Oriskany classrooms embrace technology with new ‘techbooks’

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ORISKANY — Oriskany Central School is exposing its classrooms to 21st century learning by engaging, supporting and challenging its students and educators through the use of digital textbooks and professional development.

To help prepare career and college-ready students, the school district has partnered with Discovery Education to bring digital science to children in kindergarten through 12th grade. It is the first district in the state to adopt Discovery Education Science Techbook for every grade level. Digital social studies is currently being offered in grades 5-8.

Through Discovery Education, students can access information and their level of learning and work independently at their own pace. It provides interactive lessons that engage students to learn in different ways while they are still open to collaborate with one another.

Replacing traditional paper textbooks, Science Techbook features videos, interactive texts, digital simulations, virtual hands-on labs and an interactive glossary with audio and video. It is utilized in K-8 science classes, as well as high school biology, chemistry, earth and space science and physics.

Social Studies Techbook includes a multimedia reference library that links key documents to people and places, interactive maps, digital explorations and activities, primary source documents, and informational text. It provides middle school instruction for United States History, World History and Geography & Cultures courses.

Technology Coordinator Lisa Davis said while they are not allowed to take them home, each student has an iPad that they utilize inside their classroom. However, each child has their own Discovery Education account they can access anywhere online.

“For science and social studies, there is an iPad cart for each classroom,” Davis said, referring to the secured metal cart on wheels that stores and re-charges the tablet devices. “We have Discovery streaming for any subject, at any grade level. All the kids have accounts, and they can access it anywhere — such as their home personal computers or devices — as long as they can get online.”

Designed to support Common Core curriculum development, Techbook provides lesson plans and model lessons to help teachers in the transition from “old school” textbook learning to digital resources. Programs have an assessment component so that educators can measure students’ progress.

Techbook also has the ability to recommend additional resources that can aid in reinforcing classroom instruction. It constantly evolves, or upgrades, to reflect newly discovered information, as well as keep up with changing state standards, allowing teachers to incorporate current issues and recent scientific breakthroughs into their curriculum.

Davis hosts classes — 21st Century Workshops — that instruct teachers on how to incorporate the new technology into their curriculums. One such course was held two days over winter break this week attended by six Oriskany teachers. Davis also holds similar instructional seminars for Westmoreland Central School teachers.

Davis’ class was comprised of educators of several disciplines, such as second grade, technology, physical education, higher math, health and computer science. Each instructor is given a project they must complete at the end of the course so they get a full understanding of how to incorporate the Techbook into their specific instruction.

“They have to come up with a learning experience that is useful for their students,” Davis said. “They co-plan their lesson with me, and then I go support them when they teach the lesson.”

“It’s a pedagogy — a new way to engage students in the classroom,” she said.

During her training course, Davis held a virtual earth science lab designed around a lesson on volcanic eruption. She had the teachers go into an interactive video lesson in the iPad where teachers learned the different elements and environmental conditions that could cause an eruption. A second hands-on learning station was set up where teachers conducted their own experiment using water, oil, food coloring, salt and sugar to mimic magma. At the third station, teachers were provided with a news article about volcanoes in Hawaii to give a perspective of those living around volcanic eruptions. And a fourth station contained different photos of volcanoes or wildlife created as a result of an eruption, which asked the teachers questions like, “What do you know?,” “What do you wonder?,” and “What is making you think this way?”

At the third station, or “reading station,” Davis advised the teachers that they were each given the same news articles, but written at different reading levels. This was done to show that the lesson could be incorporated to students at different learning levels, and children can also learn to corroborate with one another and work together despite their differences.

Davis said the lesson shows teachers “that some students may need to interact with others or be strong at reading, or their strengths may be based on visual or hands-on instruction,” because everyone learns differently.

Then teachers may analyze a student or develop their curriculum “based on the students’ strengths,” she said. Lessons should include “collaborative working, critical thinking and creativity.”

Davis said using an adaptor, an iPad can also be plugged into a projector so teachers can hold a demonstration that an entire class can view on the large screen.

“It’s three dimensional learning,” Davis said. “It’s all about instruction being presented in layers. It’s based on real world experiences whether a student is college and career or job bound. They’re learning to work together with people of different strengths and weaknesses. Every type of lesson each student gets a different experience, but you will get the same outcome.”

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