Laptop Program Teaches Students Digital Citizenship

  • October 20, 2017
    Renton Reporter 
    Leah Abraham

    Ellen Dorr with a student


    Umar Abdullah projects a passage of a story on the screen and reads it out loud to his Dimmitt Middle School sixth graders, who follow along using their own laptops.

    Every time he pauses to ask a question, students scroll through their digital copy of the text until they find their answer.

    This sort of integration of technology and learning is new to Dimmitt, and Renton School District is hoping that it will become the norm for the rest of the schools in the district soon.

    Dimmitt was chosen to pilot the 1-to-1 Laptop Program, an initiative that aims to provide each student with an electronic device to encourage digital learning.

    “(The program) connects our work in the district, like our West Hill Now! with our three elementary schools that are feeders to Dimmitt, and also to connect with our rigorous IB program in Renton High School,” said Ellen Dorr, director of Digital Learning at RSD. “What we’re really working on with a digital learning instructional model is thinking about how we can be flexible, how we can be innovative, how we can leverage technology to meet the individual needs of learners and focus on constructing knowledge together, collaborating, being visible about our learning, etc. It’s thinking about how technology plays into that, towards that kind of thinking and learning.”

    Each student at Dimmitt is assigned a Chromebook, which they take home and use every class period.

    This program is a step toward digital literacy — a skill that’s arguably a necessity in the 21st century — as well as a method to foster sense of belonging, Dorr said.

    “I really believe technology enhances face-to-face interactions,” she said. “When you’re using technology well, as a classroom teacher you can think about ways how you can work with different groups of students. You’re providing specific resources or support scaffolds they can approach digitally, and you’re pulling different groups of students together. Because you’re pulling them together based on need, students can feel like, ‘Oh, this is for me. These are for my needs.’ They know that small group instruction becomes more powerful than traditional big group instruction.”

    Other than collecting achievement data at the end of the school year, the district will collect student perception data to assess the success of the program.

    “We want to ask them a number of questions around how they were asked to demonstrate learning and which modalities they are using to learn,” Dorr said. “We’ll ask them questions about that, and use our other student perception data around community and feeling of belonging in school.”

    A large concern with assigning personal laptops to students is how they will navigate the sphere of social media. Dorr said this is why Dimmitt is focusing on teaching students digital citizenship.

    “As a district we have a responsible use policy,” she said. “We want digital behavior to mirror our analog behavior. The world of social media poses some specific challenges, especially for middle schoolers who are developing their social identities. We might have some lessons that happen during social studies or language arts around character development or integration of social media presence. We’re integrating that work.”

    Dorr said this school year the district was finally ready to take on the scope of the program.

    “We had an increase in the number of resources, we have more digital curriculum, we have pilots in specific content areas, we have a social studies curriculum that uses more technology,” she said. “Because there’s a clear instructional need and instructional model for this, we’re able to see how this would work in a classroom and how it would work across content areas.”

    The district is planning on integrating the program to all the middle and high schools by the 2019-2020 school year.

     Click here to read more about the district’s Technology Plan.


Blended Learning in English Language Learning Classrooms

  • June 6, 2017

    Culminating Project Calligram

    English Language Learner classrooms at district middle schools have been piloting a new blended-learning program that combines online digital learning with traditional classroom methods. Students and teachers in these classes work on thematic units using an online program, along with hands-on materials and resources. Each unit ends with a culminating project on the theme. For example, a unit focuses on names and identifies culminated with the creation of a calligram, a word or text in which the design and layout of the letters creates a visual image related to the meaning of the words. Students used their names and cultural backgrounds, or a meaningful quote and its significance, to create their art. 

The Best Digital Tool is Even Better in the Hands of a Great Teacher

  • June 6, 2017

    Dreambox Learning
    by Jennifer Lee

    Ellen Dorr, director of digital learning for the Renton School District in Washington, recently presented a well-attended webinar on empowering teacher leaders. In this 60-minute session, she explores how using technology intentionally and innovatively leads to greater equity and achievement for all students.

    Central to Dorr’s vision of digital learning is the importance of “connecting the why.” She explains that people always want to know where to click, but she and her team prefer to start with why to click.

    Everyone—teachers and students alike—needs to understand and appreciate the value of digital tools before they can successfully begin to use those tools in an effective blended learning environment. With this in mind, Dorr and her team of coaches developed the following preferred practices for using edtech in the classroom:

    1. Provide supports and foster independence. When introducing new technology, Dorr suggests you first use the tool together as a class. After you go through the basics and spend some time practicing, it’s important to equip students with the resources they need to problem solve on their own later on. Fostering independence is a best practice no matter what tools you’re using, but it’s particularly valuable with digital tools.
    2. Ask supporting questions. Instead of enabling passive behaviors by giving students the answers, Dorr suggests you ask students supporting questions like, ‘How could you figure that out?’ or ‘What does this mean to you as a mathematician?” The goal is to help students see how digital learning connects with other types of learning and supports their thinking.
    3. Ensure meaningful and important work in tools. If you’re doing stations, establish a specific learning target for each station to help students understand exactly why they’re using a particular tool. You can also ask students, ‘Why is it valuable for your learning to use this?” so that they make that they make the connection themselves about why the tool is important.
    4. Track and celebrate progress. Students are motivated by data and get excited when they see their progress toward different Common Core State Standards. In addition to using the digital tool to track progress, ask your students to record the standards they’re mastering in an analog notebook to help reinforce the connection between online and offline learning.
    5. Intervene based on data. Today’s powerful digital tools provide a wealth of data, which has the potential to make us all better teachers. Data enables you to identify and pull aside a group of students who are struggling with a particular concept, or intervene with an individual student who needs one-on-one instruction. The best digital tool is even better in the hands of a great teacher, especially when you use data to inform instruction.
    6. Connect online to offline instruction: Teach students that everything they do in the classroom supports learning. Try not to distinguish between computer time and other learning activities. It’s all learning—whether it’s online or offline.

    If you’d like to hear more about how Ellen Dorr and her team were able to implement and scale effective instructional practices in the Renton School District, check out “Using Personalized Learning and Data to Build Instructional Capacity”. It’s available on demand, so grab a colleague and watch at your convenience.

Classrooms across the District Filled with Digital Learning

  • March 17, 2017

    Digital Learning in Classroom

    In February, 2016, local voters, by an overwhelming margin, again showed their support for Renton School District’s work to provide students with high-quality classroom instruction, to include using laptops, computers and other devices. Voters said YES to providing local funding for the Renton School District’s long-range digital learning and technology plan.

    That long-range plan includes work to provide more robust learning options for students and teachers in the classroom and beyond. Digital learning is assisted by technology that gives students and teachers some element of control over when and how they teach and learn. Learning is no longer restricted to classrooms as Internet access has given students the ability to learn anywhere and everywhere. Also important is interactive and adaptive software that allows students to learn in their own way, and in their own style making learning much more personal and engaging.

    As part of the long-range digital learning plan, students at Dimmitt Middle School soon will be provided with a personal computer device for use at school and home. Students in classrooms across the district currently have access to laptops and other computers; the Dimmitt program is the first to provide a specific device to an individual student. The program will provide students not only with a device, but will support a model of instruction where teachers will be able to personalize instruction for students to address their individual needs and learning styles. In addition, students will use various online tools and resources to collaborate and communicate with their classmates and teachers.

    Dimmitt Middle School teachers prepare for a different kind of classroom
    This year, Dimmitt teachers have collaborated around how to use the additional learning devices in classrooms in a blended model of learning, and how they will use the devices to create dynamic lessons that will bring a subject to life with meaningful, multimedia instruction. The district’s Digital Learning department is engaging the teachers in high-quality professional learning for instructional strategies so that students continue to have physical supports—like paper charts, dry erase boards, hard copy documents that connect with digital work, and so on—to create a strong connection between online and offline learning and increase accountability and meaningful, collaborative experiences. When every student has a digital learning device, there’s a different approach to how a teacher a presents high-quality academic material, and how the new tools might be applied in classrooms, and as well as how a student might use the device at home.

    “What is exciting about this work,” said Ellen Dorr, Director of Digital Learning, “is that together we’re identifying strengths and entry points, elevating student voice, and creating shared ownership in order to develop plans and models that enhance student learning.”

    Dimmitt teachers started with a cohesive vision for how the technology will enhance specific learning goals, understanding the connection of the resources to academic goals and how digital learning can make both teachers and students more creative learners. Staff discussed the strengths and mission the whole school, and talked through how change happens at their individual classroom and how to leverage the new devices to support student learning. A tech-savvy teacher may be able to consistently draw up lessons that utilize online resources, or pair computer applications with "learning systems" that help students work on math or language-arts skills in a video game-like environment with immediate feedback. But the plan for Dimmitt’s one-to-one computer model, and eventually schools throughout the district, will go well beyond that.

    Distribution of devices to students
    The computers will be loaned to individual students for the school year. Students are already aware of the district’s responsible use policy and of the expectations and responsibilities that come with the care and use of the devices and will continue to learn digital citizenship. The laptops will be equipped with a filtering system that protects students from inappropriate sites and blocks them from certain sites and the devices can be shut down remotely should they be lost or stolen. Also, crucial to the success of any tech initiative, Dimmitt students and staff will need support a partnership from families to help students care for their devices, make sure they're used for educational purposes at home and get into backpacks, charged for use during the school day.

    The Dimmitt Middle School pilot is far more than simply providing students with a computer, laptop or other device at school and home; it’s a model to provide new and more robust classroom instruction. This is an opportunity for teachers and support staff to grow in how they engage students in learning in the classroom; it’s a dynamic change to create economic parity and mobility for all students and families.

    After the pilot program at Dimmitt, the one-to-one device model will soon be provided at schools across the district.


Girl's Coding Club at Renton Park

  • February 17, 2017

    Girls Programming Robots

    How a Renton Park Elementary teacher is working to close the gap between male and female computer scientists

    Girls at Renton Park Elementary School are learning to use computer coding to manipulate famous works of art. The early-morning club helps students better understand how computer coding drives so many different electronic devices and programs; but also works to chip away at the male-dominated field of computer coding.

    Renton Park Elementary teacher David Bussey had been reviewing statistical data showing a steady decrease in the percentage of female students participating in computer science courses in college, and receiving computer science degrees. He also saw that there is a large gap between the numbers of male and female students who take computer science courses in high school. (According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, 81% of male students, and only 19% female students, take Advanced Placement (AP) computer science in high school.)

    So, Bussey decided to do something about it. Earlier this school year, he began collaborating with Rena Clark, a Renton School District digital learning coach, on how to provide his school’s female students with the opportunity to be exposed to computer science. His idea was to start a girls coding club using Google CS First, a free program tailored for elementary students using a block-based coding system that increases student access and exposure to computer science education.

    Bussey invited the school’s 5th-grade girls to attend a before-school club once a week, for free. Sixteen girls signed up; then, as a group, they worked together to decide that the focus of the coding class should be art. Using the Google Scratch program, the girls began learning computer science and coding, while creating and manipulating famous pieces of art. Then, the girls advanced to coding a program that a robot can read and follow, like programming a robot to negotiate through a maze (pictured).

    “We want to encourage and prepare as many female students as possible to take computer coding courses as they move on to middle school and high school,” said Clark. “Then, hopefully, they’ll be more encouraged to take computer science courses in college. It’s also a way for girls to be introduced and get excited about computer science, and allows them the opportunity collaborate and problem solve with other girls.”

    The girls in the club have also used resources, created paper circuit cards, and most recently, through a grant from the Friends of Renton Schools foundation, the girls (along with many other students at many other schools) now have access to several different robots that they can code. 

    The girls say they’re having a lot of fun in the club. But more importantly, they now have the confidence and skill to take on computer coding classes in high school, college, and maybe as a career.

5th Graders at Tiffany Park use Chromebooks for Math

  • February 11, 2017

    5th Graders with Chromebooks

    Tiffany Park Elementary School 5th-graders are hard at work in math class with the help of their Chromebook (laptop computers). Tiffany Park teachers and staff are excited about how the computers are helping support student learning through collaboration and creation. The devices are made possible thanks to overwhelming voter support of the 2016 Technology Levy. Teachers and students also use programs like Microsoft’s OneNote to discuss assignments and communicate.

3 Ways to Deploy 3000 Devices in Your District

  • February 8, 2017

    Student with Device


    Renton Schools Director of Digital Learning Ellen Dorr has penned a great article in EdSurge Magazine (linked below) on how a strong vision, a culture dedicated to learning, and an increase in resources is used to systematically determine how computers and electronic devices can be used to support education in the classroom. Ellen is helping lead the district in creating student-centered classrooms that also have the right technology necessary to boost student learning. Local voters have been supportive of providing funding for improved technology throughout the district by approving School Technology Levies.

    To read the full article, please follow this link.

Dimmitt Middle School to Pilot 1:1 Laptop Program

  • January 10, 2017

    Girl using Laptop Computer

    Renton School District’s Digital Learning Department continues its work to support student learning through the intentional integration of technology into teaching and learning. Technology is prevalent in all aspects of daily life and plays a vital role in today’s society. Now the district will move into the next phase of its long-range digital learning plan designed to create student-centered learning environments, to differentiate and personalize, to empower students to be creators and collaborators, and to better prepare students for college and career.

    For the 2017-18 school year, students at Dimmit Middle School will be provided with a laptop for use at school and possibly at home. The program will provide students not only with a device, but will support a model of instruction where teachers will be able to personalize instruction for students to address their individual needs and learning styles. In addition, students will use various online tools and resources to collaborate and communicate with their classmates and teachers.

    “Computers are a positive supplement to bridge the gap between education and the technological world in which we live,” said Dimmitt Middle School Principal Gioia Pitts. “Computers in schools offer students greater access to information, an eager motivation to learn, a jump-start on marketable job skills and an enhanced quality of class work.”

    The computers will be loaned to individual students for the school year. Students are already aware of the district’s responsible use policy and of the expectations and responsibilities that come with the care and use of the devices and will continue to learn digital citizenship. The laptops will be equipped with a filtering system that protects students from inappropriate sites and blocks them from certain sites and the devices can be shut down remotely should they be lost or stolen. Renton’s digital learning model uses new technology as one of many classroom learning tools, which are made possible thanks to voter support of the 2016 Technology Levy.

    “Having 1:1 computers for students opens up the door for all kinds of opportunities for staff,” said Dimmitt sixth-grade teacher Jake Clotfelter. “It gives us an opportunity to challenge and support students in ways that we have never done before. While there might be a bit of a learning curve at first, I am really excited about our ability to create a school culture at Dimmitt that addresses the unique needs of each individual student."

    “We are excited to provide this opportunity to the outstanding students and staff at Dimmitt Middle School,” said Renton Superintendent-elect Dr. Damien Pattenaude. “We are looking forward to the lesson we learn that can inform our broader district efforts moving forward."

    The pilot program at Dimmitt Middle School will help enhance instructional practice that effectively uses technology to strengthen a student’s personal learning experience. Also, the program will extend the West Hill Now! focus through the middle school and better prepare Dimmitt students for the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Renton High. In the following years, 1:1 will expand across the middle schools and high schools. Click here to read more about the district’s Technology Plan.

Students Learn Programming Basics During "Hour of Code"

  • December 12, 2016
    Renton Reporter
    Leah Abraham

    Principal Flemming Coding with Students

    Last Tuesday, Courtney Stepp’s kindergarten class at Benson Hill Elementary School was busy learning not just their normal ABCs, but those of a new language as well — computer programming.

    The kindergartners were paired with fifth-graders who helped them learn the basics of coding and programming through the “Hour of Code,” designed to introduce young students to the basics of writing computer programs.

    Hour of Code, a program from, is an introduction to computer science. Students are able to learn the basics of computer science, as well as develop skills including logic, problem solving and creativity. All the elementary schools in the district as well as some middle schools hosted the program between Dec. 5 – 11 as part of Computer Science Education Week.

    According to Ellen Dorr, the school district’s director for Digital Learning, last year fewer than 3,000 students participated in the program. This year, the number is anticipated to be higher and the Digital Learning team is already thinking about integrating more computer science courses into the curriculum.

    “We’re trying to add in more ideas like computer science and getting students into computer science classes in high school… part of that is developing a plan for articulation. Some of that is through early exposure,” she said. “Hour of Code is one of those opportunities to get kids exposed to computational thinking and logic, problem solving and creativity.”

    Currently Hazen High School offers AP Computer Science and other schools offer basic computer programming classes.

    Integrating computer science and programming classes are easier for elementary schools, but it can be trickier for middle and high school students. For example, middle schools participating in the Hour of Code would have to find specific content areas, like math, to integrate the program into, compared to elementary schools that could fit it anywhere in their schedules.

    Participating in programs like Hour of Code is a first step to gauge student and teacher interest for the district. After looking at the data for this year’s participating classes and students, Dorr said her team will be analyzing what the next step is to “support our students and enabling them for the 21st century living.”

    The district has been keeping up with 21st century living this school year, as they were able to purchase Chromebooks for students thanks to the technology levy approved by voters in February. The levy has also enabled access to graphing calculators and online programs like myON, as well as additional wireless capacity across the district and updating teacher laptops.

    One of the priorities for the Digital Learning department is to increase learning opportunities and providing those opportunities. To achieve this, the district teamed up with King County Library System to provide students with full access to online materials and services. They’re able to log into their special accounts and access databases, e-books, as well as 30 free sessions each month of online homework help services, all without a physical library card.

    “With Digital Learning, the real potential is having a student-centered learning environment where all resources that are available are being used and students have an agency and ownership over their learning,” Dorr said. “Hour of Coding is a place where some of that can be introduced — the idea that students are not just consumers but producers and creators and collaborators.”

Renton Students Learning the Language of Computer Coding

  • December 7, 2016

    Hour of Code boys share laptop  Girl with Laptop Boys share laptop

    Right now, billions of people around the world are doing their holiday shopping online; looking through hundreds of thousands of websites for the best offers and hoping to make their gift-giving easier and less stressful. Ever stop to think how that process works? Why it is so easy to navigate the world from a comfy chair? How are these websites built, and by whom? It’s all thanks to computer programmers, engineers and coders.

    In an era of increasingly fast technological innovation and change, there is a growing necessity for people not only to know how to use the connected world, but also to understand how to utilize all of these things in new, innovative, and unusual ways. With this in mind, our schools are helping provide students with the right tools, thought processes and education to thrive in an entrepreneurial and innovation-led environment through computer coding classes, taught as early as elementary school. Recently, at elementary and middle schools throughout the district, students are joining others around the nation in an ‘Hour of Code.’

    Code is quickly becoming one of the world's most widely used languages

    Computer science is the new language of the world, and it’s also one of the fastest growing occupations. Almost every field of human endeavor relies more and more on software and software development for success. Learning code is like learning another language, which is much easier when students are young because kids have an easier time learning skills than adults do – their minds are flexible and open. Given the sheer pace of innovation and the growing connectedness of our devices, houses and workplaces, it’s important to take advantage of the natural inclination that children have to learn faster and better when they are younger. Learning this language also provides students a chance to both be well paid in the future and also to do some of the more interesting and challenging jobs. It has been predicted that be 2020 there are likely to be over 1 million unfilled jobs in the U.S. that will be dependent on coding.

    Connected devices are already reshaping our world

    Students also learn how to code because computers and connected devices are what will shape their world as they grow up, just as physics, Math, Chemistry and Biology shape our world right now. In about twenty years, an inability to code or at least to understand logic-based thinking to some level will be just as crippling as illiteracy and innumeracy is today. Just like art is a way to express creativity, coding can be a highly engaging, fun and empowering skill for students.

Hotspots, YouTube, WiFi, Oh My!

  • November 14, 2016

    Student at Computer Screen

    Thanks to voter support of the Renton School District's technology levy election in Feb. 2016, the district has a robust plan to include technology education in every classroom. The plan goes well beyond providing computers and other devices to students and staff, it includes a systematic approach with an emphasis on digital learning and consistent staff development. The district’s technology plan has been noticed by others in the industry, and is the highlight of an article in EdSurge Magazine, an online industry news and information source for education technology. To read the article in full, please visit: Hotspots, YouTube, WiFi, Oh My! How Renton Prioritizes Infrastructure Over Devices.

Digital Tools in the Classroom

  • October 18, 2016

    Digital Tools in the Classroom

    Teachers across the district are using more digital learning tools to increase student engagement, assess student understanding, and provide immediate feedback on classroom instruction. McKnight Middle School teacher Jared Detamore works hard to help students better understand the world of science. And, as in any classroom, he constantly monitors students through pop quizzes to check their level of understanding. To help in that process, Jared uses a digital learning tool called Plickers, which works like this: The teacher asks students a question related to the lesson, and then has them hold up a card in a certain way to indicate their individual answer A through D. Using the Plickers app on his cell phone, Jared can read each student’s answer and immediately know who has reached a certain level of understanding, and who needs more help.

Coding at Kennydale

  • October 6, 2016

    Students Learning about Coding at Kennydale

    Kennydale Elementary students in Marie Smith’s fifth-grade Discovery classroom are learning computer science and coding. The students are learning computer vocabulary, algorithms and programs. Students are starting off with unplugged lessons to first learn about algorithms and programs; they’ll move to computer programming models soon. Computer coding is a great way for students to increase learning in math and literacy, while building confidence and creating opportunities to use computational thinking skills. To learn more about coding, please visit our site, Coding in RSD