Students in a typical classroom setting take their seats, open their binders and jot down notes on college-ruled paper with a No. 2 pencil as the teacher lectures. Those notes might end up organized neatly between dividers that separate them from tests and assignments, or they might end up lost in a sea of paperwork, never to be seen again. But West Orange High School (WOHS) in Winter Garden isn’t home to ordinary classrooms.
At the start of this school year, WOHS introduced a one-to-one digital curriculum that shifted classroom instruction from textbooks to Lenovo ThinkPad laptops. The district has provided students with digital tools that they can use in the classroom and at home, along with a school email address. Every classroom now includes full wifi, smartboards and presentation stations to allow teachers to give their lessons using instructional technology on a fully digital platform.
“Once they get past that learning curve and that initial hump, it makes the teachers’ lives a lot easier,” Brad Shreffler, the digital instructional coach at WOHS, says.
Teaching a New Way of Teaching
Before the school year began, teachers were invited to a three-hour information session to learn about the new digital implementations. As the school year has progressed, shorter sessions have been available, but Shreffler notes that most of the learning has happened by modeling the program at the administrative level. Information has been distributed to the staff as if they were students in an effort to get them to see it from the students’ point of view.
Leslie McMillan, a WOHS leadership teacher and Student Government Association advisor, has found the use of the new digital tools in her classroom to be extremely helpful in more ways than one. Since her students work together in planning school events, digital class notebooks provide them with one place to keep all of their notes about who is donating food, who is advertising in the marketing collaterals, and who is in charge of each aspect of the event.
It’s also a place that they can document the hours they put in both inside and outside of the classroom. Not to mention having full Internet access helps the students develop their ideas for each event in a new way rather than going to their teacher or each other to brainstorm ideas.
“It expands where they can gather information,” McMillan says. “It’s a neat way for us to collaborate, too.”
One thing that surprised administrators was the initial resistance from the students despite the fact that most have grown up with technology at their disposal. Shreffler points out that it was such a huge shift for them because they are mostly familiar with using technology for entertainment only. “You give a kid a phone and they can Snapchat and send you text messages, but you put a computer in front of them and they really don’t know what to do with it,” he says.
While there was a bit of a transition period as the students and teachers got used to a completely new way of doing things, it didn’t take long for them to get on board. Well into the school year, Principal Doug Szcinski is proud of the progress that he has seen. Currently, about 85 percent to 90 percent of teachers are using the instructional technology every day, and the majority of the 4,200 students have a school-issued laptop.
“I don’t think any other school in the country can say they have this much implementation day to day on a classroom level,” Szcinski says. “Between clubs, athletics, you name it, it’s completely 100 percent entrenched here already within five months.”
Isabelle Garvarino, a junior at WOHS, likes using her digital class notebook because she can keep all of her classwork organized in one place. “It took time to get used to it, but now it’s easy and efficient,” she says. “I only need one extra notebook instead of needing seven different ones.”
Not only does sophomore Brandon Meadows find it easier to manage his workload with his digital class notebook, but the efficiency of the system also allows him to take a load off his back. “My backpack is a lot lighter because you would normally have a lot of binders and notebooks,” he says.
The Digital Age
What sets WOHS apart from other schools with a digital curriculum, and possibly one of the reasons that the new technology was so quickly accepted, is that laptops are checked out to students for free. But there is a fee structure should something happen to the device, much like an insurance plan for a cell phone.
For students who need help with troubleshooting for their laptops or with figuring out other digital tools, WOHS developed a student tech-assistance course. Students in that class run a student help desk, so there is always someone there during school hours that can demonstrate how to use the programs and offer advice for fixing problems.
Szcinski and Shreffler both feel that the one-to-one digital curriculum is preparing their students for college and beyond by giving them the skills to be successful in a digital world.
“They leave here and now our students know how to make a Word document, they know how to turn in assignments online, they know how to work together with their peers online without necessarily being in the same room,” Shreffler says. “All those skills that the rest of us had to learn in college, they already know.”
West Orange High School
1625 Beulah Road
Winter Garden, FL 34787
This year, West Orange High School is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The school was completed in 1975 and opened with a student body of nearly 1,800 for the 1975-1976 school year. It now includes two campuses – a ninth grade center and a main campus for students in grades 10 through 12. Notable accomplishments include the 2013 crowning of two students with Down syndrome as Homecoming King and Queen for the first time on record, and this year’s retiring of New York Yankees player, Mason Williams’, high school number from his time as a West Orange Warrior baseball player.