Putting Education Reform To The Test

Three Things We Learned Wednesday At An Education Technology Conference

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Palm Beach Gardens High School media specialist Deb Svec uses a game show-like program to quiz students about books they've read.

We spent the day poking around FETC, one of the nation’s largest education technology conferences.

We played with the latest toys and sat in on a few discussions about how schools in Florida and elsewhere are using technology.

Here’s what we learned:

1) Use The Old Bait And Switch

Palm Beach Gardens High School media specialist Deb Svec showed off a product called Cranium CoRE, a quiz program made to look like a television game show.

Svec uses the program to quiz students about texts they’ve read. Even when teams get the right answer they have to defend that answer using examples from the text — a tenet of new education standards known as Common Core State Standards.

Florida is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia to adopt Common Core, which will ask students what they know and how they know it.

The program allows teachers and students to write their own questions for texts they’ve read.

Svec builds on students’ Cranium CoRE discussions by asking them to then create fake movie trailers for the books they’ve read. Students use templates in iMovie, reenact key moments from the book and edit it into a trailer.

“It’s kind of a bait and switch,” she said. “They love paying the game.

“The intent of this is that they are in groups and depend on each other to find the right answer.”

2) West Miami Middle School Students Are Testing Water Quality

West Miami Middle School principal Colleen Del Terzo was looking for something to get students interested in science, technology, engineering and math.

West Miami Middle is a federal Title I school, which means it has a high percentage of low-income students. More than one-quarter of the students are learning English.

The school tested a new product which incorporated standard water quality tests with a geographic information system, or GIS, to plot and analyze the data.

The teacher, Elizabeth Mooney-Gomez, had students analyze water samples. The kids were surprised to learn a sample which tested the highest for a contaminant came from the canal behind the school. That led to a lesson about the canal, groundwater runoff and water pollution.

“They were exploring with it,” Mooney-Gomez said of the experiment. “They looked like little scientists.”

3) A Tornado Helped Joplin, Missouri Schools Switch To Laptops

After a tornado leveled Joplin in 2011, district technology director Traci House thought it was a perfect time to speed up its plan to equip every high school student with a laptop.

The district’s textbooks, computer labs and other classroom materials had been wiped out, Joplin said. Why pay to replace them if there is a better option?

“We we’re able to rip the bandage off and say it’s gone, and we’re not going to replace anything,” House said.

The district spent $2.2 million on the Macbooks with the help of a $1 million donation from the United Arab Emirates. Insurance paid some of the cost. House also convinced district leadership to move money intended for other things, such as parts and repair, and put it towards the laptops.

House said the cost of laptops is less than most people think after you figure in ways they will save money.

Both attendance and discipline improved, House said. District performance declined in the first year as students and teachers got accustomed to using laptops instead of textbooks and traditional materials. The district will learn if those numbers improve later this year.


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