Sixth grade pilot puts ‘techbooks’ in hands of students
Charles County school system hopes to expand pilot program in future
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.