Umar Abdullah projects a passage of a story on the screen and reads it out loud to his Dimmitt Middle School sixth graders, who follow along using their own laptops.
Every time he pauses to ask a question, students scroll through their digital copy of the text until they find their answer.
This sort of integration of technology and learning is new to Dimmitt, and Renton School District is hoping that it will become the norm for the rest of the schools in the district soon.
Dimmitt was chosen to pilot the 1-to-1 Laptop Program, an initiative that aims to provide each student with an electronic device to encourage digital learning.
“(The program) connects our work in the district, like our West Hill Now! with our three elementary schools that are feeders to Dimmitt, and also to connect with our rigorous IB program in Renton High School,” said Ellen Dorr, director of Digital Learning at RSD. “What we’re really working on with a digital learning instructional model is thinking about how we can be flexible, how we can be innovative, how we can leverage technology to meet the individual needs of learners and focus on constructing knowledge together, collaborating, being visible about our learning, etc. It’s thinking about how technology plays into that, towards that kind of thinking and learning.”
Each student at Dimmitt is assigned a Chromebook, which they which they carry with them all day.
This program is a step toward digital literacy — a skill that’s arguably a necessity in the 21st century — as well as a method to foster sense of belonging, Dorr said.
“I really believe technology enhances face-to-face interactions,” she said. “When you’re using technology well, as a classroom teacher you can think about ways how you can work with different groups of students. You’re providing specific resources or support scaffolds they can approach digitally, and you’re pulling different groups of students together. Because you’re pulling them together based on need, students can feel like, ‘Oh, this is for me. These are for my needs.’ They know that small group instruction becomes more powerful than traditional big group instruction.”
Other than collecting achievement data at the end of the school year, the district will collect student perception data to assess the success of the program.
“We want to ask them a number of questions around how they were asked to demonstrate learning and which modalities they are using to learn,” Dorr said. “We’ll ask them questions about that, and use our other student perception data around community and feeling of belonging in school.”
A large concern with assigning personal laptops to students is how they will navigate the sphere of social media. Dorr said this is why Dimmitt is focusing on teaching students digital citizenship.
“As a district we have a responsible use policy,” she said. “We want digital behavior to mirror our analog behavior. The world of social media poses some specific challenges, especially for middle schoolers who are developing their social identities. We might have some lessons that happen during social studies or language arts around character development or integration of social media presence. We’re integrating that work.”
Dorr said this school year the district was finally ready to take on the scope of the program.
“We had an increase in the number of resources, we have more digital curriculum, we have pilots in specific content areas, we have a social studies curriculum that uses more technology,” she said. “Because there’s a clear instructional need and instructional model for this, we’re able to see how this would work in a classroom and how it would work across content areas.”