Excitement builds as S.T.A.T. takes the next step


BCPS to use EliteBook© dual learning tool for S.T.A.T.
digital conversion

At Rodgers Forge Elementary School, anticipation is growing. The future of education is coming, and the Towson elementary is one of its first stops.

“I personally am excited that our school will have such a critical role in the transformation to a digital learning environment,” says Jennifer Piet, a Grade 2 teacher at Rodgers Forge.

Her colleague, Kindergarten teacher Terry Guth, compares the future at Rodgers Forge to “an exciting journey for parents, teachers, and especially the students. . . . The possibilities to differentiate instruction will be amazing.”

They are talking about the designation of their school – and nine other BCPS elementaries – as “Lighthouse Schools.” The 10 schools are where BCPS will pilot its system-wide conversion to a 1:1 digital learning environment known as Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow, or S.T.A.T.

The focus of the initiative is to ensure that BCPS curriculum and instruction support the move to digital learning. Key to that mission, however, is accessing the curriculum; to do that, the initiative calls for providing a personal digital learning device for each student and teacher. And this week, the public got its first look at that device – the HP EliteBook© Revolve 810 G2.

The EliteBook© – a combination laptop computer and tablet – will be distributed to all classroom teachers in BCPS by June 30, with children in grades 1-3 at the Lighthouse Schools receiving their own device when school reopens in August 2014. Children won’t take the devices home at first, but that may happen eventually as S.T.A.T. expands to higher grades and more schools across BCPS.

“This is an entirely new culture shift (for BCPS),” says BCPS Superintendent Dallas Dance. “For me, it is all about, ‘How do we get kids engaged and connected (with learning) by leveraging technology?’”

On Tuesday, the Board of Education of Baltimore County authorized the next steps in the S.T.A.T. story. Through a four-year lease program, BCPS will work with Daly Computers, Inc., of Clarksburg, Md., to provide 120,810 of the two-in-one EliteBooks© to kick off S.T.A.T.’s pilot phase.

Prior to choosing the device, the school system met with teachers and students to learn what they wanted in a mobile digital learning tool. “They said they’d like a two-in-one system,” said Lloyd Brown, chief information officer for BCPS, adding the EliteBook© closely meets the wish lists of both teachers and students.

Like a laptop, the device comes with a keyboard and plenty of power for writing classroom assignments, taking notes, or editing science fair projects. Like a tablet, the device has a touch screen for ease of use and the ability to download and use applications, or “apps,” for accessing the latest mobile learning technology. At just three pounds, it’s lighter than many textbooks, durable, and features both a camera and a pivoting, high-definition 11.6-inch display screen. It uses the Windows 8.1 operating system.

Dr. Dance says his experience as both a teacher and principal leads him to believe students will take seriously the responsibility of using the EliteBooks© as 21st century learning tools. S.T.A.T. will include plenty of training for staff, students, and the school community about what it means to transition from traditional classroom instruction to a digital learning landscape.

“(Students) will know they are taking responsibility and ownership for the device,” Dr. Dance says. Even so, “We’ll be doing a lot of student training with the devices, but also a lot of parent and caregiver training as well.”

Not everything has been decided with the new initiative, say BCPS administrators. Discussions continue, for instance, about when students will be allowed to take home the devices – and at what age. But the Board on Tuesday authorized a four-year commitment to the program, which comes with provisions for damaged devices, supporting equipment such as anti-theft tags and cases, and technical support.

“There are still critical questions we need to answer,” Dr. Dance says, some of which will be addressed through the yearlong pilot experience at the 10 Lighthouse Schools.

“But right now, we’re focusing on our 10 Lighthouse Schools – what works and what doesn’t work,” he adds. “And right now, the level of excitement is palpable.”

That’s the case back at Rodgers Forge, where teachers and students are ready for what the future has in store.

“The reality is that the students we teach today are living in a world where technology is at their fingertips,” Piet says. “Through the use of (EliteBooks©), the world will be in the palm of their hands, and as teachers, there will be endless possibilities for meeting individual needs and keeping students engaged.”

And the anticipation grows.

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Story by BCPS Communications Specialist Charles Herndon

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