Forget about the old days when students sat in front of rows of desktop computers in a lab. At Irvine public schools, digital tools like laptops and tablets are ubiquitous.
“They’re as critical a learning tool as a notebook and pencil, enhancing Everything that we do,” said Aaron Jetzer, principal at Eastwood Elementary School. Irvine Unified School District leaders say learning how to use these devices isn’t the goal. They consider technology a tool to help students improve learning in any subject and obtain 21st century skills like critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration.
For example, students at Portola Springs Elementary School produce a weekly news show in a green-screen studio, writing scripts and shooting and editing videos.
They can also create videos instead of writing a traditional book report.
“You can inspire students in a way you couldn’t do with books,” said Megan Bricker, principal of Portola Springs. “It’s so much more interactive and engaging for them.”
Irvine Unified is quickly expanding its one-to-one program that aims to provide a Google Chromebook for every student during school hours. That allows students to learn at their own pace and based on their needs. Some teachers say the program can revolutionize teaching.
A sixth-grade teacher at Portola Springs records 10- to 15-minute lectures so students can study on their own, wearing headphones while she works closely with several students at a time.
And at Eastwood Elementary, when sixth-graders were studying Mesopotamia, they had a Skype video chat with an archaeologist at one of the digging sites.
Jetzer said the school plans to roll out 3D printing classes for first- and second-graders this year.
Great teachers + great schools
“We try to give kids access and experiences they don’t have at home,” Jetzer said.
“Teachers here are amazing. They are outside-the-box thinkers who can bring opportunities to the kids and build excitement.”
New schools like Eastwood and Portola Springs are designed to fit the needs of future education. For instance, they are equipped with innovation labs where students can shape their own workspace to tackle projects.
The district is investing $319 million from a voter-approved bond measure to ensure older schools have access to similar amenities.
Thanks partly to such efforts, Irvine boasts the highest average SAT scores in Orange County.
“Everyone plays a huge role in providing Irvine’s best educational experience,” Jetzer said. “The community dynamics we have in Irvine are second to none. It’s an amazing district, and our kids are extremely fortunate.”