In what might be described as any superintendent’s or principal’s dream, Lake Tahoe Unified School District is experiencing a world where students are not only more engaged in the classroom, but actually feel excited about doing homework.  Since introducing a digital learning program in 2011, the district has seen a major shift among students who were previously not interested in subjects like writing or math. For example, a parent of one 6th grade student who normally doesn’t like working on pencil-and-paper writing assignments said her son no longer wants her help completing interactive grammar exercises on his netbook. The student’s goal: to earn the online writing trophy all on his own.

February 6th is national Digital Learning Day, and today the country is focusing on just how dramatically technology is changing our students’ learning experience. We’re celebrating those teachers and administrators who are not afraid to put down the pencil and paper and to think outside-the-box when it comes to teaching. These educators are reinventing the classroom experience for students across the United States.  The success they’re demonstrating is exciting!

The Alliance for Excellent Education launched the Digital Learning Day campaign to much fanfare in 2012 and presented it as a platform to share innovative teaching techniques that engage students and further personalize their learning experience. The ultimate goal is to make digital learning available to all students, so everyone has the technology skills they need to succeed in school and after graduation, whether in college or professional life.

In the Lake Tahoe USD (LTUSD), every student from 3rd to 12th grade receives a netbook computer they get to take home.  The district knew it needed to address the digital divide among its students, where more than 60% are eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch. Many do not have a computer or Internet access at home. So, netbooks are enabled with AT&T mobile broadband connectivity so students can complete homework assignments and access the Internet while away from school.  And as another benefit of the netbook program, the district has seen major savings by transitioning to digital textbooks – lightening both the fiscal and physical load of the printed versions that used to fill students’ backpacks.

Technology has also shown that it can help cross cultural boundaries, and the year-over-year success at LTUSD is undeniable.  The districts’ Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores have increased by nearly 6.8% among non-native English language learners at the high school level, and by nearly 2.3% district-wide!

Beyond Lake Tahoe, teachers around the nation are also faced with changing learning environments as more (and increasingly younger) students enter the classroom with experience using technology.  Many young students are already accustomed to using their parents’ tablets or smartphones – and 77% of those ages 12-17 have a cell phone of their own!

Our current generation of students is constantly reinventing how they use everyday technology, as they actively seek ways to integrate the latest tools and devices as a part of their personal learning environment.  And no longer is that learning environment restricted to classroom walls and classmates, or even to traditional school schedules.  Students are beginning to weave learning into the social fabric of their lives – even using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to discuss a school subject at any hour of the day, with friends across town, across the country, and perhaps even across the world.

To learn more and celebrate the progress of the digital classroom, don’t miss the national Digital Learning Day Town Hall webcast, starting at 1 p.m. ET today.

Learn More:  Q & A with Joe Pfeil, technology coordinator at LTUSD

In honor of national Digital Learning Day, Joe Pfeil, technology coordinator at LTUSD, has shared with us some of his experience implementing this digital learning program. Here’s what he had to say:

AT&T: Talk to us about the digital divide among students in your district. What response have you seen from students who without this program wouldn’t have access to the internet at home?

JOE: With our netbook program, we have been able to place a netbook in each student’s hand to create equal computer access for all students. Students are excited to have their own netbook to work on assignments at home and school. Depending on the grade level and teacher, students might be spending anywhere between one or two hours a night using their netbooks. Parents who did not have a computer at home with internet access can now check their child’s grades and missing assignments on their child’s netbook – all in real time.

AT&T: Beyond the improvements you have seen academically, how has the use of netbooks helped develop students’ appetite for learning?

JOE: At the elementary and middle school level, we have introduced powerful Web 2.0 tools and programs that reinforce what is being taught in the classroom. The district purchased fun and interactive online programs to teach math and increase reading fluency and vocabulary.  We also use an online math program that is aligned with the state standards. Teachers have observed many of their top students mastering the content and working ahead on the assignments. As students become more engaged, they are driving teachers to use more Web 2.0 tools in the classroom and for homework.

AT&T: What teaching benefits have you seen in using digital textbooks and 1:1 computing in the classroom?

JOE: We’ve seen students enjoy using digital textbooks because technology is now part of their culture and learning style. The digital textbooks include engaging interactive videos to hold students’ interest.  Our middle school English classrooms are another example of success. Teachers use an interactive program that allows them to assign writing prompts through an online management system. The students can get help through the writing process, get instant feedback on what they have just written, and turn in a well-written paper.

What student or teacher success stories do YOU have to share in honor of national Digital Learning Day?