APS Partners with Discovery Education to provide 21st Century Learning Tools
Students in science, social studies and health classes will use “techbooks” this year that feature both digital and non-digital activities.
August 14, 2012
APS has partnered with Discovery Education to take science, social studies and health education into the 21st century by replacing traditional textbooks with “techbooks,” interactive tools that address Common Core State Standards, ignite student curiosity and enhance learning.
Science in kindergarten through high school, social studies in middle school and health at all levels will be taught beginning this school year using digital and non-digital activities. Discovery Education is expected to expand to high school social studies next year.
“We’re giving students an opportunity to see what they’re learning,” said APS Chief Academic Officer Linda Sink. “If they’re learning about jellyfish, they can go to the ocean. If they’re talking about rockets, they can use simulators to make them launch. We’re talking about students having access to immersive, contemporary, interactive learning tools.”
Sink said the techbooks are up-to-date and relevant, incorporating current issues into the curriculum and improving learning opportunities for all students, so science students can explore Mars along with NASA’s rover and social studies students can follow the presidential campaign.
Techbooks also are more cost effective than textbooks, coming in at about half the price. The techbook provides anytime, anywhere, any device access. They work with any hardware the district has available - iPad, tablet, mobile device, laptop or desktop. Students and parents will have access at home as well.
Sink will provide the APS Board of Education with more information on Discovery Education at its committee meeting beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Deborah Elder, principal at Zuni Elementary, which began experimenting with Discovery tools about a year ago, used her school’s hands-on experience to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about this new, technological approach to learning:
How will we produce a literate society if students just learn by watching movies all day?
Just like any instructional tool, the effectiveness of the tool is dependent on the effectiveness of the instruction that guides the use of the tool. An effective teacher uses digital media with the available reading passages, simulations, eBooks, glossaries, etc., to create a collaborative learning environment where students meet Common Core State Standards to "build strong content knowledge, use technology and digital media strategically and capably, and value other’s perspectives."
What about kids who don’t have computers at home? Aren’t we just widening the achievement gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’?
Students who come from impoverished situations need, even more, the opportunities to learn to use digital media effectively. Closing the achievement gap can only become a reality by giving all students the richest learning opportunities available regardless of their background. Learning in college and careers no longer relies solely on teachers and books as resources.
What if there aren’t enough computers for all children to use Discovery in their classrooms?
Using digital media as a learning tool is most effective in collaboration. Effective management of Discovery in the classroom doesn't require every child to have a device. As required by the Common Core State Standards, students "will learn to comprehend and critique, respond to varying audiences, tasks, purposes and disciplines, and value evidence through carefully designed instructional experiences that allow for developing independence."
How will teachers grade student work if students don’t turn in a test at the end of a unit?
Discovery has a wide range of ways to evaluate learning, from self-evaluation tools to quizzes and writing prompts. Effective assessment practices include an array of formative and summative experiences to inform instruction and demonstrate progress to parents. Development of assessment of learning is paramount to teaching using any materials, including Discovery.
Doesn’t putting children in front of the computer stunt their social development?
Again, the key is effective strategies for using the digital resources, just as with print. Ineffective teaching is ineffective regardless of the tools used. For instance, if a teacher gives students a pile of worksheets to complete without appropriate interaction, support and instruction, the paper/pencil tasks are meaningless fillers of time rather than learning tools.
What if children go off into another topic?
Effective management strategies are paramount. At the same time, as we develop independent learners (a key goal of the Common Core State Standards), educators must adjust to a shift in their role and in the role of school. In the past, school was the sole source of information. Children went to school to get information from the teacher and from the resources that were mostly only available at school. Today, information is available anywhere and everywhere. The way we think of what defines an educated person must change also. Today’s students need to know how to filter, evaluate, and assimilate the onslaught of information available to them. They must learn to discern useless information and hoax from accuracy and truth. Being a productive citizen in the digital age means developing a strong center of personal ethics and an ability to balance multiple tasks. The ability to adapt to the changing role of education and educators is critical for student success.