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A wave of the future at MMS

Marshall Middle School eighth-graders are using digital textbooks in their social studies class as part of a pilot program

October 3, 2012
By Jenny Kirk , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Eighth-graders at Marshall Middle School are getting an interactive learning experience this year in social studies class, courtesy of a pilot program involving digital textbooks.

The brand new experience has MMS teacher Sandy Carpenter and her students excited for the future. Though the program does not eliminate traditional textbooks altogether, the use of digital textbooks and e-lessons has unlimited opportunities for learning.

"I like it a lot," eighth-grader Mitchell Sueker said. "It's kind of cool because you get to do interactive things with the videos. You can take your own little quizzes and just learn from that."

Article Photos

Photo by Jenny Kirk
Marshall Middle School eighth-graders Salvador Talamantes, left, Jason Arzdorf, Brooke Lothert and Mitchell Sueker accessed their digital textbook accounts on the school’s computer Tuesday. The eighth-grade students at MMS are piloting a digital textbook program in social studies this year.

Brooke Lothert said she also likes using the digital textbooks. While there are times when the students will use the school computer lab, most of the time, the students use their home computers.

"I think it works better than the worksheets," she said. "It's better to learn from it. Some of the questions are easier to understand."

Lothert also admitted that she liked taking notes on the computer as she went through reading material, as opposed to writing it out with a pen and paper.

"I like typing my notes a lot better," she said.

By using SuccessNet Plus, which is the first K-12 system to merge learning management with Pearson's proven curriculum, automatically personalizing instruction for all participating students, grading and tracking student performance is much easier. Students are able to access their calendar and itinerary and work at their own pace most of the time.

"I will go over things in class, so they have an idea," Carpenter said. "This doesn't necessarily take stuff away from me, but the work is much more focused."

Every group has a graphic comic strip that will do a show for them, like the Battle of the Spanish Armada with Queen Elizabeth one that students were currently reviewing. After students push through the slides, they will have seven different lessons, Carpenter said, where they'll use both "their text and knowledge they've learned in class" to answer the questions.

All of the students have the ability to stop and save assignments at any time. Questions vary from fill-in-the-blank to multiple choice, matching or typing in an answer. Incorrect answers can be corrected, which allows learning to continue.

"Can a kid go through it all at one time? Certainly," Carpenter said. "But they're also going to do it as we do it in class."

For most students, using the interactive site is like second nature since they've grown up with technology all their lives.

"It was a good system overall," eighth-grader Salvador Talamantes said. "It had a few flaws, like logging in at first, but we got through those. It was easy once you got used to it. And, practice makes perfect."

Jason Arzdorf appreciated that he didn't have to lug an enormous social studies book home every night.

"I like it because I don't have to bring the whole book home to study," he said. "It's a lot easier to just log onto the computer and start studying that way."

Arzdorf pointed out that you had to remember to track where you've been.

"If you didn't track it, it didn't count," he said.

One of the best parts, Carpenter said, is that if a student is absent, he or she can go right online and read it at home. Of the 75 students she currently teaches eighth-grade social studies to, only one student reported not having Internet access.

"But that student has an enrichment time where it can be done during the school day," she said. "And if students have a question for me while they're at home, they can e-mail me and ask me what to do or come in before school starts."

What Carpenter loves the most is that students have access to a timeline in their e-lessons. And for social studies, she said, the information is always current.

"Along with seeing the primary document, pictures and everything else, the kids take notes on what they read, submit it and go back," she said. "It's awesome."

Sueker agreed, admitting that he enjoyed the interactive part of the process.

"You can go back into your notes and look at what you've tracked and then go back and review," Sueker said. "That's always nice before a test, to be able to go back and review for stuff."

According to Carpenter, the pilot program came about partly because the social studies department is scheduled to receive new curriculum this spring.

"We have a calendar schedule for when departments buy curriculum," she said. "We will be looking to purchase new curriculum for our classrooms. What is also taking place is that the state-wide social studies standards were updated and will also go into effect next year at the middle school level. We have some changes in fifth grade, sixth grade and eighth grade and a complete change in seventh grade."

So Carpenter contacted different publishers and worked with them to get samples. Carpenter liked that Pearson Prentice Hall was totally online. Though the pilot program had some technical issues to get through at first, things are getting more comfortable all the time.

For Carpenter, it's a sign of good things to come.

"I am hoping to receive a technology grant," she said. "My goal is to have a digital classroom."



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