Forsyth County School District is the ninth largest school system in Georgia, and consistently performs in the top five of all 181 districts in the state. Forsyth County has also tripled their student population in the last 15 years. Forsyth has been recognized by Center for Digital Excellence and the National School Boards Association for their technology use and innovation.
In 2008, the district decided to roll out an inquiry-based learning program supported by technology in two elementary schools to ensure that their students were asking questions, using higher-order thinking skills, and tackling authentic problems. With this project came the decision to invest in new software that met their creative needs.
The district already had a creative software program in schools, but the existing tool had a high level of frustration with both teachers and students. The technology team immediately began looking for a software program that supported their strategic pedagogy.
The technology team created a list of characteristics the new software needed to have. The product had to be easy enough for kindergarten students to use, yet sophisticated enough to also meet the needs of older students with greater academic ability. The tool also had to be open-ended so that it could be used across the curriculum to support inquiry-based learning.
Once the characteristics were established, the team began researching and evaluating software tools. After reviewing numerous titles, the team determined that Tech4Learning’s Pixie met all of their technical requirements. “We try to be very strategic about the way we consider new tools,” shares Jill Hobson, Director of Instructional Technology. “Our relationship with our Tech4Learning representative led us to see that Tech4Learning would be a partner in making Pixie successful in our district, not just during the buying process, but during implementation and throughout the life of the software.”
After finding Pixie, the technology team presented it to a diverse group of stakeholders. “We invited our school-based instructional technology specialists, classroom teachers, and school administrators, the people that would be using Pixie as a product or observing Pixie lessons in their school,” shares Hobson.
Once the team decided that Pixie met their needs, they began to “trail blaze” with it in the inquiry-based classrooms. Pixie was evaluated in every classroom in two different schools. The technology team was able to gauge the responses from an array of teachers, from the eager “raise their hands” types as well as those more hesitant and perhaps even resistant to trying out new software. The team was also able to evaluate how Pixie was used by a diverse group of learners, from advanced learners to struggling students.
During the month-long pilot, Forsyth’s Tech4Learning representative supported the initial training, visited classrooms using the software, and provided integration tips as needed. “The excitement level about Pixie was absolutely phenomenal,” Hobson states. “It sold itself to our teachers and students.” Based on the overwhelming positive reaction, Forsyth decided to move forward with the purchase for these two schools.
While the original Pixie implementation was in just two schools, the positive response encouraged Forsyth to purchase Pixie for all 10,000 computers in elementary schools. After the installation took place, 2,600 teachers needed to be trained.
Again, the strong relationship with Tech4Learning made this entire process run smoothly. As Forsyth began working to install and run the software on the district’s hardware and infrastructure, whenever they had a question they couldn’t answer, “the technical team at Tech4Learning helped us quickly and efficiently find a solution. It was both impressive and reassuring.”
Forsyth’s Tech4Learning regional manager worked with district trainers to create a professional development plan that capitalized on the Instructional Technology Specialist at each school in a “Train the Trainer” model, designing materials each Specialist could customize and re-deliver in smaller modules at their home school. “The high level of student engagement with Pixie made getting teachers on board easy,” shares Alena Zink, Instructional Technology Specialist at Shiloh Point Elementary. “Teachers immediately saw the program as an effective, but simple to use platform for collaboration and differentiation.”
Instead of creating feature-based training concentrating on Pixie features, the professional development design concentrates on the big pedagogical ideas that Forsyth wants to convey using Pixie. Forsyth embedded Pixie into several of their big themes, including “Pixie in a Student-Centered Classroom,” “Using Pixie to Promote Higher-Order Thinking,” “Using Pixie to Support Student Mastery of the Georgia Performance Standards,” and “Using Pixie for Acquisition of 21st Century Skills.”
The educational expertise of the Tech4Learning representative and the company’s core beliefs allowed the training to be built on project-based learning and Forsyth’s needs. “It is a welcome change to be working with someone who isn't just pushing a sale, but is someone who has been in my shoes and truly believes supporting students' creativity and innovation skills,” explains Hobson.” The fact that our Tech4Learning sales representative makes connections to the curriculum and knows best practices in instruction makes all the difference.
Pixie was originally identified as a way to meet the needs of the inquiry-based projects at two schools but ended up becoming a tool used at every elementary school in the district. “I dare you to try to take it away from them,” shares Hobson. “Pixie is a critical piece of how we do business in elementary.”
Forsyth County also works with Bernajean Porter and digital storytelling. Pixie’s ability to import images, create drawings, add voice narration, and export projects as web movies makes it a natural platform for digital storytelling.
Forsyth purchased maintenance for Pixie, providing the district with continuous version upgrades. The new real-time collaboration feature introduced in Pixie 3 clicked with their vision for student learning.
Pixie’s uncluttered interface and open-ended nature makes students from the youngest levels through fifth grade feel confident with what they can create. Pixie is no longer tied to a specific initiative; it is integrated across the curriculum throughout the district.
Simply put, Pixie is woven into the fabric of instruction in Forsyth’s elementary classrooms.