Learning Journeys: How Technology Can Transform

At Burney-Harris-Lyons Middle School on a Friday in November 2014, students were at their desks in a dimmed room, the supplies stacked on their desks backlit by the pale glow of the projector up front. They were doing a miniature research project, their teacher explained, presenting videos they created on the Holocaust, World War II, and Hitler’s rise to power.

In another classroom, kids were doing paired reading using Google Drive, highlighting passages and adding their commentary as they went. In another, there’s no technology in use at all – not at that moment, anyway. There’s just a teacher asking questions about last night’s reading, and students chiming in with the answers.

And just outside, a group of observers is making its way down the hall.

“They won’t be surprised to see you here,” says Clarke County School District Superintendent Dr. Phil Lanoue, walking backward down the hall as he faces the group. “They see groups like this all the time.”

The guests in question, on this day are a group of partners from the Get Georgia Reading Campaign. As part of its efforts, the group has made strategic learning journeys across the state, visiting various schools to see in person what works and what could be replicated in other areas. In Clarke County, what’s working is a strong adaptation to digital demands, paired with an emphasis on literacy. The system has one digital device per student in grades one through nine, but the focus, Lanoue tells his guests, is on transforming instructional practices – not devices for devices’ sake.

“What you see here is across the county,” he says. “This is not a pilot.”

You see the same thing – technology supporting innovative instruction, rather than the other way around – at Barrow Elementary School, also in Clarke County. On the day of the learning journey, Barrow kindergarteners were in the media center, reading and collaborating with a first-grade class in Vermont on America Recycles Day.

“The library is a place not only to consume information,” says media specialist Andy Plemmons. “It’s a place to come and create and to connect with our world.”

In a classroom down the hall, as reading instruction takes place, students are grouped in pairs, some settled on bean bags, some at their desks, reading together as their teacher makes the rounds throughout the room. And this is how it goes at Barrow Elementary, and in Clarke County as a whole – students are untethered from their desks and teachers are untethered from the front of the room.

“When you walk into the building,” Lanoue says, “learning occurs immediately. It occurs in every space.”

— Meghan Frick, Ga DOE