Tim Lyons – Georgetown Day School
Tim Lyons’ arrival in the technology space was somewhat accidental. Unlike others in his field, he didn’t set out to become an information technology (IT) professional. Coming from a family of inventors and engineers, he was always drawn to gadgets and exploring how things work and come together. He also has a natural passion for music, studying audio engineering and digital music production as an undergrad.
This crossroads of computer-based recording and the curiosity to understand its complexities eventually led Lyons to his role today as Director of 21st Century Learning and Technology at Georgetown Day School (GDS), an independent school in Washington, D.C., serving more than 1,000 students in grades pre-K-12.
More than a consumer
Today, Lyons is helping students, teachers and staff find their footing in the tech and innovation spaces by working to evolve the learning experience from one that positions students solely as consumers of information to one that enables and encourages them to be hands-on producers of the evidences of their own learning.
“Students’ roles are shifting,” Lyons explains. “For a long time before the newly available world of communication and technology tools were widely accessible, schools often positioned their students to be little more than expert consumers of information. Whereas today, I feel that students should be tasked with not only taking in information, but also with producing things to articulate and provide evidence of what they’ve learned from that information. My job is to provide our students with an understanding of contemporary tools and ways of working so they can have the confidence to go out and create, build and do new things for the world, not just know a traditional set of facts and figures about the world.”
From his background in various positions Lyons has learned that this is what it means to be a truly integral part of the education system. “I’m a musician by training,” says Lyons. “In the late ’90s and early 2000s I worked for Berkeley College of Music in a tech support and database administration position for the alumni and development office where I picked up my core IT skills. Through formal training, a lot of self-guided study and some very supportive managers, I began to take over various strategic initiatives, handling budgets and eventually managing a small team.”
After getting engaged Lyons made the move to Washington, D.C., where he served as the director of technology for The Field School. “I was at Field for nine years and I managed a small tech staff, providing trainings, professional development and IT support infrastructure,” he recounts. “I also taught a digital music production class and helped the teachers and different offices on campus integrate technology solutions and modernize their communications systems. I also did a lot of marketing and communications work, wherein I produced a series of movies for the school and trained colleagues in how to produce digital multimedia content in-house.”
In February 2014 Lyons joined GDS. “There’s still a large IT management component to my work at GDS, but my role in that work is less ‘doing’ and more managing. Aside from those IT-specific functions, my main focus here is working to author a vision for a contemporary, progressive, innovative and technology-infused learning environment for our kids, and directing the strategic activities we cook up that are in pursuit of achieving that vision.”
In his management role Lyons oversees two facets of the tech team at GDS. “I oversee two divisions —the IT/operational side, which consists of five people doing network administration, admin/database management and desktop support. The other division is focused squarely on teaching and learning. I have three staff members on this team who offer professional development in technology skills, technology integration into classroom practice, as well as the teaching of computer science, programming and other technology-related classes directly to students,” he says.
No one-size-fits-all solution
Lyons says in the last two years GDS has made serious strides in modernizing its IT infrastructure to reduce the barriers to entry into technology for his end-users. “Our first goal — and it’s an ongoing battle — is to make sure the classroom technology resources are reliable for our teachers,” he says.
With this infrastructure in place, GDS has added more devices to accommodate students. “We try to run a very student-focused tech shop, and because students are all unique, we’re making a lot of unique choices — there’s no one-size-fits-all technology solution. We’re not set on the 1:1 device ratio that some schools are concerned about. We pursue everything differently based on the age and developmental levels of our students.”
For younger learners that means touch technology and a 1:2 device radio. “I try to be very cautious and aware of managing screen time for our students, especially our pre-K through second grade,” says Lyons. “For third through fourth grade it’s a 1:1 environment and we treat the device a lot like a book that can be stored in their desks when they’re not using it.”
As students get older the platform switches to Chromebooks and more Google apps are rolled out. “We still have a variety of devices at this level so students can have access to the platform that’s most applicable to what they’re working on, and here we’re trying to integrate more media literacy and full-keyboard devices to support the curricula of our older elementary and middle school grades as they incorporate more long form writing and online research.”
“It’s all about accommodating students,” reiterates Lyons. “While we have made great strides in recent years, we’re not too ingrained with a certain program, platform or device. We’re agile in this sense so we can test out new solutions and make sure they’re serving our kids and teachers. I really try to avoid creating any ‘tech for tech’s sake’ situations here at GDS.”
Interactive learning enhanced by tech
Not only is GDS adding more computer science courses and new programs in robotics, design and multimedia production, the school is also using new technology in more traditional classes — science, math and language — to support students’ learning experiences.
“We are incorporating the use of 3D printers in some classes,” says Lyons. “In a fifth grade science class one of our teachers is using a 3D printer to demonstrate structures and materials and the students are actually printing 3D models of buildings, bridges and other city structures. In a Chinese language class students are drawing characters using an iPad app and extruding them into a 3D shape, printing those out and assembling them. The same thing is happening in a molecular biology class; students can print a model of hydrogen or carbon for example and use a 3D printer to model the electrons and produce a physical demonstration of nuclear sizes with proportional 3D models.”
Other classes are integrating Skype and Google Hangout sessions. “Teachers are lining up guest lecturers over Skype, harnessing the cloud to diversify the classroom experience and break down geographical barriers,” says Lyons. “Some teachers are even Skyping into the classroom from home if they’re sick or off campus, with the help of a substitute teacher.”
As part of a recent construction project the GDS lower and middle schools are relocating closer to the high school campus and Lyons and his team have found a way to incorporate technology with a popular video game to get student involvement and input. “We’re having students use a Minecraft kiosk to design their ideal building layout for this plan,” shares Lyons.
Lyons says that creating a fun, interactive environment and an education that’s connected to the real world can heighten the learning experience for both students and teachers. “Through collaboration and coordination we make this experience come to life, always with the question, ‘What is best for our students?’ in mind,” says Lyons.
At Georgetown Day School, learning is coming to life as students use technology to become more than just information consumers, but also producers, able to share their knowledge with the world.