West Texas school district uses edtech to help students reach their full potential

West Texas School District utilizes edtech in the classroom

Published: October 25th, 2023

Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) has been educating students in Odessa, Texas, and from the surrounding midland Permian Basin for more than 100 years. In the early days, enrollment was less than 200. Today, the district is one of the Lone Star State’s largest, with more than 33,000 students enrolled throughout its 40 campuses. The student body is diverse, with more than 25 countries represented and nearly one in four students identifying as English language learners.

One of the big challenges ECISD students face is lack of technology resources at home. Many don’t have access to the internet due to limited availability across this vast rural location, and a majority of students come from economically disadvantaged families who cannot afford personal devices. To help students overcome these barriers to success, the district is proactively working to provide access to tech tools, including acquiring at-home Starlink internet service for many rural families, providing laptops to students, and updating classrooms with the ActivPanel.

Built to last, the ActivPanel proves its durability

When ECISD’s digital learning team began the search for an interactive solution, they compiled a list of essential features. Moving fromveryold panels had lost touch functionality and were so beyond repair kids couldn’t use them, one important requirement was finding a durable panel that would withstand use by enthusiastic students. “We wanted something that kids could touch,” said Director of Digital Learning Lauren Tavarez. When the Promethean rep started hitting the ActivPanel with a hammer during a demo, she knew the display was tough enough. “I told the rep, ‘Stop hitting it, we believe you!’” laughed Tavarez.

Another requirement was a panel so intuitive that it wouldn’t get in the way of a teacher’s workflow. “Teachers don’t need another thing that’s hard,” explained Tavarez.

Ease of use was big with Promethean. It’s very easy to navigate.

Lauren Tavarez

Among the other nonnegotiable requirements were the ability to share content to the panel from anywhere in the room; superior audio output; and a bright, clear screen.

Only the ActivPanel checked all the boxes

Lauren Tavarez

ECISD ordered panels for a pilot program and selected one teacher at each campus to participate. “We got the panels in classrooms, and it was obvious how much teachers loved them,” said Tavarez. She immediately started hearing from other teachers who wanted to know when they’d get panels, too. “We didn’t expect it to explode like it did.” Within the first two weeks of the pilot, which was scheduled to run for three months, ECISD knew the ActivPanel was the right solution.  

Teacher tech program cultivates curiosity and community

The first ActivPanel order, placed during the COVID-19 pandemic, upgraded the highest-need schools, and the district has continued to update classrooms as budgets allow. As of fall 2023, more than half of all learning spaces have a panel. During each installation, Tavarez’s digital learning specialists are onsite to get teachers started. In addition, the digital learning team is cultivating a culture of tech curiosity and collaboration for teachers through its #TechyTribe ambassador program. “Ambassadors are teacher leaders who demonstrate a love for digital,” said Tavarez. “They don’t have to be good at it, just interested and willing to learn.”

#TechyTribe nurtures a cooperative approach to information exchange, with teachers meeting monthly to share and learn skills. “It’s fun to have a group of widely knowledgeable people to throw ideas out to and problem solve with,” said Sara Cox, sixth-grade math teacher and multi-classroom leader (MCL) at Wilson & Young Middle School. “Now I have teacher friends from different grade levels and schools.” After the meetings, the ambassadors take what they’ve learned back to their schools. “It’s rewarding to be of service to my campus and anybody that needs ideas or isn’t aware of how to use their ActivPanel,” said Cox. The group has been instrumental in the successful integration of the panel across the district.

Teachers ambassadors are building greater confidence using their panels and tech resources. “I signed up because I felt like I wasn’t good at tech,” shared Valarie Shreves, first-grade MCL and fifth-grade reasoning through language arts teacher at Ross Elementary School. “I no longer feel like an impostor. I feel bold.” The support of #TechyTribe is encouraging teachers to explore how the panel can make a deeper impact. “My mentality has changed and I’m thinking through how the panel integrates with everything else,” said Shreves. “How can I take blended learning, the programs the school has, and my knowledge to personalize learning using this technology? I want every child in my class getting exactly what they need when they need it.”

Interactive displays encourage participation and out-of-the-box thinking

ActivPanel apps like Timer, Spinner, and Whiteboard have become part of every school day.

Teachers and principals alike are telling us they’re seeing a huge difference in engagement and efficiencies in the classroom

Lauren Tavarez

Students want to work on the ActivPanel, so teachers use it to incentivize them to get work done and as an opportunity to practice social-emotional skills by leading small groups at the panel.

Cox has seen a noticeable boost in participation from her sixth-grade math students. “When one of the students shows thinking that nobody else came up with, I share their work and show it off. That’s really exciting for them,” said Cox. Her students also use the annotate tool to demonstrate how to work problem sets on the panel.

“Technology gives kids more access to resources, a sense of efficiency, and a place to learn how to problem solve. They love it.”

Sara Cox

Shreves uses the panel for reading comprehension work with her fifth graders. After writing a sentence on the Whiteboard, she can select a word and move it out of the students’ view. “The ability to prewrite a word and move it so there’s a blank or pull the word back is the single most important feature to me on my board,” she said. “There’s no other platform that does that.”

Tailored learning leads to student confidence

Technology offers new avenues to support individual learning styles. Rather than “throw out content to the middle of the room and hope it sticks to somebody,” Tavarez said the ActivPanel makes it easier for teachers to customize learning and capture the attention of all students. “Kids don’t have to do the same thing every day, all day. We can assign learning experiences that are tailored to what they’re interested in and where they need to be.”

Cox believes technology has a strong role to play in helping students reach their academic goals and develop self-awareness. “Technology can transform a kid’s learning experience in a very positive way,” she shared. Students are discovering how they learn best, achieving greater success, and enjoying learning in ways they don’t experience with traditional models.

This technology helps kids learn more about themselves, pick a pathway of how they want to learn, and create more confidence in themselves

Sara Cox

“Technology has a great place in the classroom. It’s something they truly enjoy.”

Shreves’ class uses an individualized program that includes self-driven learning, supported goal setting, and positive reinforcement no matter what level students are at. “That personalized learning piece, being able to use P.A.L. goals, and the ActivPanel, helps students be successful,” she said. When students demonstrate improvement in their respective coursework, they feel successful, and that feeling of success motivates them to work harder and enjoy school more. “I want them to leave school feeling better than when they came,” said Shreves. “That’s my goal.”

While ECISD doesn’t have all classrooms outfitted with panels yet, Tavarez is optimistic about an upcoming bond to move the needle closer to completion. She sees the impact the ActivPanel is having in her schools and believes it’s essential for learning environments. “Digital will never take over teaching. That device is not going to love your students like you do. But when you use the panel, you’re making a decision to make your life easier and make learning more effective. It’s taking that learning experience to a place that’s not possible without digital—intentionally and with purpose.”