Irving’s Commitment to Technology Helps Serve Challenging Population
One of the most remarkable aspects of Irving ISD is the enormous challenge it faces: 75 percent of the students in this large suburban district west of Dallas come from low socioeconomic homes and 39 percent are not proficient in English. Yet the district holds 13 recognized and three exemplary campuses.
“One of the reasons that the district has been so committed to technology,” said Sam Farsaii, Instructional Technologist for the district, “is the advantage it offers in differentiated learning. It helps level the playing field for all students.”
Ground-Breaking High School
Irving was one of the first districts in the state to make a significant commitment to digital learning, beginning in 2001 with the opening of what is now the Jack E. Singley Academy. The unique high school, which initiated the practice of providing a computer for every student, incorporates six career specialized areas. Another distinguishing feature is the staff’s focus on project-based learning, which is also a major initiative throughout the district.
“Project-based learning, if it’s implemented correctly, looks at the process also rather than just ‘Did you get something right?’” said Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden, who sees technology and project-based learning working hand-in-hand. “Project-based learning is about mastery as opposed to just a grade.” It also develops the critical thinking skills necessary to be competitive in 21st century workplace.
The award-winning district excels in a number of other areas. Digital learning programs and projects of note include:
- Irving to India: Irving students are working with students at the Surana Jain Vidyalaya schools in Chennai, India to discover the effects of global warming around the world.
- Robotics: For the past decade, Irving has been a consistent winner in the annual Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Challenge. The competition has contributed to the development of robotics coursework in the Singley Academy’s School of Engineering.
- Academic Travelers Project: Believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation, the program supplies netbooks to ELL middle school students who travel during the school year with their migrant-worker parents. The program allows students to download daily assignments and keep up with their studies at a critical juncture in their lives.
First Net-Zero School in the Country
The forward-thinking educators at Irving have also given us a glimpse of the future with a unique school design. When completed, the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School will be the first school in the nation to be rated net-zero (producing as much energy as it consumes). Through efficiency technologies and on-site power generation – wind turbines, geothermal wells, solar energy — the school theoretically will be able to power itself and have energy left over to sell back to the grid.
These technologies, as well as rainwater collection, will be displayed for observation and hands-on learning, making the building a three-dimensional learning space. An animated architectural rendering of the design can be viewed at http://www.irvingisd.net/ppage/NetZeroMiddleSchool2.htm
Irving has used bond money and grants extensively to fund its digital learning initiatives. Grants have included:
- A Technology Immersion Pilot (TIP) Grant to fund an elementary and middle school to be in a vertical team with a high school and implement one-to-one laptops for their students.
- A STAR (Professional Development for Schools, Teachers, Administrators and Regions) Grant provided training, software and science equipment for all middle schools.
- A Vision 2020 Grant provided funds to develop online courses and training for teachers.
- A T3 (Target Tech in Texas) Grant provided funds for training science teachers, redesign of curriculum, and an afterschool program for middle school students to teach them about project-based learning in science.
“We always work as a team to develop a grant based on a need we have in the district,” said Dr. Owen. “The short turn around time for grants is usually the biggest challenge in getting it written.”