Successful tech pilots enhance learning, build excitement around new initiatives, and subject classroom technology to rigorous, data-based testing. At the end of the school year after piloting technology, your district should come away with a clear understanding of the value of technology in the classroom. Take the guesswork out of new classroom tools and make sure that your district runs an organized and thorough pilot.
1. Set your goals early on
Before introducing new devices or software into your district, make sure that you’ve identified clear, actionable goals for your pilot program. Launching technology in the classroom can accomplish many goals; some tools are used to improve test scores and prepare students for postsecondary success, while others help educators to raise literacy rates and decrease the number of students reliant on RTI programs. Some products are simply designed to increase student engagement and joy. Your district’s priorities will affect the classroom devices and edtech products that you chose to pilot and the ways in which you measure the success of your initiative.
If your district is primarily interested in adding to an already successful edtech initiative, you might be looking to upgrade to the newest make and model of devices. Districts that prioritize innovation might even consider 3-D printers and other advanced makerspace tools. But if your district has yet to successfully implement targeted differentiation, a necessity for 21st century students, you might choose older, tried and true devices like iPads or Chromebooks, and devote your district’s time and money to effectively determining and addressing unique student needs.
2.Talk to other districts to determine best practices
Once you’ve identified your goals, find districts similar to yours that have already launched a successful tech pilot. Teachers, administrators, and tech directors that have already gone through the pilot process will have valuable insight into your district’s plan and might be able to warn you of any challenges they faced when launching their district’s tech initiative.
There are many ways to collaborate with another district. Some forms of collaboration require more commitment than others:
Apply for a grant
If you don’t have enough funding for your tech pilot, considering collaborating with a partner district to apply for a grant. Partnering with another district for grant applicationsDistrict collaboration demonstrates that your initiative will impact a large number of students and allows districts to keep costs low by leveraging resources. Partnering with another district can increase the success rate of your grant applications.
Plan regular meet ups
If a joint grant application seems like a bridge too far, but you still want to encourage cross district collaboration, reach out to administrators at other districts and arrange a series of lectures, meet ups, or skill shares throughout the the year. Make sure that you schedule events at both districts and provide teachers with transportation to and from the event.
Share a Virtual Space
If you’re not ready to share funding or host events, consider starting a blog or closed Facebook group for your district’s and another district’s educators. Teachers can use these sites to share their reflections on classroom technology, and district administrators can post online PD content such as webinar recordings, eBooks, and blog posts.
3. Make sure your pilot targets the correct student populations
When planning your pilot program, think back to your goals. Who do you hope will benefit from your district’s new classroom technology? If one of your goals is to support students in your RTI program, it is essential that your district’s technology is tested in RTI settings. If your highest priority is to prepare all eighth grade students for high school, make sure that new technology is piloted in all eighth grade student populations. If you fail to include a subset of students in your pilot, such as students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch, ESL students, or students already performing above grade level expectations, you won’t be able to accurately evaluate your new technology.
Carefully planning the student populations that will participate in your pilot will help you to ensure that your technology in the classroom is empowering all students and isn’t exacerbating an achievement gap or digital divide.
4. Base the size of your pilot on the size of your district
The size of your pilot will be informed by the size of the student population you eventually hope to serve. Elizabeth Forward is a large district in rural Pennsylvania with 5 schools and 2,400 students. When Elizabeth Forward piloted iPads and eSpark, the district tested devices in all kindergarten classrooms and in some 1st and 2nd grade RTI and Special Education classrooms. After a successful pilot program, Elizabeth Forward incorporated iPads and eSpark into all of their K-6th grade classrooms.
Manchester Community Schools in Michigan is a smaller district, with only one elementary school. During their pilot season, Manchester launched iPads and eSpark in a kindergarten classroom and a 1st grade classroom. The teachers in each of these classrooms were chosen to lead the pilot based on their tech-savvy and enthusiasm for blended learning. After a successful pilot season, Manchester introduced iPads and eSpark to the majority of the district’s classrooms, and the two teachers that participated in the tech pilot were seen as iPad experts in their district.
5. Decide on a classroom model
There are variety of different instruction models already in use in blended learning districts across the country. Classroom models should be based on district resources and teacher ability.
Station Rotation Model
When a classroom is modeled around rotating stations, teachers are able to deliver targeted mini-lessons with a subset of students while the rest of the class rotates through teacher-created centers.
Best for: Teachers already comfortable with technology in the classroom and eager to work with small groups
# of iPads needed: 5-6 per classroom
Challenges: Requires a high level of classroom management
Used at: Utica Community Schools
Targeted Instruction Model
With targeted instruction, teachers can meet with a small groups of students of similar skills and needs while the rest of the class works independently on their devices.
Best for: Teachers new to classroom technology
# of iPads needed: 1:1
Challenges: Requires a large number of iPads
Used at: KIPP VOICE
SPLIT CLASSROOM MODEL
In a split classroom, teachers give focused lessons to half of the class while the rest of the class works independently on piloted devices. Halfway through the class, the two groups switch.
Best for: Large districts looking to lower the student:teacher ratio
# of iPads needed: 1:2
Challenges: Requires teachers to prepare two lessons for each day.
Used at: Valley Stream 30
6. Build teacher buy-in and solicit feedback
Even if the technology you pilot is perfect for your students, your pilot won’t be successful if it’s not supported by your teachers. Teachers should receive new devices at least a month before your pilot is scheduled to launch, and your district should make an effort to keep the lines of communication open between teachers and administrators.
You have a higher chance of launching a successful pilot if you build teacher investment in new instructional practices rather than in new devices or technology. Before the pilot launches, make sure to clearly state the expected changes in teacher practices. If teachers are accustomed to whole class instruction, and you will be asking staff to experiment with the station rotation model, teachers should be informed they will now be expected to manage small groups and set firm behavioral expectations for their students. Administrators should be able to clearly explain why they are asking for instructional changes and what the district hopes to achieve with the introduction of new technology in the classroom. Pilots won’t always go according to plan. Make a safe space for trial and error and let teachers know that they won’t be accountable if the piloted technology ends up being a poor fit for your district’s needs.
7. Provide ongoing PD
An all day PD event can be exhausting and unproductive. Instead, plan multiple shorter sessions over the course of the school year. This will give teachers time to discover classroom management strategies, best practices for using technology in the classroom, and troubleshooting tips share at future sessions.
Make sure that valuable PD time isn’t wasted on learning how to use technology in the classroom. Instead, devote most of each session to sharing instructional practices. Teachers don’t need to be tech experts, but they do need to be able to differentiate learning and plan engaging lessons.
At the end of each PD session, ask teachers to set some goals that they hope to accomplish before the next session. Planning ahead will make learning new skill sets more manageable and help your teachers keep track of their professional growth.
8. Delight students.
“Boredom is a disease of epidemic proportions… Why are our schools not places of joy?” – John Goodland, Researcher and Theorist
Your edtech pilot should increase academic achievement and student joy. Bored or frustrated students aren’t likely to do well in school or develop a love of learning, while engaged or joyful students are more likely to become invested in their education and achieve success after high school.
When launching your tech pilot, make sure that all technology is age appropriate, intuitive, and engaging. Young students respond well to educational games, songs, and colorful graphics. Older students will get more out of project based learning that encourages collaboration and outside research and allows them to study a topic that they’re interested in.
9. Use data to measure success
The purpose of a technology pilot should be to rigorously assess technology in the classroom to determine if it is a good fit for your district. A technology pilot can be thought of as a test drive or a trial run before your district makes a large purchase. The best way to evaluate classroom technology is to look at student data.
There are two key pieces of data that will help you to understand student progress and engagement in your technology pilot. Usage rate is the amount of time that students and educators are actively using piloted devices. If student engagement is a major goal of your tech initiative, consider piloting a tool that has built in feedback loop that allows students to rate their experience. Alternatively, ask teachers to carefully and honestly estimate how much time they and their students spend on the new devices each week.
Academic results are also essential to understanding the efficacy of technology in the classroom. Compare the test scores from third-party or state assessments of a classroom that uses the new technology with a classroom that doesn’t. Before launching a pilot, have your students take a benchmark assessment – we prefer nationally-normed assessments like the NWEA MAP or PARCC. At the end of the pilot, have students take the test again to determine if the pilot correlated with any meaningful academic growth.
Data should inform differentiation. Many districts are analyzing students’ standardized test scores in order to locate individual student needs and skills. Using a third-party assessment makes it easy to pinpoint where a student might need intervention and areas in which a student needs to be challenged more. This information can both inform individual student lesson plans and the ways that you break students into small groups for rotational instruction.
10. Launch in the second half of the year
While it’s common for districts to launch pilot programs in the fall, there are some advantages to launching a new pilot after the first of the year. By January, school has been in session for at least four months, enough time for teachers to have a clear understanding of individual student tendencies, personalities, strengths, and challenges.
With a launch in the second half of the year, classroom expectations have already been established, your teachers will be better able to predict who might respond well to a new pilot. This can make for an easier, more controlled transition to new devices and manage some of the chaos that comes with the excitement of new technology in the classroom.