“Kids today live in a world of technology. To take them where we as educators need them to go, we must meet them on their playing field using a digital platform,” said Andi Langdon, a language arts and social studies teacher in her 16th year of teaching. “When you have a high poverty rate or high mobility rate as our school does, it is especially important to find innovative ways to reach students and actively engage them in learning.”
In fall 2009, Austin Elementary of Grand Prairie, Texas, launched a 1:1 computing model in two fourth grade classrooms and became one of the first schools in the nation to implement a digital teaching platform called Time To Know. Langdon focused on reading/language arts while fellow teacher Brenda Jobe focused on math. Both classes were representative of the school’s student population and include general education, English language learner (ELL), Title I, Response to Intervention (RtI), and special education students. Students spent at least half their time working on the Time To Know platform, an interactive curriculum system designed for1:1 computing classrooms.
Langdon cited the ability to target instruction as a benefit of the learning platform. “The nice thing is that students don’t know if the student sitting next to them is working on a different level because the passages look the same — the pictures, the font, and the subject matter are all the same.”
Brenda Jobe, a nine-year math and science teacher, believes the differentiated instruction keeps students focused. “Students weren’t bored or looking for something to do,” she said. “If students demonstrate they understand a concept, Time To Know moves them to a higher skill level to keep them challenged.”
Building higher order thinking skills
Built upon social constructivist principles, Time To Know offers open-ended explorations and collaboration tools to strengthen problem-solving skills.
“When we first started using the system, students didn’t have a lot of experience with this approach,” said Jobe. ”There were lots of hands in the air and students asking, ‘How do I explain this?’ So I showed them how simple it is. I said, ‘Pretend you are the teacher and explaining it to another student.”
Connecting learning to the real world
Earlier this year, Langdon’s class studied chocolate – from cacao plantations to product design and marketing.
“In that unit, students also learned about how child slave labor is used on some cacao plantations in Africa,” said Langdon. “They wrote letters to the Hershey Company asking them to not purchase cacao from these plantations. Hershey sent a letter back, which really excited students.”
Langdon and Jobe also recalled a particularly powerful experience embedded in a language arts unit on immigration. After exploring the unit for three weeks, Landgon set up a simulation of Ellis Island in her classroom. Each student created an identity on a paper passport.
“We asked students to think about why they were immigrating to America and then helped them make the journey. When students arrived at Ellis Island, parent volunteers staffed stations where they checked their health or if they filled out their paperwork correctly.”
“A few students didn’t complete their paperwork and were sent back,” said Jobe. “They couldn't believe they had to start all over again! They really felt the frustration of what it would be like to go through that.”
Langdon also invited a parent to staff one station and talk to students in Spanish. “Many students didn’t understand what she was saying, which helped them understand how immigrants who didn’t speak English must have felt at Ellis Island,” she said. “Just the other day, out of the blue, one student brought up the immigration simulation and said, ‘I still think about that. That was really cool!’ “
Encouraging collaborative learning
In both Langdon’s and Jobe’s classes, collaborative learning is an integral part of the school day. Students frequently use the Time To Know Gallery to post their work and review for peer editing. Langdon noted that not only do the students discuss differences in their work, but they also take greater care with their responses, knowing their peers will read them.
Integrating technology into teaching and learning
In addition to collaborative projects, the platform offers a variety of multimedia activities including animations, games and videos. A text reader allows students read the text in a self-directed mode, or opt for a narrated, highlighted version.
“The visuals and narration have tremendously helped our ELL students, as well as students reading below grade level. If a student doesn’t understand a word, they can have it read to them as they read along,” said Jobe.
In their first school year with Time To Know, Jobe and Langdon saw many positive changes, including improved student engagement, behavior and learning.
“When students are working on Time To Know, they’re fully engaged,” said Jobe. “They’re more focused than when we do paper and pencil activities, and behavior is better, too.”
“I also noticed growth in students’ confidence, their vocabulary, and their ability to answer questions,” said Langdon.