District looks to digital resources as 1:1 provides digital equity

Shortly after midterms, RHS’ Chemistry department held a meeting planning out assignments for each unit that would use a new resource – a free, open-source online textbook with interactive activities for students called CK-12. Educational resources like CK-12 offer students the tools they need to learn the material without the cost of purchasing a textbook.

The Williams Act mandates that students have equal access to approved instructional materials. However, with the new digital access provided by RJUHSD’s One-to-One Chromebook Initiative, the district has greater freedom to explore instructional materials outside of the conventional textbook model.

This means that in the future, schools may not necessarily be required to adopt and purchase textbooks in the traditional sense.

CK-12 is not the only new resource RJUHSD is starting to implement in classrooms. According to assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Jess Borjon, as digital options become more available, the district is striving to consider all possibilities for instructional materials – from open-source, to digital with cost, to print with cost, to any combination of the three.

Borjon feels that the future of instructional materials in RJUHSD will become less about finding a single material and more about crafting the best learning experience for students.

A student in Carol Crabtree’s AP European History class works with Chromebooks and textbooks. With RJUHSD’s One-to-One Chromebook initiative, digital materials may become more integrated into curriculum.

“The district and the curriculum department has really embraced the notion that technology is changing the world and is changing education,” Borjon said. “What we want to do is best serve our students and best support our teachers in serving our students.”

In terms of CK-12, Chemistry teacher Robert Mahlman feels that, though his students can still use the textbooks at home, he is beginning to switch primarily to CK-12 and other digital opportunities. He appreciates that the digital format allows a more interactive learning experience.

“It’s not just reading a textbook,” Mahlman said. “It is reading, but then there’s links to things where they can get enrichment on concepts that they wouldn’t be able to get to on the textbooks.”

This trend to include more digital resources in classrooms is taking place across the country. In addition to open-source resources, textbook companies that traditionally produced print products are offering more digital options that utilize technology’s capabilities to enhance the learning experience.

In addition to enhancing the learning experience, RJUHSD director of academic instruction and support Mike Fischer notes that digital open-source materials could help reduce the cost of instructional materials.

“The tremendous growth in free online, open-source materials are obviously cost-effect, and they are rapidly changing the game for schools and textbook publishers,” Fischer said.

According to Vincent Grosso, the senior vice president for National Geographic Learning – the K-12 branch of the textbook company Cengage, over half of Cengage’s revenue comes from digital resources. Grosso notes that, especially for post-high school education, the sale of print materials has “steadily declined” as people switched to digital options for their affordability and increased learning opportunities.

Carnegie IM2 textbooks sit on the shelf in IM2 teacher Doug Ash’s class. When RJUHSD’s contract with Carnegie expires, the district may look into other options for their IM2 curriculum.

“Digital resources have numerous benefits for learning – they can help boost students’ engagement with the material they’re studying as well as boost knowledge retention,” Grosso said. “Digital enables students to learn at their own pace while providing real-time feedback to teachers on how the class and individual students are performing… This is a transition we fully support at Cengage.”

Science courses in particular are shifting with the new technology.

As CP Biology, Physics, and Chemistry courses are traded out for their Next Generation Science Standards counterparts, the approach to educational resources is changing with them.

NGSS lead teacher Mike Purvines is working to construct the new curriculum for NGSS courses and introduced Chemistry and Biology teachers to CK-12 as part of this process. According to Purvines, in drafting the NGSS courses, each subject has three authors working to write curriculum which aligns with the CDE’s NGSS performance expectations.

These authors make the initial step of searching for educational resources to share with teachers. As teachers get the chance to use these materials, they can determine what works best with their students.

Purvines finds that the standards set out by NGSS are leading to a revolutionized approach to choosing educational resources.

“One of the statements that’s very clear in the Next Generation Science Standards is we should not be using one source as all of our information,” Purvines said. “We should be gathering information from a lot of sources and using it.”

In this way, while the curriculum might rely on a textbook for a certain topic, it would swap in a different educational resource for other units; the focus is on finding whatever resource is best to teach certain concepts, rather than relying on a single instructional material that might be “weak” in certain areas.

Above, students in Carol Crabtree’s AP European History class work out of a textbook. With RJUHSD’s One-to-One Chromebook Initiative, digital materials may outweigh print.

Borjon feels that this approach to curriculum is the district’s ultimate goal for the future of discussions involving educational resources.

“We really need to get past the instructional material being the focus of the instruction, because really what should happen in curriculum and instruction is you find materials that support your learning targets and your instruction,” Borjon said. “You don’t cater your instruction and your day-to-day activity to the material.”

While Purvines works to help draft the initial curriculum for NGSS courses, other classes in RJUHSD are looking to replace their educational resources. According to Borjon, the district has new opportunities as of late to look into purchasing resources, finally finding “solid footing” financially after the limitations faced during the 2008 recession.

Part of this “catching up” process includes replacing educational materials in base curriculum like core CP courses; current focuses include English courses and CP Government.

This year, RJUHSD’s English department held meetings district wide to discuss purchasing new educational resources. The department last adopted the current Holt textbooks used in classes in 2004.

This first meeting served as a preliminary step to introduce the topic to stakeholders in the district and initiate the discussion at each site to determine the learning objectives for each level of English, and what those objectives require from whichever educational resource the district may adopt.

This discussion did not focus solely on textbooks, but instead featured a broader conversation including any and all types of educational resources.

English teacher Denise Weis, currently uses the textbook for only a few select reading assignments in her classes, relying on outside readings and novels for the majority of the class.

She believes that, in English classes, students take more from reading the literature if they view it as a print material, rather than on Chromebooks, but that this print material does not have to be a textbook.

English teacher Jamie Handling works with a student on a Chromebook in her third period Creative Writing Class.

“It’s just a different experience [reading off of a Chromebook]. It’s not as interactive as with a textbook or with a novel,” Weis said. “But we do have to figure out what’s available to us that is going to maximize our use of technology.”

Like with English, government teachers held a meeting with district officials this month to discuss adopting a new government textbook. According to government teacher Carol Crabtree, the current government textbooks vary from site to site, and date back to the early 2000s.

“When you’re teaching a class like government, where you want to be able to incorporate contemporary information – what’s happening now, what happened in the last three or four years,” Crabtree said. “You don’t want to have a textbook that cuts off in 2003.”

According to principal David Byrd, this is what can make online resources so appealing – the information they can hold is unlimited, and updating them is easier than replacing a textbook.
While options are still on the table for Government, the department is currently working to find a government textbook that comes along with digital resources to supplement the curriculum.

In contrast to the process for purchasing resources for general courses, the process for specialized programs, like AP and IB, provides the district less freedom. College Board or IB will recommend a few options of resources for a curriculum, from which the district will often select which material to use.

According to Borjon, the district is often “at the will” of College Board and IB in terms of replacing these resources, based on how frequently the companies change their curriculum and their assessment targets, which can lead to the district replacing those resources more than others.

The restructure of AP tests last year led to changes in instructional materials, including the purchase of a new textbook for AP Euro classes. While she uses the textbooks for both her AP European History classes and CP Government classes, Crabtree feels like a balance of digital and print materials is most effective in teaching her students.

You don’t cater your instruction and your day-to-day activity to the material.

— Assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Jess Borjon

“They like to have a variety. I can get complaints about both – ‘oh, another textbook assignment’ – but I’ll also hear students say sometimes they like it when I hand out a reading,” Crabtree said. “It’s very nice to be able to, at this point, offer a much wider variety of tasks and things they need to do in class.”

One of the goals in introducing digital materials is to allows students to develop skills with the technology they will use in college and their future.

For instance, according to Purvines part of selecting resources for NGSS courses is including those with bias, so students build up the skills to identify how scientific research can be skewed.

NGSS Biology teacher Katherine Nurss finds that especially with one-to-one Chromebook access, the materials she incorporates in her classroom to support each unit are numerous, varied, and increasingly digital – their work with technology and with bias is better preparing her students in the future.

“It’s teaching students those 21st century skills that they need moving forward after high school, whether it be in their job or post-secondary education,” Nurss said. “They need to be able to use the internet and use it well.”

Borjon hopes teachers will continue to take power into their own hands in helping select instructional materials in their curriculum.

“I would tell teachers to trust themselves more and to be purveyors more of their instructional materials they use,” Borjon said.