Learning Everywhere, All the Time

We’re thrilled to share with you a  guest post by Dr. Heath E. Morrison, superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

Shakespeare wrote with a quill. Stephen King writes on a computer (mostly).

Sixty years ago, surgeons removed diseased organs with a scalpel. Today’s surgeons cut with a laser.

When I was a boy, changing a transmission in a car was something we could do with our dads. Today’s electronics in almost all cars require high-tech equipment.

Public education has also experienced a significant shift as a result of technology innovation.  Increased expectations for personalizing student learning are now coupled with a drive for global competitiveness.

We know that creativity and imagination are in the heart of every child.  Through technology, we can open opportunities for connections in ways we’ve never seen before.  Children who animate the Boston Tea Party will never forget the points of history.  But it’s not the technology that causes them to imprint the experience; it’s the unleashing of creativity.  The teacher’s creativity is spurred as she writes the lesson and facilitates the learning at higher levels than ever before, using modern tools.

It’s important to remember that inspired teaching – not the tools – fosters great learning. Technology advances have not changed our need for the skilled artisan, whether it’s in a classroom, an operating theater or a garage.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we are redesigning our schools for success very deliberately.  We believe young people are learning everywhere, all the time.  Using technology to increase focused learning time, inside and outside the classroom, maximizes the benefits of modern tools – and we have adapted our instructional practice accordingly. In 2012, CMS launched a bring-your-own-technology (BYOT) program so that students could use the devices they already have as learning tools within a traditional classroom setting as well as at home.

To support the BYOT initiative, CMS has invested substantially in infrastructure for bandwidth and access.  Our goal is to connect our 144,000-plus learners to the global classroom using a wireless environment with enough agility to support significantly increased numbers of learners on line simultaneously.

We selected digital textbooks for science and social studies for middle grades this year and have provided mobile learning labs (Chromebooks) for middle schools as well.  Why middle grades? We know middle level learners thrive on project-based learning and challenge-based learning — so using digital texts, we have pushed up the level of energy and engagement at middle schools district-wide.

We believe that consistency is a gift we give our children.  We are working on alignment in areas such as intentionally teaching academic vocabulary across grades, increasing non-fiction reading and building foundational skills specifically through the grades. Rama Road Middle School is an excellent example of this initiative.  We have been very fortunate to partner with Discovery Education to transform Rama Road Middle as a science school of excellence.  We have built McClintock Middle School as a STEM school with an intense math emphasis.   We focus on expanding learning in all subjects with a science and math lens in those two middles schools, which feed the same high school.

Outstanding teachers are essential for inspired learning.  Technology in the hands of a poor teacher is the same as a word processor in the hands of a bad poet. Never before has creative teaching been more important.  Technology is amazing for engaging learners, those who are students as well as those who are teaching them.  Technology can open vistas for teachers that serve to renew their excitement in possibilities for connecting with kids.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we are excited and energized by advances in technology integration that hold such great promise for our students and their career goals.

Dr. Heath E. Morrison is superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) in Charlotte, North Carolina. CMS is the 18th-largest district in the U.S. with 144,000 students in 160 schools. It is a diverse, consolidated city-county district with about 18,000 employees and a $1.2 billion annual budget.