Piedmont’s 1,100-student school district was invited last month to join the League of Innovative Schools, a nationwide program with only 35 member schools.
The school system jjoins districts from across the country, including districts from Napa Valley, Calif., and New York City, all of which are changing the way they educate through the use of technology.
Piedmont was selected because of the system’s initiative to provide a laptop to every student, and the work under way to give every student and faculty member free Internet access at home.
“What's happening in Piedmont has implications for not just small, rural districts, but large ones, too,” said Sara Schapiro, director of the League of Innovative Schools.
The league met in Houston March 19, where Piedmont schools superintendent Matt Akin met with other superintendents, executives from companies such as Apple, officials from the U.S. Department of Education, entrepreneurs and researchers from Harvard.
“Our participation will provide us many avenues to expand and improve instruction,” Akin said.
The league lists as its goals:
Speeding up the pace of education technology research.
Sharing best practices on how to use technology well.
Transforming the market for learning technologies.
Already, Akin said, Piedmont schools are benefiting by gaining access to people and organizations from varied backgrounds, all on the cutting edge of blending technology and education.
Akin has met with faculty of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Lab, who asked the schools to take part in a research project that aims to find out whether grades get a boost when students are offered education classes over the summer.
Students, on average, lose learning gains over the long summer break, Akin said, and researchers hope to learn whether students retain knowledge by taking classes over the summer.
Such a program is being considered for Piedmont, which would allow students to take their laptops home over the summer if they agree to take classes during the summer months.
And there is yet another unheard-of opportunity for Piedmont schools.
Zoran Popovic is the director of the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington. Under his guidance, the center created an online game called Foldit, which allowed video gamers to solve the structure of a retrovirus enzyme, according to a press release from UW.
Foldit melded gaming and science, and did in three weeks what scientists could not do in 10 years. Popovic’s personal obsession, Akin said, is teaching math to middle school students.
Popovic has chosen Piedmont schools to take part in a study to test a new math program he’s designed that teaches fractions. The program learns from the students, Akin said, and adjusts to keep the game exciting.
“These kinds of connections wouldn't have been possible,” Akin said, “if we hadn't been chosen to take part in the league.”