An example of how technology can change education

Prairie Ridge third-graders plan family vacations and brush up math and writing skills at same time

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There’s broad agreement among educators that schools nationwide are not using technology to its full potential, but that doesn’t mean nothing is being done.

The College Community school district, in south Linn County, is one school system that is not only studying the issue but implementing tech-related initiatives.

“It’s really about changing the teaching and learning going on,” said Craig Barnum, the district’s information services and technology director.

A couple of years ago, the district set up all students with Google accounts, giving them access to online tools like Gmail and Google Docs and making it easier to share work and do work outside the classroom.

The district hopes to have laptops for every high school student next school year.

Barnum said technology will get students more engaged and allow for more personalized instruction.

Brad Koch applies these ideas in his third-grade class at the district’s Prairie Ridge Elementary School. One example is a six-week project that has students plan a family vacation.

Students build their own website, map the route online and use Google Earth to create a virtual tour. A budget, writing assignments and presentations work on math, writing and speaking skills.

A month ago, as the class was finishing the project, students worked in small groups, each kid armed with a laptop from the mobile computer lab shared by the third-grade classes. A wheelchair-bound non-verbal student had one, too, using a switch to make choices given to him by a classroom aide.

Eight-year-old Nassir Reece and Andrew Bickford, 9, sat on the floor showing each other their work. Andrew planned a trip to Southern California, with stops at Disneyland, Disneyland Hotel and a California Pizza Kitchen. His website linked to those sites’ home pages.

The boys said the project was more fun than traditional class work.

“Because we get on the computers and we get to do tons of stuff,” said Nassir.

His trip was to Chicago, and he thought his family could use his work to take a real vacation. Koch said the families of more than half of last year’s students did just that.

Thirteen years ago, when he started teaching, the project would have been done mostly on pencil and paper and limited to the resources he gave students, Koch said.

He believes kids learn better using technology.

“You have your same set of (educational) standards and skills, but you’re giving kids more ability to access those, and access those at a deeper level,” he said.

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