Better days coming for classroom learning

Better days coming for classroom learning

There is hope.

Much is being said and written regarding the state of education in Rhode Island. Many people observe that student performance in Rhode Island is not as strong as it needs to be. But we should not despair. There is a change coming. The Joint Legislative Commission on E-books and the Rhode Island Department of Education have been quietly working together, behind the scenes, observing best practices from school systems and from subject-matter experts around the country. Learning from the success of others, we have seen how schools can accelerate student performance while using new methods and while integrating technology tools into the classroom.

On Saturday, Oct. 5, more than 700 teachers, administrators, and education professionals came together for the second Rhode Island Innovation Powered by Technology Conference at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence. This full-day educational conference was superbly planned and managed by R.I.D.E. It was a day of discovery and learning for all involved.

Technology is changing the way we live and it is changing how the world learns. Students in South Korea and Uruguay are given laptops. 3G is available throughout Mongolia.

Mooresville, N.C., is a leader in the deployment of technology tools to accelerate learning in their schools, and that community is getting superior results. Mooresville leads North Carolina in student-performance improvement, despite funding that is approximately $2,000 less per student than the funding in more affluent cities and towns in North Carolina.

In Mooresville, they no longer purchase textbooks. Learning there is not based on "seat time" but on discovery. Students are excited to learn. Parents are given access to their children's performance through a "parent portal." Daily or weekly, corrective intervention is part of the monitoring process. No surprises. Report cards are no longer used.

This new wave of learning is coming to a school near you. Through the Wireless Classroom Initiative, we are now in the process of bringing wireless Internet access to every classroom in Rhode Island. Several Rhode Island cities and towns are purchasing devices such as laptops and tablets for their students. Other communities are investing in professional development for their teachers. Two Rhode Island elementary schools - Pleasant View in Providence, and Wakefield Hills in West Warwick - have received from the Rhode Island Department of Education, Innovation Powered by Technology Model School grants, and they are serving as pilot schools to show others the way to incorporate technology into teaching and learning.

Without the proper infrastructure and professional development, failure is a sure bet, but done properly, the rewards are great. Many students own smartphones, laptops, or tablets. They are connected. They know how to use these tools to reach out to the world via the Internet. We need to enable these devices in the classroom. Our students will need the skills to work in teams, like those at Google or Apple or Twitter. They will need to compete with students from South Korea, Uruguay, and the rest of the world.

With initiatives such as Innovation Powered by Technology, the Wireless Classroom Initiative, and the Board of Education Virtual Learning Regulations, we're getting there. Good things are happening here in Rhode Island. You may not see the results yet, but stay tuned.

Sen. Edward J. O'Neill

O'Neill, an independent, who represents District 17 (Lincoln, North Providence, North Smithfield), is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Commission on E Books and a member of the Senate Education and Finance Committees.