative as well as an educational one. “You know it’s no secret hat Americans are falling behind in the maths and sciences and many of the innovative technologies that are so necessary for our students to master if they’re going to compete in the new world of global technology. I always say in Pennsylvania, it used to be that we competed against New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Well now we’re competing with Singapore and Korea, China, India, France and Germany and we have to excel in education. America has led the world’s economy for the last century because of our ability to always be first to innovate, to create new ideas and bring new things into the fore. We led the industrial revolution, we led the technology revolution but things are changing. We’re not at the cutting edge of innovation anymore. We’re not preparing our kids to compete in the global technology marketplace anymore. Wouldn’t it be nice if the day comes where there’s no need to ask for H1 visas, no need because there’s so many American kids, kids from the inner city, kids from rural areas, kids from every state of this union who are qualified to fill those jobs and earn those good salaries.”

High school reform has been a focus in Pennsylvania for the last few years. Karol Galcik, Superintendent of the Highlands school district, describes some of the steps her district has taken to make her high school more relevant for students and better prepare them for post-school success. “We had ability grouping in our high school. No longer do we have that. We have one core curriculum plus AP classes. We have doubled our AP classes in three years. Our high school teachers teach reading strategies and writing strategies across the curriculum. We now have in our faculty meetings teachers teaching other teachers about reading strategies and how those strategies have worked for their students. The students are comprehending their reading much better. We have also implemented small learning communities within our high school for our ninth grade students. Our ninth grade was a critical year. It was the year we were getting the most dropouts. This is our first year for those small learning communities and so far we have – I can’t really say a percentage at this point – but I know that the number I have received each month is definitely lower than any that we have received before. And we do attribute that to the small learning communities.”

Another high school reform initiative at Highlands is a dual enrolment program through which students can graduate with some college credit. Galcik told the story of one student who has benefited in particular. “He, very intelligent, but he was not connecting to the school environment. He didn’t know if he was going to stay in school to graduate, but his high school counsellor believed in him. We did not put any requirement on the dual enrolment such as you had to be the top of your class or you had to be in certain level of groupings. We said if you were interested and the money was there we would send you. This young man was very successful. From that time, last year when he finished the class he wanted to go before our board of directors to tell them thank you, that it changed his life.”

The panel of presenters took questions from the audience. One attendee asked how the laptops are changing instruction. “One of the ways it’s really critical is for teachers to rethink how they design their learning environments. And I think one of the things that we’ve discovered is by giving teachers the opportunity to start looking at that key question, that essential question, that leads them to start them thinking about how do they change the way they deliver instruction so – I mean, we’ve heard and we’ve seen examples in the past but I know for instance with my staff, we developed a program of embedded staff development a number of years ago, we’ve been doing it for six years. And by giving the teachers the opportunity to have that time each day to work on actually a course that is staff development related that has technology as a component, that’s made the difference in delivering instruction.

So let me give you an example in terms of one of my math teachers at the high school that using literally as a tool he can break students into groups. He’s able to actually then differentiate the instruction for every group of students on a dynamic basis. He couldn’t do that before, it was too time consuming. The technology gives him a tool that allows him to go that direction. So he’s taken a concept that we’ve basically shared with him and now he’s made that happen into reality.”

For their exemplary ed tech in vision and leadership [Cozen] awarded Governor Rendell and his team with it’s 2007 public sector champion award. For East School News, I’m Dennis Pierce.

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