DOE makes strides with digital curriculum pilot project

Moanalua Middle students using laptops during a musical lesson. (Photo: Dept. of Education)

On Friday, the Hawaii State Department of Education updated House and Senate education committees on the progress of a digital curriculum pilot program launched in summer 2013 at eight public schools. The briefing included a videoconference with three participating Hawaii schools.

The pilot provides the DOE necessary insight into the impact of technology on teaching and learning, while laying the groundwork for next steps toward technology integration into curriculum and schools.

Last legislative session, lawmakers approved $8.2 million for the DOE to implement a Hawaii Common Core digital curriculum pilot in the 2013-14 school year. This pilot became known as Access Learning. The funds covered costs for computers for teachers and students, technical support, professional development, and also helped offset expenses associated with curriculum and implementation.

“It’s about opening doors and increasing access for students who would otherwise not have had that experience,” said state Sen. Jill Tokuda, chair of the Senate education committee. “There are so many other challenges they’re dealing with in their every day life that this is really becoming the great equalizer for them. This is going to be the barrier breaker. This will create entry points that will help them be ready to thrive once they leave our doors.”

Access Learning has allowed educators and students to explore innovative digital lessons that go beyond textbooks and classroom walls. For example, Keaau Elementary conducted a virtual field trip to Honolulu Zoo with University of Hawaii Laboratory School students. A UH Lab student wore a Google Glass to capture and stream video feeds of the zoo to the laptops of Keaau students. Children from both schools will now partner to produce videos and other projects about birds they saw at the zoo.

“By equipping schools with this kind of technology, it does two things,” said state Rep. Roy Takumi, chair of the House education committee. “It allows students to engage in technology of the 21st century and beyond… and it psychologically encourages students to work together, focus and have greater disciplines. That’s been the experience in other states as well.”

At Moanalua Middle, principal Lisa Nagamine says Access Learning has been instrumental to engage students more deeply in their education. Her school’s band students have used technology to better visualize and create music, study composers and build connections with their music.

Mililani Waena Principal Dale Castro says his school is focusing on fostering engagement and inquiry by connecting instruction to real-life applications.

Access Learning has also been adopted at Mililani Mauka, Nanaikapono, Pahoa and Nanakuli elementary schools, and Nanakuli High and Intermediate.

“We are pleased and encouraged with the initial success of the program,” said superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. “Access Learning has truly raised excitement among students and educators, opening doors to new, relevant and original learning opportunities.”

Schools have partnered with county police departments to safeguard the computers, all of which are equipped with advanced security tracking software.

The Legislature is considering a $600,000 supplemental budget that would allow for professional development and technology support services that schools have identified as areas of need.

Lawmakers say they will wait until the DOE submits its final report in May before deciding whether more funding can be secured. “If you want to do the whole system, you’re talking about tens of millions of dollars,” said Rep. Takumi. “But if that investment pays off, it’s well worth it.”

Click here to learn more about Access Learning.

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