Southern Arizona district shows commitment to students and teachers with edtech transformation

Southern Arizona school district commits to teachers and students with edtech transformation

Published: June 11th, 2024

When it comes to education technology, Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) has taken a future-forward approach, recently initiating a massive overhaul centered on upgrading classrooms with new ActivPanel displays. In addition to helping Southern Arizona’s largest district stay competitive with other nearby schools, the new technology is giving students exposure to technologies and skills they’ll need after graduation and is equipping teachers with cutting edge tools that make their work easier and more rewarding.

Training and equitable access are keys to success

Throughout the rollout of the new ActivPanel displays, Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education, was adamant about putting panels not just in standard rooms like English and science, but in nontraditional classrooms too, like athletics, art, and performance. “They need them just as much as the science teacher or math teacher,” she said. “I’ve seen some of the most imaginative ways of using a panel in the art rooms and the weight rooms.”

Rowley described how teachers were using the panels, such as the folklore teacher who shows recordings of class performances on her panel so that students can review what went well and where they can improve.

In yoga, the teacher is using it for meditation and breathing. Before, all he had was a boom box. It’s an amazing change. Everybody deserves to have good technology.

Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education

Rowley knew teachers would have a learning curve as they moved from decades-old devices to the most cutting-edge interactive panels, so training was an essential part of the plan. “We made a concerted effort to take every training Promethean was offering, and then translate it to our teachers,” said Rowley. “We had to meet their needs. What good is it to put a piece of equipment in there if the teachers don’t know how to use it effectively?” Rowley doesn’t expect teachers to master their panels immediately, but as they get comfortable with the basics, her team is providing progressive professional development to build on their skills. “It’s critical to meet people where they’re at, because, ultimately, what we want them to feel is confident and effective in their use of this digital technology,” she said.

To support teachers’ continual growth, TUSD is fostering a peer-to-peer training program. Experienced staff who are proficient in advanced tips, tricks, and skills are tapped to become teacher trainer leads (TTLs) in their schools. TTLs act as a point person for other teachers who have questions on how to use different features or integrate different activities. “We’re taking advantage of the homegrown skills so they can train each other,” said Rowley. “That makes them feel good about their skills because now they’re sharing with other people.”

Preparing students for their future with edtech

Arwen Newman has been teaching English and human geography at Palo Verde High School for 20 years. In that time, she’s seen technology change dramatically. “I remember when we used to have televisions with VCRs on carts to roll into the room. And you had to check them out,” she said. After TVs on carts, some teachers got projectors for their rooms, and others, like Newman, got their own TVs. After many years of use, her TV was failing, so she was one of the first to get a wall-mounted ActivPanel 9. “I’ve had an amazing journey with Tucson seeing this transition. Occasionally, I’ll pull out the old overhead projector and the kids will ask, ‘What’s that?’” she laughed.

Newman regularly uses her panel to enhance classes with multimedia resources. “We use it for videos, especially for my AP human geography class,” she said. “This generation is much quicker to learn from a video. The other day we watched one about cows and agriculture, and the impact cows have on the planet.”  She also uses her ActivPanel to get students out of their seats to present their work. “I’ve given kids the clicker and had them share PowerPoints they create. It’s exciting.” Newman sees this technology as an essential part of the learning environment. Not only is it something students have had throughout their entire educational experience, but this technology is helping prepare them for college and careers after graduation.

In addition to her classroom duties, Newman is also a TTL, helping fellow teachers learn about their panels. Each teacher uses it differently, so Newman most often meets them one on one to help with a specific activity or app they want to use. “Some teachers have had Zoom calls with museums and are using them to talk with other classes,” she explained. “And we occasionally meet with parents for individualized education plans. Teachers can be together, and we can put the parent up on the big board.” 

Exploring the ActivPanel with a future-looking approach

Miriah Douglas Panto, one of the district’s five dedicated education technology integration specialists, explained that ongoing professional development is a big focus at TUSD. “I’ll ask a campus, ‘You haven’t had Promethean professional development in a year, would you like to have a refresher?’” Training is offered in a variety of settings, including large groups, customized sessions for specific grades, and individual mini sessions where teachers learn hands-on on their own panels.

It’s easy to teach something that you believe in, and I love the panels. They’re a really great tool for teachers to use to engage students, to keep them on their toes, and to have fun.”

Miriah Douglas Panto, education technology integration specialist

Douglas Panto continually adapts training topics to help teachers explore new ways to leverage the ActivPanel, like using Canva with the Whiteboard or making YouTube videos. “It’s really cool getting those light bulb moments,” she said. “You see technology making their work more efficient.” She described how she found a virtual field trip program for a first-grade teacher that connected a Rocky Mountain National Park ranger to the class via Zoom. On the day of the field trip, she visited the class and was amazed at how attentive the young students were. “On the panel, they were interacting with the ranger,” she said, describing how the ranger guided students through the Colorado mountains. “They all sat there on the floor for 45 minutes and were engaged and entertained. They had so much fun. It was really interactive for the kids.”

Douglas Panto is passionate about ensuring teachers stay at the forefront of technology, prepared to meet the needs of their digitally savvy students. Teachers have weekly group sessions with her, where she trains them on skills and instills confidence in their ability to innovate in the classroom, utilizing resources like A.I. with their panels. “I’ve done a session where I’ve used ChatGPT to create reading stations,” she explained. “You can get so specific, and ask, ‘Can you create five reading stations for third grade? Make one of the stations a Lexile level 400,’ and it will pull the information from the reading at Lexile levels.” She has also shown teachers how to use A.I. to create resources like spinner lists. “It’s a gamechanger,” she said. “Just showing them a little bit, they get so excited. They’re like, ‘This is opening up a whole new world.’”

Edtech helps shape the future

The ActivPanel displays are having a transformative impact at TUSD. “Teachers can give interactive lessons, which they never really could before,” said Tracey Rowley. “Now, it’s much more accessible for everybody to have that capability.” As of the 2023-2024 school year, the district has equipped more than 90% of its classrooms with new panels and is continually upgrading more rooms as funding allows. Rowley knows tech is always advancing and the work will be an ongoing progression, but the district has made a huge leap forward.

It’s been a culture change and a monumental shift for us. And that shift is all because of those panels.

Tracey Rowley, senior director of instructional technology and online education

Is the ActivPanel right for your school? Learn more and request a demo today.