Coming back to the classroom after the COVID-19 shutdown, Modesto City Schools in Northern California wanted to continue its momentum with education technology. A 1:1 district with 32,000 students, Modesto sought an opportunity to dive deeper into best practices for meaningful and purposeful use of edtech in the classroom.
District leaders partnered with ISTE to develop a digital learning academy to help teachers create, implement and share lesson plans aligned to the ISTE Standards. One year after implementing, its new professional learning program, the participating teachers saw a noticeable increase in student engagement and a decline in D and F grades.
Located 75 miles east of the San Francisco Bay Area, Modesto City Schools serves a diverse and largely socioeconomically disadvantaged student population. Of its 34 schools, all but three are Title I sites, with 86.5% of elementary students and 68.4% of high school students facing socioeconomic challenges.
Since the pandemic, Modesto has been in the midst of a cultural shift toward more data-driven decision-making and a cycle of continuous improvement. The district recently launched a three-year focus on four core pillars to help accelerate student achievement in the wake of the pandemic: developing professional learning communities for educators, providing behavioral supports for students, closing achievement gaps and transitioning to new state standards.
The Challenge: Reengaging students
Returning to in-person learning as the pandemic waned posed new challenges for the district. After months of learning at home, many students struggled with the transition to the classroom environment. Classroom management became a top issue for teachers, who were tasked with reengaging students in face-to-face learning while meeting learners where they were. Now equipped with 1:1 digital access and a more technology-proficient faculty, the district has increasingly turned to edtech for solutions.
With teachers back in the classroom and digital learning no longer a necessity, district leaders wanted to ensure their schools continued the technology integration momentum built during the pandemic. “With teachers coming back, one of our challenges was how to get them engaged again with technology,” said Matthew Ketchum, director of Educational Technology Information and Educational Technology Services. “We wanted a digital learning academy that would span several months, not just a one-time professional development session that they would attend. We wanted to dive a little deeper.”
Beyond simply keeping teachers engaged with technology, Ketchum saw an opportunity to help deepen their relationship with edtech and show them how to use it to transform their teaching practice.
"Teachers might really like using a tool for its own sake, but they aren’t always mindful of aligning it with meaningful and purposeful teaching in the classroom," Ketchum said. "We want to ensure they’re not focusing on the tool but on the actual student learning.”
Why Modesto Chose ISTE
Several years ago, as an edtech coach who had just completed his master’s in education technology, Ketchum dreamed of creating a professional learning program aligned with the ISTE Standards. By the time he stepped into a decision-making role, however, the pandemic hit and he had his hands full getting teachers throughout the district up and running with technology tools. In 2022, with some 300 training videos and more than 1,000 professional learning sessions under his belt, he decided it was time to take the district’s professional learning to the next level.
"The ISTE Standards are a really great way to purposefully and mindfully use technology tools in the classroom," he said. "We always wanted to do more with the ISTE Standards in our district, and we felt that designing this program would allow us to really focus on the edtech standards we valued.”
After hearing the district’s plans for an in-depth training program aligned to the ISTE Standards, ISTE helped Modesto City Schools reach out to a handful of other districts that had launched similar programs. Leaders from Modesto met with each of them to learn about the specific challenges, pitfalls and successes each district faced.
“Working with ISTE has been really helpful for planning out our professional development and making connections with other districts that are ISTE aligned,” Ketchum said.
Using the ISTE U introductory course "ISTE Standards: Students" as a starting point, the district developed MCS Ed Tech Explorers, a nine-month voluntary training program for teachers who wanted to deepen their practice through meaningful technology integration. The program launched in 2021 with 22 participants from across the district. Each month, educators met for a deep dive into one of the ISTE Student Standards, with a focus on enhancing one of their existing lesson plans, implementing it in the classroom and reflecting on their successes as well as opportunities for improvement.
At the end of the year, teachers created videos about the experience and shared their reflections with other educators at a districtwide showcase.
“ISTE has been really crucial to the success of our program," Ketchum said. "They’re always helpful and always easy to communicate with. They’ve really taken an interest in our program, reaching out to ask how it’s going and offering to come visit and join our meetings. They’re genuinely interested in being there with us on this journey.”
Teachers Report Improved Engagement
After implementing the MCS Ed Tech Explorers program, teachers almost immediately began reporting successes with their technology-enhanced lesson plans.
“Month after month, teachers said their students were so much more engaged. They were all surprised at how much more engaged students were,” Ketchum said. Several participating classrooms saw a decrease in D and F final grades from the previous year.
After sixth-grade teacher Karina Velasquez used the MCS Ed Tech Explorers program to revamp an entire science unit on solar power, she noticed an increase in student-driven learning in her classroom.
“They really took ownership of that unit,” she said. “As soon as I would say, ‘We’re doing our science unit,’ they were ready to go. I didn’t have to tell them what to do or how to do it. You can see they’re excited about learning.”
Eighth-grade science teacher Ashley Zepeda found that as the MCS Ed Tech Explorers program boosted her confidence with technology, that newfound confidence trickled down to her students.
“One thing that was noticeable right off the bat was as I became more comfortable using technology, the kids became more confident," Zepeda said. "That allowed them to go in and start exploring and trying to figure things out for themselves.”
Want to take your district’s professional learning to the next level? Take a deep dive into the ISTE Standards with ISTE U, sign your staff up for ISTE Certification for Educators or connect with the ISTE District Partnership Team at firstname.lastname@example.org for help designing a custom professional learning program.