GCS Takes Major Step In Personalizing Learning

Guilford County Schools middle school students: get ready to be Amplified. The district took a major step in personalizing learning for all its students when it signed an agreement for Amplify to provide more than 21,000 tablet computers. Starting this fall, GCS will lead one of the largest deployments of one-to-one technology in K-12 education .

The devices are part of the district's Personalized Achievement, Curriculum and Environment Project, also known as PACE. Funded by a $30 million Race to the Top-District grant from the U.S. Department of Education, PACE will put technology in the hands of middle school students to allow them to grow and learn at their own pace. The PACE project is the signature initiative of the district's 2016 Strategic Plan, and the grant is the largest in Guilford County Schools (GCS) history.

The agreement with Amplify totals $3,152,453 for the first year. The contract includes the first group of 15,415 tablets at the lease price of $199 per device, plus the embedded content and content management software, protective cases, professional development for educators, tech support and project management, which brings the cost per device to $214 for the year. The devices are also insured against loss or damage at no cost to the student and include a mobile device management feature that renders them inoperable if stolen. In April, the Board of Education approved using Amplify to provide the devices.

"Our middle school students will be equipped with devices that will help keep them challenged and engaged using the latest technology," says Dr. Jocelyn Becoats, Chief Curriculum and Organizational Development Officer. "This is not just a new way to learn - it's a way to personalize learning for each child at his or her level and to better provide the skills to be successful."

The tablets and content will be set up for individual students, filled with all of the lessons and assignments for their classes, as well as research tools and secure Internet access. Students who need more time to master concepts can take it without feeling pressure to rush, and those ready to dive deeper into topics can choose from enrichment and accelerated-learning activities that interest them. Teachers can access lesson plans and materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards, creating "playlists" of multimedia materials tied to the day's activities. They can also do spot-check quizzes during lessons to ensure all students are on track.

The PACE project will start in August with students in 18 middle schools. Over the next two years, the tablets will be shared with all of the district's nearly 17,000 middle-school students, plus middle-school teachers, curriculum facilitators, media specialists and some school-based administrators.

Middle-schoolers at Gateway Education Center, McIver Education Center and Haynes-Inman Education Center will participate the first year as well, although there may be some differences regarding content and tools in order to meet students' individual needs. The remaining six middle schools plus the Doris Henderson Newcomers School will join the program in the 2014-15 school year.

Principals at additional schools, including Pruette SCALE and The Middle College at UNC-Greensboro, set aside funds to purchase technology for their students. When the PACE grant was announced, they decided to use that funding to buy the Amplify tablets, which means even more GCS students will have this personalized-learning experience.

GCS also received an additional $5.2 million in optional grant funding to support the PACE project; some of that money will be used to provide tablets parents can check out through Guilford Parent Academy.

District staff is already training on the tablets. Personalized Learning Environment Facilitators, or PLEFs, have spent two days learning about the tablets. The PLEFs will each work with two middle schools, providing training and support. Teachers will attend three days of summer training, and each school will host a Student Boot Camp day for rising sixth- through eighth-graders. The camps will teach students how to use and care for the tablets and the rules that come along with this technology.