Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A digital science boost

With all the buzz about digital learning, one of the biggest questions is how much educational bang schools can get for their electronic bucks.  Discovery Education, a vendor to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,  has released a study showing its interactive science lessons contributed to significant student gains in high-poverty CMS classrooms.

Discovery Education provides reading passages, videos and virtual labs to get students engaged in scientific exploration.  For instance, fifth-graders studying insect life cycles would look at photos of insects such as butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles and dragonflies. The teacher would get them to talk about different ways those insects grow, and to make predictions about how each changes during its life cycle. Students would watch a digital video on metamorphosis.

CMS uses federal Title I money to provide Discovery Education digital science lessons for all its highest-poverty schools (75 percent or higher), along with training for teachers in how to use those lessons.  But participation wasn't required during the study years (2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-12),  so some teachers in Title I schools opted out.

The study compared results on state fifth- and eighth-grade science exams for students of 457 Title I teachers who used Discovery Education, 295 Title I  teachers who did not and 538 teachers in lower-poverty schools that didn't use Discovery Education. Researchers found that the Title I teachers using the program saw eighth-graders go from 38 percent passing to 57 percent, outperforming both other groups by significant margins (Title 1 non-users went from 19 percent to 32 percent passing, and the non-Title I group went from 41 to 43 percent). The results for fifth-graders weren't as dramatic, but the Title I teachers using Discover Education saw the biggest gains in two years.

The study factored in the benefits that some of the Title I schools got from support provided through CMS' Achievement Zone and/or the strategic staffing program, and there still appeared to be benefits attributable to the digital program.

I'm always cautious of drawing oversimplified conclusions from numbers, especially a study done by an interested party.  But this does seem to reinforce what CMS and many thoughtful commenters have been saying:  Technology can be a helpful tool when it's combined with good training and enthusiastic teachers.


Anonymous said...

You can't lead a productive life watching videos, you have to able to read. Go ahead, fill out a job application ... where is the video? I hope McDonalds has one. Parents love to hear, "your kid was a born french fry chef". Another CMS program for the sake of statistics. Keep dumbing it down, that's the ticket!

Anonymous said...

Discovery Ed is a great tool.

It works well to help students visualize concepts and see things that they have never seen before.

When properly used, the lesson, homework, quiz and writing prompts expand on what the teacher has time to do one on one. Great tool.

However, the PD department is a joke with a few minor exceptions. They are haughty, rude and disrespectful. Totally off putting to the teachers they are trying to train. Thus many of us opted out.

I'm also not so keen on them since they helped perpetrate the fraud and lies of the iPad Technology grant scam.

Wiley Coyote said...

I wonder how this country got to where it was before 1970 with books and reel to reel films in school.....

I had enthusiastic teachers back then....

Anonymous said...

I remember asking a teacher to "show" me osmosis when I wasn't grasping the concept. He took several people and sort of choreographed a dance which helped me understand the process well enough to pass the class without killing my GPA. It's doubtful I would have grasped a nucleosome in the 5 minutes CMS's technology department claimed to teach the intricacies of this to dazzled school board members using IPads during a board meeting but I can appreciate the potential learning opportunities technology can provide. A high tech butterfly demo sounds great but I still love a good old-fashioned field trip to a nature center.

Anonymous said...

Folks who owns Discovery Education? Keep digging and Ann you should include this item when referencing outside vendors in the future. It will help some connect the dots of the greed trail within CMS.

Anonymous said...

Who would like to speculate which CMS school Michelle Obama will visit during the DNC? I'm willing to take bets she'll read an old-fashioned storybook to all the little children without the aid of the latest CIA technology.

Jim said...

Since this is so great, why is it not being employed to the benefit of high achieving (as opposed to high poverty) students? Clearly, a "two America" situation!

Anonymous said...

We want the high poverty kids to catch up, remember? And that can't happen if the high achievers get to use the latest and greatest technology too.

I'm being a bit facetious here, for as someone pointed out not all high poverty kids are failing (just as all low poverty kids aren't succeeding). But we've tried to blame facilities, teachers, course offerings, assignment, etc. for the achievement gap. We're always looking for the fix, trying to avoid discussing root cause of academic disparities.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I am not sure this bookmark will come across but go to USA Today and look at the article on Sal Khan of Khan Academy.

As you will see, our school board chairperson missed the point completely on why this is the next innovation in education. Here, the high end kids can work at their own pace and "flip" the classroom. The other kids as dicussed in this blog article are unable to do this type of advanced work and must be hand feed through public education.

Anonymous said...

Can't use Khan Academy because it is free! Bureaucrats can't get their cut.
It is absolutely amazing how good Khan is. Everyone should check it out.

Truth Seeker said...

Former CMS staffer, Dr.Moss, employed now by Discovery Ed. If technology good for high poverty then it is good for ALL students.

Jeff Wise said...

Wiley you're smarter than that! When your boss gets a new project, does he/she use a typewriter to write the memorandum alerting you to the kick off meeting?

Nothing wrong with trying to use technology effectively to deepen a lesson's impact on a student.

There's technology that uses capacitive touch screens that allow students to virtually dissect animals, not only a time saver for the teacher, but cost effective too.

It's still the same enthusiastic teachers, but now they've got more tools at their disposal.

Hopefully this is a harbinger of many more stories about good use of technology in the classroom.

Wiley Coyote said...


You totally missed the point.

Bill Stevens said...

Jeff, while there are many advantages to "dissecting" a frog on a touch screen, the appreciation of the anatomy you learn when doing it on a "real" specimen" is lost. Therein is my grudge with using so much technology and not doing it Wiley's way. The sense of touch and motion of handwriting is the link that instills the hardwired "learning" gene. I have challenged many current advocates of technology and they fail to "long term" learn a subject when they simply do internet searches, copy and paste (while using appropriate footnoting techniques), and haphazardly reformating the output. They fail to learn important leassons in planning, organizing, associating facts with different sources, etc.

Give me Wiley's way if I want a student to really learn a subject, develop the ability to rationally think, and process printed word to acquire thought and wisdom.

As to points in this article, I have never understood why reading and writing drills could not apply to learning science and other areas of curriculum other than the narrowmindedness educrats are turning our students. But as you interact with many of CMS's students as I do in another away from school setting, you see the limitations of the education just the school system provides to the urban students versus the result students from traditional families come away with when the parents and the school system are educating the child.

Wiley Coyote said...

I spent the past two and a half weeks - including weekends - in California on business, only to have the project postponed until the middle of July where I'll have to start all over again.

So you can imagine what frame of mind I was in, wanting to get home.

As I was making my way back up Concourse B from Gate 14 at 9:30 PM from my Oakland to Phoenix to Atlanta to Charlotte flights (as US Air cancelled my flight from Phoenix to Charlotte in mid-air from Oakland), I had to dodge (which is typical anywhere you walk these days where there are masses of people) about a dozen or more zombie/morons looking down at their "smartphone technology".

One of these "technology zombies" stepped right in my path, totally oblivious to the fact I was within a cat's hair of bowling him over. I stopped and just as he was about to step right into me, he looked up, his eyes got really big as if he had come face to face with Godzilla. If I had continued walking in my path, I would have flattened this guy right on his rear.

I stood there staring at him as he sheepishly moved around me. He got the message and I didn't even have to speak or send him a text message.

Technology is a great thing. I love technology. I took electronics in high school and electrical engineering in college but there is a time and place for technology whether it's new or not.

This article acts as if technology is somehow going to revolutionize student learning, which it will not. Enhance it? Absolutely, but again, the right technology has to be married up to whatever situation is at hand. So my comment about the reel to reel movies was yesterday's technology as opposed to flat screens and digital curriculum.

A student still has to learn the basics, whether a teacher uses an iPad or some dusty old AV projector.

In college, we were not allowed to use a calculator. We had to learn how to use a slide rule.

I'd love to see a math teacher whip out about two dozen of those in a class today and tell students they have to use those on a test to get the answers.

To Bill's point, we are creating a generation of kids that can't write their name in cursive nor able to communicate by speaking.

Unless they have their head down typing on a "smartphone", they are mute zombies.

Anonymous said...

Old fogie.