Teacher-centric approach to edtech transforms Virginia schools

Nelson County Public Schools providing teachers access to edtech interactive whiteboards

Published: June 10th, 2024

Tucked among the serene, rolling Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are four schools that make up Nelson County Public Schools (NCPS). This rural division is small enough that its 1,400 elementary, middle, and high school students all ride the buses together. While bigger school divisions in the state have bigger budgets to work with, NCPS has been diligently using its limited funds to outfit its schools with the ActivPanel, an impactful upgrade that started as a surprise.

Just two years ago, on Michael Cargill’s first day as supervisor of technology at NCPS, he learned he’d inherited a brand-new technology initiative when he discovered a slew of ActivPanel displays that hadn’t yet been installed in classrooms. “When I walked into my office on that first day that summer, there were boxes and boxes of Promethean boards pushed up against the walls,” Cargill said. ActivPanel stands also filled a storage room. With the start of school coming fast, Cargill knew it would be a challenge to get panels into classrooms before students returned, and quickly got to work on a distribution plan.

Cargill started his career in the classroom, first teaching computer keyboarding and later TV and media production. From there, he transitioned into an instructional technology role. So when he began working on a strategy around interactive edtech at NCPS, his plan was informed by his many years in front of a class utilizing technology, and it put teachers at the center of it all.

The ability to choose empowers educators

Cargill believes it’s essential to give teachers the choice to adopt new technology rather than making it a mandate by the administration. “If you want something to take root, you get teachers talking to teachers about it,” he said. “When that happens, that’s when change happens.” So Cargill asked NCPS teachers who wanted to get an ActivPanel before distributing them, figuring those early adopters would influence others to give the panels a try.

His unique teacher-led approach worked. Even those who were intimidated at first have changed their perspective. Cargill described a kindergarten teacher who initially didn’t want a panel. But while teaching summer school in a room that had one, she learned how to use it from her fellow teachers. “She saw me at the beginning of the next year and told me, ‘Mike, I love that Promethean board, and I want one in my room as soon as possible,’” he recalled. “It was a game-changer for her.”

To give teachers the greatest flexibility with their panels, Cargill installed them on mobile stands. “We’re not going to let the instruction be dictated by where technology can be used,” he said. “By being mobile, a teacher can put it where they want it, when they want it.” NCPS is close to having an ActivPanel in all the rooms of teachers who requested them, and Cargill continues to gauge interest among the staff. “We’re going to make sure that any teacher who wants one, gets a board,” he said.

Interactive learning at its best with the ActivPanel

Grace Denny-Scherer, a first-grade teacher at Tye River Elementary, was one of the first to get an ActivPanel. She immediately incorporated many hands-on activities into her lessons, and the panel quickly became an essential tool. “It was a gamechanger,” she said.

It’s so much more interactive, and that’s my favorite thing about the board. It’s student-friendly with the touch screen, and it’s more engaging.

Grace Denny-Scherer, first-grade teacher

The flexibility to access files from her laptop or the panel has also made planning more efficient. “If there’s something I didn’t get to in a lesson, I can easily touch the Google slideshow on the board and make the update.”

Denny-Scherer’s teaching philosophy emphasizes student choice and interaction. For example, the “choice board” allows a student to pick a task and lead the class through it. She also brings multiple students up at once so they can work on a problem side by side using the Whiteboard with a split screen. “It’s great because the students can take turns and share their thinking,” she said. “It’s very visual, and we can work it out in real time together.”

Because her current class of first graders is more advanced, Denny-Scherer likes how easy it is to adapt her preexisting lessons with more difficult activities. “We’re counting coins in math, and they’re close to being ready to count mixed coins,” she said. “So I’m pulling in other resources to challenge them.” Quick access to an internet browser allows her to supplement lessons on the spot. “For Black History Month, we were talking about Simone Biles. Most of my class had never seen gymnastics, so I pulled up a clip of her at the Olympics. They were in awe!”

Cooking up engagement with attention-grabbing edtech

Autumn Mays teaches family and consumer science at Nelson Middle School, which includes cooking lessons in a real kitchen. An ActivPanel was installed in her room at the start of the year to replace an old projector and document camera, and students can see it from the desk area and the kitchen. “I love that we can tilt and turn the Promethean board,” she said.

Before getting to actual mixing and stirring, Mays displays a recipe on the panel for students to mark up, annotating specific parts like servings and steps. “They use the panel a lot to convert measurements if they have to triple the recipe or reduce the recipe,” she said. Another component of the class includes public speaking and giving presentations. “They love sitting in the driver’s seat. They love to present and use the screen to flip between tabs.”

Compared to the old tech that often lagged, Mays can open resources like daily agendas and material lists fast, minimizing disruptive downtime.

It speeds up instruction and is an effective tool, especially for students with learning disabilities or ADHD/ADD,” she said. “It’s quick, they can see it, and the flow of class is better.

Autumn Mays, middle school family and consumer science teacher

The ability to integrate games like Gimkit and Kahoots captures their focus, too. “We’re constantly trying to grab their attention. We’re in competition with the Xbox and PlayStation games they have at home,” she said. “They’re more invested when they see this really big piece of technology.”

A vision for continued innovation in education

Supervisor of Technology, Michael Cargill has prioritized efficient professional development for teachers, ensuring they get comfortable using the ActivPanel and are able to effectively integrate it into the classroom.

Teachers have to be able to learn quickly and then be able to apply it,” he said. “A device has to be simple enough to understand that a teacher can make it do what they need it to. And that’s what the Promethean ActivPanel is doing.

Michael Cargill, supervisor of technology

Teachers are encouraged to level up their skills using courses on Learn Promethean. If they complete a designated number of courses, they qualify for an upgrade to the newest model of the ActivPanel when funds are available.

In addition to classrooms, the ActivPanel has been effective in other spaces, like the library, where it’s used for faculty meetings and curriculum planning. Cargill plans to create a technology help center, a teacher training space, and a student-led Chromebook and laptop repair “academy,” all of which will have an ActivPanel. “We’re excited about where this is going,” he said. “It’s not just the board, it’s ActivInspire, it’s Explain Everything. There are so many components.”

“If you give kids the tools, resources, and information they need, and then get out of the way, they’ll learn and grow,” said Cargill. That applies to his teachers and staff, too. Cargill is enthusiastic about the long-term outlook for the division’s technology program and recognizes the partnership with Promethean helped set a solid foundation. “If we plan correctly and work with the right people, like Promethean, we can do more because of that collaboration,” he said. “That relationship has given us a chance to develop our plan—not just for the now, but for our future.”

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