How One Tennessee Middle School Is Effectively Leveraging Technology to Produce Successful Learning Outcomes in Its Classrooms
Vance Middle School (Vance) is located in rural East Tennessee and is part of Bristol Tennessee City Schools. The school serves approximately 588 students in grades seven through eight. As a Title I school, Vance prides itself on providing challenging academic programs and opportunities for personal growth. The school is dedicated to the continued study, implementation, and refinement of educational processes inherent to quality middle level education.
Vance’s commitment to supporting the core subjects and 21st century skills mastery is evident in the school’s strategic planning. This past year, Vance ushered in its Digital Conversion initiative. The word “conversion” was specifically chosen by school leaders because it reflects the school’s commitment to the integration of new learning environments. Vance’s motto—“We’re all in”—emphasizes the critical role student-to-student and teacher-to-student partnerships play in the learning and planning process.
Laying the Ground Work
Vance’s Digital Conversion included the implementation of a school-wide one-to-one program. Thanks to some forward-thinking planning by district leaders and the assistance of ENA, the school already had a solid network infrastructure in place to support its digital integration. As the managed Internet service provider for the district, ENA monitors Bristol’s data activity to ensure it has the bandwidth connectivity it needs to create 21st century learning opportunities.
As part of Vance’s one-to-one implementation, every student received a laptop computer and backpack to encourage them to take their computers home. The school also has iPads available for its students to use for consuming and creating content. Flipped instruction, live Twitter discussions, and student-created video presentations are just a sampling of the impactful ways this technology is already being integrated within the school’s curriculum.
Establishing Key Partnerships
Vance has also forged several valuable partnerships with local colleges and businesses to cultivate effective 21st century learning opportunities for its students. The middle school currently partners with East Tennessee State University (ETSU), King University, and Milligan College. ETSU educators provide Vance’s teachers with specific strategies that they can incorporate into their instruction to close skills gaps. ETSU also provides training on higher-order math skills to Vance’s math teachers during a two-week summer workshop.
King University and Milligan College have opened their doors to Vance students for college campus tours during the spring. Students arrive on campus, tour the facilities, and speak with college students to learn more about campus life and what is required to be a successful college student. King University also assists Vance with its digital open houses. These events are open to the public, and King’s students are invited to the school for training. King University’s faculty members also work one-on-one with students enrolled in Vance’s after-school Lottery Education Afterschool Program (LEAP), a program designed to provide quality learning opportunities to students.
In addition to its university partnerships, Vance also collaborates with several local businesses. The school recently partnered with Lowe’s to create green screens the students can use for their multimedia projects. Vance also partnered with the local Toyota dealership to design a recognition award for students who have shown the most growth. While most award programs are reserved for top athletes or top academic performances, this program honors those students who have made a concerted effort toward accomplishing their goals.
Additionally, the school recently collaborated with the Bristol Chamber of Commerce to advocate its Digital Conversion and encourage local businesses to provide free Wi-Fi access to Bristol’s students. Although the majority of Vance’s students have Internet access at home, the city has installed several access points in its downtown area, providing students with places to access the Internet before and after school.
Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES), a municipally-owned electric utility, is another valuable partner. The utility recently donated a 3D printer that the students are using to build models to scale in its STEM lab. The school is currently in the process of creating a mentoring program with BTES’s engineers.
Data Integration and Coaching
In addition to deploying a robust one-to-one initiative and forging key partnerships, Vance’s leaders are using assessment data to personalize learning and improve student performance. Vance employs multiple data capturing methods to ensure it is effectively meeting its students’ individual academic needs and that its curriculum remains aligned to the school’s overall learning vision. This data is used to shape instruction and identify students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. The school has a benchmark program in place that it uses three times a year to gauge each student’s performance. The school also uses formative assessments to monitor student growth and identify those students who are experiencing skill gaps. This assessment data is collected on a bi-weekly basis. Vance’s teachers, administrators, interventionists, and academic coaches work collaboratively to develop intervention and outreach opportunities for students based upon this data.
Vance also has instructional systems in place that support the acquisition of content knowledge and P21 skills. Vance is unique in that it shares its data with its students. Each student is assigned an academic coach who explains the data to the students and assists them in their core subject areas. The students work with the coaches to create goals for themselves, and students have the ability to track their own academic progress with a program called iNotes, creating more ownership and buy-in from the students.
Data conferencing has been a huge success at Vance. Because the students feel like an integral part of the process rather than just a number, Vance’s students are more invested in their education. In the past, the school kept this data to themselves, but technology and Vance’s Digital Conversion have simplified the process and made data conferencing possible. Vance has really embraced the power that comes with student-ownership and data customization. The one-on-one meetings with the academic coaches enable
Vance’s educators to pinpoint each student’s individual goals and create specific academic roadmaps for every single student.
Professional Development Programs
Professional development is another integral component that Vance uses to enhance their learning environment and achieve 21st century outcomes. The school employed a technology integration specialist to provide in-depth and customized weekly trainings to Vance’s teachers and administrators. The training has provided Vance’s teachers with the tools and knowledge they need to be more productive in the classroom. The integration specialist also enlisted the help of those teachers who were more technology-savvy and appointed them as lead teachers. She found that some teachers were more receptive to receiving instruction or guidance from a co-teacher as opposed to a trainer.
Cultivating the Four Cs
Vance is focused on preparing its students for the complex 21st century life and work environments they will encounter. The Four Cs—creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration—are embedded into every instructional strategy at the middle school. Vance’s students have the opportunity to engage in real world experiences that foster the development of the skills, knowledge, and expertise required to succeed in work and life.
Vance has successfully integrated several project-based learning strategies into its digital curriculum. This year, Vance’s students created a play about bullying and designed a marketing campaign around the event. They also filmed and edited the production. Vance’s students are currently in the process of taking the play on the road, requiring the students to organize and schedule dates as well as promote and market the event to other schools and communities.
The middle school also received a grant that will enable them to bring Circus for Kids (CFK) to Vance next year. CFK is an educational outreach program that is working to establish a nationwide network of schools and facilities with circus arts programs. CFK will train Vance’s students in advanced skills such as stilt-walking, clowning, acrobatic, balance boards, tight wire walking, and more. The students will work with CFK artists to develop and choreograph their skills into solo and group routines, culminating in a student circus show that will be open to the public.
Vance’s students will have the opportunity to put their video production skills to the test, as they will be responsible for capturing the entire circus performance on film. The videos will be edited and sold to the public as a fundraiser for the school. The students will also be responsible for marketing the student circus event and selling ad space and tickets. This is a great project-based learning opportunity for Vance students, as it will enable them to gain valuable real-life marketing, video production, graphic design, and sales experiences through hands-on activities all while addressing specific math and reading/language arts standards.
Delivering Engaging and Authentic Learning Experiences
Additionally, Vance’s students have the opportunity to engage in a variety of authentic real-world learning experiences that will assist them in their future careers. For example, the school’s yearbook program enables its students to gain valuable graphic design and publishing experience. The students collaborate with the middle school and high school art departments, providing them with the opportunity to work with knowledgeable instructors and familiarize themselves with professional graphic design programs like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. Entry-level training workshops for these design programs cost anywhere from $900 to $2,000 per session, so the skills and knowledge these students are acquiring at the middle school level will give them a competitive advantage once they enter the workforce.
As part of the seventh grade curriculum, each student participates in the school’s STEM lab where they apply project-based and inquiry-based learning techniques to explore the STEM subjects in unique and innovative ways. Vance’s eighth graders can elect to remain in the STEM lab program or they can choose to join a performing arts class, study digital media, or participate in the school’s robotics club. Students in the robotics club often collaborate with Vance’s CHAMPS Racing Program. The racing program has a drag car that students work on at the local race track. Student members build and tear down the engine and study the velocity and speed of the vehicle. The robotics club recently built a part for the CHAMPS race car. Programs like these provide students with the opportunity to apply their classroom STEM lessons to real-life situations.
All the Right Pieces in Place
As demonstrated by the impactful and diverse initiatives above, Vance is an exemplar for effective 21st century digital learning. ENA is privileged to work with such an outstanding school district, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds in store for this exceptional community of learners.