Digital Learning Replaces Textbooks
Article from the Washington County News
Betty Brackin, curriculum director for Washington County Schools, said students across the county this year are replacing traditional textbooks in schools with hands-on and digital learning.
“Walk into a math and science classroom in Wash- ington County Schools this year and you will see a new approach to learning,” Brackin explained. “Students across the county are engaged in learning by doing. It is all a part of the district’s new approach to teaching science and math- ematics. This past summer, teachers across the district gave up several days of their personal time to participate in the Alabama Mathematics, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI).
“The initiative is the Alabama Department of Education’s attempt to improve math and science teaching statewide. Its mission is to provide all students in grades K-12 with the knowledge and skills needed for success in the workforce and post-secondary studies (college and career ready).”
Brackin said the premise behind AMSTI is that students learn math and science by doing math and science, especially when they can relate it to their daily lives.
“Schools apply to become official AMSTI schools and, when accepted, agree to send all of their math and science teachers and administra- tors to multi-week training,” Brackin said. “Participation in the program is optional and investing in the program is worthwhile. Having been thoroughly studied by external evalua- tors since 2002, AMSTI can make the rare claim that on every standardized test given by the SDE, AMSTI schools outscored matched none-AMSTI schools, often dramatically.”
Brackin said teachers receive all equipment and materials needed to engage their students in hands-on, activity-based instruction.
“Equipment ranges from plastic cups and cotton balls to cutting-edge technology like mass spectrophotom- eters, DNA replicators, gel electrophoresis equipment, graphing calculators, GPS devices, nuclear scalars, etc,” she explained. “The resources are often delivered to the school in unit tubs referred to as ‘kits.’’’
As the kits remain at the school only and are used only when needed, they can be rotated for use by mul- tiple teachers and schools, making excellent use of fiscal resources. According to Brackin, Washington County Schools made a one- time purchase using federal dollars to “buy in” to the program.
“Going forward, the kits are going to be replenished at no cost to the district,’’ she said. “It is a win-win situation. We are able to do away with purchasing science textbooks in grades K-8 completely. You will not find any printed student textbooks in our science classrooms this year. It is a different approach that isoftenhardforparentsto get used to. They expect students to come home with a textbook, but textbooks are a waste of taxpayer dollars when there is research to support that students learn best when they do math and science, not read about it.’’
According to Brackin, “It was the perfect time to invest in AMSTI as the district has also made a big investment in digital technology. We have al- ready started moving to a 1:1 digital environment. It is time to get rid of all printed textbooks, and that is our plan. Textbooks are adopted every six years on a rotating basis by subject. Last year it was science. The year is math, and we hope to purchase only digital books. This saves our district a significant amount of money, and since students live in a digital world, they respond better to it.”
Brackin said she and Renee Carter, co-curriculum director and SPE coordinator for the schools, have already witnessed attitude changes in both the teachers and the students since implementing the program.
According to Brackin, “An elementary student who had recently dissected a frog was so thrilled about the experience and was able to give a detailed account of the steps involved in the process as well as explain the learning outcomes. A second student described himself as an engineer because he was able to reevaluate and solve a problem when his electrical car did not work exactly the way he wanted it to.”
Brackin said that is what this investment and ap- proach is all about.
“Those students will not only remember the experiences but will be able to build on what they are learning during them,” she said.
Superintendent Tim Savage said he is thrilled about the AMSTI program. As a former mathematics teacher, he said he knows the value of finding ways to teach mathematics suc- cessfully and has made that one of his goals during his tenure as the leader of the district.
“Success in mathematics and science is the key to the future,” Savage said. “The U.S. Department of Labor recently listed the 10 most wanted employees. Eight of those were ones with degrees in these fields. It is more critical than ever to find ways to ensure success in those areas.
“However, it is often tough finding ways to accomplish our responsibili- ties with very limited funding. That is why AMSTI was selected. It ensures academ- ic successes while saving us money in the form of less spent on printed textbooks.”
Savage also expressed his deepest appreciation for the teachers who willingly gave their time this past sum- mer to attend training. “We have some great teachers in our district. I look forward to visiting some of their hands-on classrooms very soon,’’ he said.
AMSTI videos and pictures are posted on the Washington County School’s Facebook page as well as the district’s website locatedatwww.wcbek12.org . The public is encouraged to follow what is happening in Washington County Schools.