At Emerald STEAM Magnet Middle School in El Cajon, California, a digital simulation of the annex where Anne Frank lived in hiding brought history to life and allowed students to develop a better contextual understanding of the play they were reading.
“I think that if we hadn’t found that simulation or if we hadn’t used our computer then I would have still been left with a whole bunch of questions,” one student said.
Emerald was one of 100 schools across the country that benefited from a technology coach during the 2018–19 school year, the second year of the Dynamic Learning Project (DLP). Through instructional coaching, the DLP aims to increase impactful use of technology and improve educational equity.
Sustained support from DLP coaches can help teachers use technology to enhance student engagement and learning and avoid its use as a distraction or replacement for the teacher. Indeed, as powerful technology use increased, student engagement in these schools grew as well—after the second year of the DLP, nearly 60 percent of teachers who received coaching saw a positive impact on student engagement and learning. Moreover, compared to non-DLP teachers, DLP teachers felt more confident that they could positively impact their students’ engagement and learning through powerful technology use.
“[Student engagement] has gone up a lot, and I know a big part of that is how I’ve been changing my own approach,” said one high school math teacher.
Said another teacher: “I like the fact that we are focused on authentic learning with technology as the vehicle, not using technology just to use it.”
Students reported that they enjoyed using technology to transform abstract ideas into something more tangible, and to search for information to help fill gaps in understanding. In fact, students in focus groups unanimously agreed that using technology in this way helps them understand the content better and pursue additional knowledge on topics that interest them.
Rather than waiting for information from the teacher, one student explained that she takes ownership of searching for supplemental material on her own to “speed up the learning process.”
Students and teachers also agreed that they were more engaged when they were given choice and voice in their learning, as well as opportunities to collaborate and be creative. For example, in an algebra class at R.L. Turner High School in Carrollton, Texas, students individually selected technology tools to create digital projects showing mathematical concepts behind real-life phenomena. The students were then organized into small groups to collaboratively build a website that incorporated aspects of each student’s project.
“Giving them the opportunity for choices and creativity has helped a lot,” their teacher said. “Their grades have gone up. The quality of their work has gone up.”
At Anza Elementary School in El Cajon, California, a teacher credited her DLP coach for making her “more comfortable letting students choose…how they wanted to learn the information.” She noted that the freedom to select appropriate technology tools for their work created student buy-in and increased student engagement and agency.
Another teacher at Anza described how DLP coaching has helped her develop more varied classroom learning opportunities involving a range of technology tools, which has increased student engagement and allowed her to reach kids she hadn’t been able to previously.
Compared to teachers who did not receive DLP coaching, more DLP teachers reported that their student technology use and skill development is having a positive impact on student engagement and learning, and principals observed tangible changes, as well.
“You go into classrooms, they feel like more comfortable, joyful spaces,” one principal said. “Colleagues are generally reporting improved achievement in most areas, [and] generally, all of our data across the board has improved this year. You can’t not attribute it to what [the] DLP brought.”