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Turning Free Tech Into New Opportunities in the Palm Beach County School District

April is here, and it’s not just tax season — it’s test season. Across the country, students and educators are focused on the often-debated standardized tests that increasingly drive decisions about curriculum planning and resource allocation.

“Much of our resources are tied to programs that will produce measurable changes in student achievement. That’s our reality, ” says Kim Cavanaugh, Technology Programs Specialist for the District of Palm Beach County in Florida. “This creates a critical gap in what we can offer students. Some of the knowledge and skills they need most to succeed in the future will never appear on a standardized test.”

Group Of Students Working At Computers In ClassroomCreative expression, visual communication, critical thinking and problem solving are among the essential skills that Cavanaugh believes are being missed in our rush to quantify student progress. However, through President Obama’s ConnectED initiative, Cavanaugh has found ways to create more opportunities for students and teachers to explore and practice these skills despite budget limitations. For example, nearly half of the Title I schools in his district have already taken advantage of the free creativity and eLearning software offered by Adobe. According to Cavanaugh, using Adobe software to create rather than just consume digital media has proven to be a great motivator for many students.

Cavanaugh has also been able to significantly expand the use of Prezi professional accounts through ConnectED. “Prezi allows students and teachers to think in a more holistic, human way with big ideas and small ideas that relate to each other.” Additionally, the district has been able to offer Autodesk’s 3D technologies to its high schools, allowing teachers to find new ways to use project-based learning and encourage design thinking.

To make programs like these successful, Cavanaugh starts by working with school leaders to make connections between the new technology and the issues that are most important to their teams. “In our district, aligning instruction to the Florida standards is always a primary goal, so I make sure to clarify how new programs tie back to the standards.” Once the programs are linked to the school’s priorities, it’s easier for teachers to commit their scarce prep time to learn the technology and integrate it into their lesson plans.

Cavanaugh recommends that districts offer a mix of professional development opportunities — like online/on-demand workshops and face-to-face trainings — and that they take advantage of resources from software companies like Adobe, such as those on the Adobe Education Exchange. The best training programs, according to Cavanaugh, provide actionable project examples that teachers can take back and immediately implement in their classrooms. “We have to keep in mind that when learning new technology, teachers become students, too. Scaffolding is just as important with adult learners to help build their confidence.”

As President Obama noted in his recent State of the Union address, “Millions of Americans are working at companies that didn’t exist 10–20 years ago” and “no one knows for certain what industries will generate the jobs of the future.” Cavanaugh hopes that providing access to industry-leading technology through programs like ConnectED will not only prepare students for the workforce of the future, but also inspire them to become the innovators and influencers that will shape the future.

About Kim Cavanaugh: Kim Cavanaugh is an Adobe Education Leader, teacher, author and instructional designer with more than 15 years of experience in the integration of digital design software across the K–12 curriculum. He leads the ConnectED programs in The District of Palm Beach County, one of the largest districts in the U.S. with 180,000 students and 100 Title I schools. Reach out to him to learn more about his work.

As part of President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative, Adobe is donating over $300 million in software and professional development services to schools across the United States.