Where we've Been
As I began this journey as the Mobile Learning Unit Lead Teacher for the district, I wanted to learn as much about the MLU as I could. As the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. Where did this bus come from? What was it used for? How do we continue to best transform this mobile learning idea to meet the needs of our students today?
I did a little digging and found some great information on our district's Title 1 website. You can find the website and information here. Our "Mobile Learning Laboratories" were originally purchased in the mid 1980's to provide Title 1 (then called Chapter 1) services to nonpublic schools in the area. As you can read from the timeline below, these laboratories evolved over a decade to include technology and the Title 1 program continued to expand across the district.
1986- Mobile Learning Laboratories purchased to serve Chapter I students in nonpublic schools following a U.S. Supreme Court decision which halted the provision of services in classrooms in nonpublic schools.
1993- Fifteen mobile learning laboratories and computer assisted instruction help provide Chapter I services to nonpublic schools.
-The Pre-Kindergarten program is expanded to 22 half-day classes at 14 schools.
-More than 200 members of the Chapter I instructional staff participate in a Summer Seminar, the first event of its kind in OPS history.
-A school-wide program is started at Wakonda Elementary.
1994- New emphasis is placed on helping students build thinking and problem-solving skills and then using them in reading and math. More in-class services are started.
-Approximately 240 Chapter I staff members participate in a two-week, 30-hour Summer Seminar on computer technology.
1995- The Improving America's Schools Act changes Chapter I to Title I. New Title I school-wide activities are started at Miller Park Elementary and Sherman Elementary.
-Title I funds are used to support Family Rooms for the first time.
-A year-long series of six different workshops is developed to support families in helping students find success in learning.
-Technology is incorporated into all Title I programs.
-Services for neglected and delinquent youth are expanded to seven sites.
1997- School-wide activities started at 13 additional schools.
-Parent Resource Center is opened at Spring Lake Elementary with Title I funding.
-The U.S. Supreme court reverses its decision from 1986, saying Title I may provide services in religiously affiliated school.
Mobile learning laboratories, "classrooms on wheels", are no longer needed.
Where we're going
The website noted that in 1997 "mobile learning laboratories, "classrooms on wheels", are no longer needed." And they were right. Today, in the year 2017, we don't need classrooms on wheels that provide basic resources to schools, small group lessons to those students who need more practice, or differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all learners. This happens every day in our schools across the city. We are lucky enough now to have all these resources available to our students and teachers in each school building...it's just part of how we do what we do in education. And the law allows for our non-public schools to have access to the same resources as well.
But that doesn't mean there isn't an equity problem anymore. That doesn't mean we don't have schools and communities that can't provide the same level of education and access that others can. It just looks different in the year 2017. In today's schools, this looks like the digital divide- the disparity between those who have access to computers and the Internet, and those who do not. Even as technology has become more affordable and internet access seems to be everywhere, a digital divide remains between segments of our population. The rich and educated are still more likely than others to have good access to digital resources. The digital divide has especially far-reaching consequences when it comes to education. For children in low-income neighborhoods and schools, insufficient access to technology can hinder them from learning skills that are crucial to succeed in today’s 21st century work force. The conversation has also shifted to include the digital use divide. Not only do we need high-speed internet access and devices for our students, but we also need quality education and programming around these tools. What students DO with the access is just as important as having access to begin with. This means providing opportunities for students to actively use technology to create, communicate, collaborate, and critically think through real-world problems versus just passively consuming information.
And that's where we are going. The goal: to use a whole-community approach to bring high-technology learning and digital citizenship skills to students and their families. We want more than merely high-quality access and devices for our students - we want to build the knowledge and skills necessary to address the complex community challenges in today’s digital age. Every Student. Every Day. Prepared for Success. We can't wait to share with ride with you!
Rebecca Chambers serves as an Instructional Technology Coach for the Omaha Public Schools by supporting the district’s Turnaround buildings in their instructional technology initiatives, including the first Mobile Learning Unit which serves the North Omaha community.