Pocomoke High Spearheads Digital Conversion

Pocomoke High Spearheads Digital Conversion
Posted on 09/25/2014

What do you get when you add research, 100 iPad-Minis; a freshmen class; personal responsibility; parental involvement; teacher networking; 21st century teaching and learning; and community support? You get Pocomoke High School’s ninth grade 1:1 (one-student to one-device) pilot program, in place this school year.

Digital conversion is one of Worcester County Public School’s initiatives designed to convert paper-dependent learning to personalized learning with digital tools. Although the groundwork for digital conversion is already underway, the first phase of equipping all students with digital devices won’t begin until next school year. In the fall of 2015, all ninth graders are slated to have access to a digital device, 24/7.

Principal Annette Wallace wanted to jumpstart a 1:1 initiative as a pilot at Pocomoke High School, in advance of the school system's first phase. According to Wallace, the experiences gleaned from the pilot will provide useful information to the other high schools. Learning what works and what doesn’t during implementation will help the district roll out the first phase of its 1:1 initiative, she said.

Getting a head start for her students was also important to Wallace. “We want to prepare our students for the next step – for college and career,” Wallace explained. “We can’t wait. Our kids are ready.”

Pocomoke High School mirrored the school system’s plan to start with ninth graders in order to have four consecutive years to develop students’ understanding of how the devices can meet their individual learning needs.

“The school system’s Digital Conversion team continues to study 1:1 implementation across the nation, as we look for a comprehensive system-solution to digital conversion,” said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson. “We are examining research for a number of factors including the most effective devices for high school students, based on their academic needs for 21st century teaching and learning. Pocomoke High School’s work on implementing a device for each ninth grader will serve as a useful case study.”


The process for equipping Pocomoke High School’s freshman class and the ninth grade teachers began with research. The school polled students and learned that they preferred smaller, more durable devices that allowed them to keyboard using a similar technique to texting on a cellphone. In addition, the school formed a core group to research effective implementation processes used by other school districts.

To meet the needs and preferences of their students, the school decided to purchase 100 iPad Minis. Two years ago, the school received an endowment from a former PHS grad. According to Wallace, supporting the pilot program is the perfect way to use the donation which will pay for half of the pilot project. The other half will be paid for through fundraisers.

Research also provided the school with proven strategies on how to successfully roll out the devices with students. For the first two weeks of usage, PHS ninth graders have been picking up the devices in the morning and returning them at the end of the day. After the two-week warm-up, parents will be invited to attend a Parents Night with their ninth grader to see a video on how to care responsibly for the iPad Mini devices. Once a parent and ninth grader attend, the student is eligible to take the iPad Mini to and from school. Research links parent involvement and support with a successful 1:1 initiative.


Prior to getting a device, the entire school – not just ninth graders – participated in lessons around digital responsibility. “Social media is here to stay,” said Wallace. “We want to teach students how to use social networking in positive ways.”

With the devices, students are using them for more than research. They are taking classroom notes, creating presentations, using education apps, connecting to classroom Smart Boards, using “Air Drop” to upload homework, creating artwork, accessing current events, and sharing responses through “Ask Me” or “Poll Everyone.”

“Technology is changing the dynamics of our whole world,” said Wallace. The 1:1 initiative is teaching students to harness that power, she added.

Part of effective technology-use in the classroom is knowing when it is appropriate to use devices and when it is not. To ensure that there is a common language and shared expectations, the school has developed a green, yellow, and red light poster to communicate the status of using devices for an activity. When a red light is indicated, students are not to use devices. A yellow light indicates that a student should ask the teacher for permission (usage will be determined based on the student’s individual task), while a green light means that all students can use their device.


Some teachers at the high school are already highly proficient in the use of technology, explained Wallace. Those teachers are teaching their colleagues how to maximize their devices for student learning. In fact, PHS is holding teacher-directed professional development before and after school over a concentrated two-week period. This teacher networking is very effective, she said.

To establish a record of accomplishment, the school has printed photocopies of the face of an iPad. Teachers add stickers – which resemble app icons – to their own photocopy when they have attended PD for a particular program such as “Dropbox.” It is visual verification of a teacher’s commitment to grow in the use of technology as an instructional tool, explained Wallace.


            Teachers are excited about the 1:1 pilot and digital conversion. “This generation learns differently than we did,” said Wallace. “We have to acknowledge that students use technology to question, to learn. It’s not about what my generation did, or generations before me. We have to think about the generations in our schools today and design learning in ways that they will engage them. That’s what 21st century teaching and learning is about.”

            Teachers agree. “We have to stop thinking that we [teachers] are the only receptacles of learning,” said Jess McInerney, Government teacher at Pocomoke High School.


            The pilot has led to a broader community effort. Currently, WiFi cannot be accessed throughout Pocomoke City limits. Although the school has informed students where they can access WiFi in the city, the school is working with the town to try and bring WiFi-access to all of downtown Pocomoke. “The project has opened doors for a discussion with city government about the benefits of having a WiFi signal throughout the downtown,” said Wallace. “We have a strong partnership with our community and city government and we are grateful to be in a dialogue regarding this need.”


“In 2015-2016, we will participate in another layer of digital conversion by equipping our next class of freshmen with devices,” said Wallace. “Before you know it, our entire school will have powerful devices. This will help our students personalize their education, take ownership of learning, and prepare themselves for success after graduation. These are exciting times.”