Creating an interactive classroom
Here’s a challenge. Initiate a 1-to-1 laptop program and eliminate textbooks. Sound daunting? As Savannah-Chatham County Schools discovered, the secret is having access to interactive lessons that are free and easy to use. Students participating in the Laptops for Learning Program (L4LP) are scoring higher on end-of-grade tests than students taking traditional classes.
“It wasn’t just test scores,” says Wendy Marshall, Manager of Instructional Technology. “Students reported that the quality of their work improved. They were more interested in school … and more likely to revise and edit their work.”
Students reported that the quality of their work improved. They were more interested in school … and more likely to revise and edit their work.
Manager of Instructional Technology
Launching an interactive program
Savannah-Chatham launched the program at two high schools. Students applied and parents promised to provide an Internet connection at home (a heavily discounted option was available). The demographic makeup of the 30 incoming ninth-graders selected from each school was similar to the student body. Four teachers, representing each core subject, were recruited from each school and given a week of training before the semester started. The students in the program took classes together.
Textbooks were Marshall’s first hurdle. Teachers wanted online versions; administrators did not. Ultimately, price and quality tipped the balance. “We looked at some e-textbooks, and they were basically a PDF version of a textbook. They were not interactive,” Marshall explains. While money for the laptops (a Lenovo netbook) came from a local technology tax, there was no funding for online resources. Not that there are many out there. “Especially for sixth through 12th graders,” she adds.
Marshall turned to SAS® Curriculum Pathways®, a product she had worked with in a previous job. Available to educators at no cost, the product provides interactive, standards-based resources in all the core disciplines. SAS focuses on topics where doing, seeing and listening provide information and encourage insights in ways conventional methods cannot. Content can be differentiated to meet varied student needs. The product also provides learner-centered activities with measurable outcomes and targets higher-order thinking skills. All materials are linked to state and Common Core state standards. Schools can adapt the content to match their technological capabilities
“The free, high-quality content was a huge benefit. It is seamless to use, and students can access it from home.”
Clint Tawes, an English teacher in the pilot L4LP, believes SAS Curriculum Pathways gives students an advantage over those that didn’t use the resource. “We didn’t have [the standards] on paper or in our textbooks, so with the laptops we had the texts and the ability to research online. We were able to accomplish more.” Tawes adds that searching for lessons by category or standard is easy.
Writing Navigator was particularly helpful in providing students with steady feedback. One part of that tool, Writing Planner, helps students outline essays and brainstorm ideas, and it gives suggestions for websites to help them support their positions. Writing Navigator also includes Writing Drafter, Writing Reviser, and Writing Publisher - providing guidance at every stage of the writing process. After grading the essays, Tawe let the students earn back points taken off by using Punctuation Rules! - another tool in SAS Curriculum Pathways - and applying what they learned to their essays.
Registering impressive results
With no textbook and a radically different style of teaching, the school district wasn’t certain what was going to happen when the students took their end-of-grade tests. The results were solid: 93 percent of L4LP students passed their ninth-grade composition and literature test versus 80 percent of traditionally taught students. In coordinate algebra, the pass rate was 5 percent better than that of students in conventional classes. The L4LP students also had higher average grades and passing rates than students in traditional classes.
Because of this success, the program will continue this year with a new group of incoming students. Four of the eight teachers are new to the program, but those that moved on are incorporating more interactive lessons into traditional classrooms that have access to shared laptops - a challenge SAS Curriculum Pathways was designed to meet.
Tawes has moved on to teaching 11th and 12th grade English and uses SAS Curriculum Pathways for writing assignments and reading strategies. He has adopted Writing Reviser, which helps students focus on their purpose and audience, essay organization, sentence structure (economy, variety, power and clarity) and word choice. By learning to ask questions experienced writers ask automatically, students begin to express themselves with greater precision and power.
Tawes has also been coaching other teachers in using online resources to help their students. “I showed one of the special education teachers how to use Writing Planner with her students, and now she is showing the other special ed teachers.”
- Deploy a 1-to-1 laptop initiative without using textbooks.
- Engage students in new ways of learning.
- 93% of L4LP students passed their ninth-grade composition and literature test versus 80% of traditionally taught students.
- The L4LP students also had higher average grades and passing rates than students in traditional classes.
- Students reported greater satisfaction and interest in classes.
- Teachers reported that they accomplished more.