Sixth grade pilot puts ‘tech­books’ in hands of stu­dents

Charles County school sys­tem hopes to ex­pand pilot pro­gram in fu­ture

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­

In Kim­berly Still­well’s sixth grade sci­ence class, stu­dents were study­ing the ef­fects of ero­sion on a beach and var­i­ous means of rem­e­dy­ing it.

Us­ing on­line re­sources and school lap­tops, the Theodore G. Davis Mid­dle School stu­dents were able to run a pro­gram graph­i­cally show­ing ero­sion on a beach. They were then

able to use dif­fer­ent types of re­me­di­a­tion and watch the im­pact, not­ing which ef­forts were most ef­fec- tive.

“We’re see­ing what would hap­pen with ero­sion from rising sea lev- els,” said sixth grade stu­dent Chloe Wooden, 11.

Wooden said they use the tech­book about twice a week in class.

“Re­ally, we can use it more of­ten at home, but in school it’s twice a week,” Chloe said. “I think it makes it eas­ier to find stuff, be­cause you can search it, rather than try­ing to find it in a text- book.”

The sci­ence lab sim­u­la­tion is just one of the many re­sources now avail­able to sixth grade stu­dents through Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ sixth grade “tech­book” pilot.

“We’re very, very ex­cited about the pilot pro­gram, even tough we’ve only just started. Some of the things that we’re able to do for kids, like be­ing able change the dif­fi­cul- ty level, and be­ing able to change the lan­guage, it’s just awe­some,” Amy Holl­stein, deputy su­per­in­ten­dent, said dur­ing an Oc­to­ber pre­sen­ta­tion to the school board.

The tech­book pilot is a part­ner­ship with Sil­ver Spring-based Dis­cov­ery Ed­u­ca­tion.

“There are in­ter­ac­tions, there are sim­u­la­tions, there are things that kids can lit­er­ally in­ter­act with as they’re go­ing over the con­tent. There are videos, there are vir­tual lab sim­u­la­tions,” said Ian Buter, con­tent spe­cial­ist for sci- ence, dur­ing the Oc­to­ber pre­sen­ta­tion.

Sixth grade teach­ers re­ceived a lap­top or tablet for in­struc­tion and plan­ning in math, so­cial stud­ies and sci­ence.

“I’m still pretty new to this,” Still­well said. “At first it was kind of in­timi- dat­ing, but as I caught on, it’s kind of re­fresh­ing.”

Still­well said the tech­books al­low stu­dents to per­form re­search they wouldn’t be able to do in real life, such as ob­serv- ing 20 years worth of beach ero­sion in un­der a minute.

“This is a re­ally awe­some re­source,” Still­well said.

Stu­dents can also ac­cess the tech­book re­sources from home, Still­well said.

“The county has said that they will pro­vide an old com­puter that has the tech­book loaded on it for them,” Still­well said.

Still­well said us­ing the tech­books has made her more of a risk-taker as a teacher.

“Ob­vi­ously, this is a pilot pro­gram, so with that be­ing said, I’m be­ing trained as I go through­out the year. It’s help­ing me to col­lab­o­rate more with other teach­ers, to plan for the top­ics,” she said.

Still­well said plan­ning lessons with the tech­books re­quires more time and en­ergy than lessons with­out it, but they have been a big hit with her stu­dents.

“They’ve en­joyed it. It’s a great mo­ti­vat­ing tool, but it still re­quires a good ed­u­ca­tor to prompt, en­cour- age and re­ally bring out those higher level skills,” she said. “They said not hav­ing in­ter­net ac­cess will not be a bar­rier.”

Still­well said the tech­books al­low for more dif- fer­en­ti­ated learn­ing. She has ac­cess to ma­te­ri­als for stu­dents from fifth to eighth grade.

“Let’s say we did waves at the be­gin­ning; the cur- ricu­lum re­quired us to make a shift due to next gen­er­a­tion stan­dards. In­stead of pur­chas­ing new text­books, we can go in and switch the course, and go to eighth grade phys­i­cal sci­ence and pull out that sec­tion, use what we need to use,” Still­well said. “So if we need to teach wave sci­ence, we can pull that out with­out buy­ing a new text­book.”

If a stu­dent, or group of stu­dents, needs more work to mas­ter a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject, she can tailor as­sign­ments to that stu­dent or stu­dents, as well as pro­vid­ing re­me­dial and gifted and tal­ented re­sources.

Still­well pointed out that as good as the tech­books are, they do not re­place teach­ing.

“The tech­book is a re­source; it’s not the end-all. They still do hands-on, they do ar­ti­cle re­search; it’s just part of the pro­gram,” Still­well said. “The com­put­ers are a tool, just like a pen­cil or a ruler or lab equip­ment. It’s a tool. The teacher be­hind it is what drives the en­thu­si­asm.”

Holl­stein said her hope is that the text­book pilot will be ex­panded to sev­enth and eighth grade in the fu­ture.


Theodore G. Davis Mid­dle School sixth grader Chloe Wooden runs a sim­u­la­tion show­ing the ero­sion of a beach due to rising sea lev­els as part of Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ sixth grade tech­book pilot.

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