HISD Embracing Technology in the Classroom

Students in Rebecca Millhench's class at Young Men's College Preparatory Academy use iPads to take a quiz.

In a world where Facebook messages, tweets and text messages have become the language of the 21st century for many students, HISD is working to transition its curriculum to online, interactive content.

“The district is identifying effective strategies that allow teachers to use technology to further learning along with the resources that will support that kind of blended, online learning,” HISD’s Director of Secondary Curriculum Michael Dorsey said.

As the district begins planning and design for the $1.89 billion 2012 bond program, the goal is to use technology to offer students a more personalized and flexible learning experience.  For example, an Algebra teacher might spend part of the class explaining exponential equations. The teacher might then direct her students to an online resource such as Khan Academy to allow students to practice at their own pace on their laptops.

The district already is moving forward with a plan to assign students their own laptops, starting at 10 high schools this fall. As such devices become more common in the classroom, administrators are also exploring the widespread use of digital textbooks and eBooks.

“These are the tools of the next generation,” Dorsey said. “If our students are not skilled with these tools, they’re disadvantaged.”

HISD currently has 3.6 million textbooks throughout the district with an inventory valued at $139 million. Each year, schools are billed a total of $2 million for lost textbooks, costs that could be cut with the use of online textbooks.

While there are no immediate plan to remove physical textbooks from HISD campuses, Dorsey said the schools built under the 2012 bond project should be equipped to handle online learning with a robust infrastructure that includes seamless wi-fi throughout the campus.

“As buildings are built, we need them to be flexible and include the technology pieces so learning can happen anywhere,” he said.

Patrick Glenn, an architect for Perkins-Will, says schools should have a progressive attitude toward integrating technology on their campuses.

“The use of technology and tablets is where the students feel more natural,” Glenn said. “By going to more of a mobile technology, you’re putting the kid in an environment they can communicate, interact and engage with each other.”

Perkins-Will has designed several campuses in urban school districts with blended learning features. The firm was recently awarded the contract to design Lamar High School, which will be rebuilt under the 2012 bond program.

Glenn said his goal is to design schools with flexible spaces that can be adapted to whatever technological advances may come.

At Young Men’s College Preparatory Academy, Principal Dameion Crook has seen the potential for blended learning since administrators gave every student access to an iPad at the start of the school year.

“We’re able to get kids excited about learning, and we are keeping them engaged,” Crook said. “Our students appreciate the fact that we’re implementing technology in their everyday learning.”