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By John Coffelt, Staff Writer
Manchester City Schools will make local, if not regional, history by being the first system to implement a complete grade-level e-textbook program that includes issuing an iPad to each sixth grader at Westwood Middle School, and a bold change to class structure, called flipped instruction, for science and math.
“A lot of schools especially here in Tennessee are talking about putting devices in the hands of children,” said Westwood Middle School Principal Chad Fletcher.
“We’re past the talking-about-it stage – we’re down to getting it done. That’s something we’re very proud of.”
The devices will be in students’ hands Thursday or Friday, following Tuesday’s digital launch night that will offer parents a chance to learn about new devices.
“All of their textbooks will be on iPads, but our focus will be on flipped instruction in science and math,” Fletcher said.
“In essence, instead of having to lug around a backpack full of books, they’re all going to fit right here,” Fletcher said pointing to his iPad. “You’re replacing however many pounds of books with a device that’s handling it all.”
E-textbooks are a budding technology, but according to Fletcher, several publishers, including the one the system uses, are ready to go with the electronic format.
The heart of the launch is the flipped instruction, which departs from the traditional model of instruction by flipping the conventional concept of class, lectures during class time and homework at home –to have students watch short lectures as homework and then do traditional homework work during class.
Sixth grade science teacher Lisa Bunde is spearheading the flipped instruction method at Westwood.
Fletcher advised, “What Mrs. Bunde will do is put together short 5-10, maybe, 15-minute presentations that the students will download to their devices, and that will become their homework. They will do the application part of their work here where they have her here to help.
“We feel that it has a lot of potential, especially for science.”
The exciting part is that the students have Bunde available while they are doing the actual work to help with any pitfalls that they might encounter.
“Now, they will have the teacher right there…to help provide clarification, lesson extension and help provide remediation,” Fletcher said.
Bunde, who has experience with the model, added that it originated with two teachers in Colorado who wanted to record lab instruction lessons for students who missed class.
“It just kind of took off from that. A lot of students really liked that because they could go back and re-listen to the lesson and use it as a study tool.”
Bunde has sample lesson videos on her website and said more will be available at Tuesday’s launch night.
She said that they aren’t just videos of her standing next to the whiteboard. They will include other resources that are designed to keep the students engaged in the subject.
One benefit of the flipped classroom is that it allows the teacher more room to provide individualized instruction.
During class time, the students that “get” a particular concept can explore the idea further or move on to the next subject, but if they don’t understand the next lesson, say this weeks topic, the three basic symbiotic relationships, Bunde would have time to provide remediation in that individual area.
“[With flipped instruction], you can differentiate the assignments. Now you don’t have the limited amount of time to teach, so you can have different kids doing different assignments at different levels but still meet the standards set by the state,” Bunde said.
She explains, “You get feedback from the students directly as you walk around from group to group.”
She said that small-group learning projects teach important skills that will carryover into the modern job market.
Fletcher added that instruction methods must change to meet a changing workforce.
“What we know is that 65 percent of the jobs that children will have in the future haven’t been invented yet. Of those, the vast majority will be technology driven.”
The goal is for students to become proficient with the technology, and then expand the program so that they have it as they continue through Westwood.
Fletcher said the move is part of Director of Schools Dr. Keith Brewer’s vision – for the system to be a leader in digital instruction.
Brewer briefed the Manchester City Schools Board of Education on the launch Wednesday during a special-called work session.
“We have high hopes that learning increases with the launch and flipped instruction.
“I think that we have total buy in from the teachers and the principal, and that’s important.”
He said that system-wide, administrators have come together to make the launch happen.
Brewer added that the iPads would not be used for state testing.
“The devices will not be used for online assessment. We are one of the few districts capable for online assessments the next assessments periods, but [the iPads] will be loaded with curriculum that aligns with the core standards.”
The state assessments will be given in the school computer labs.
Brewer said that the district is among the first in the state to integrate the iPad with flipped instruction.
The iPad-flipped instruction pilot program was kept small, only for the sixth grade, to head off potential problems and gage its effectiveness before expanding it.
The eventual goal is to move to a completely digitally integrated district.
While a powerful learning tool, the iPads present potential issues, including online security, unit loss or theft that the system is addressing.
Fletcher said, “Part of our responsibility is to teach children, not just academics, but also life skills. Part of that [instruction] is to be thoughtful of the things that are our tools.”
He said attention is being given to teaching children to use the iPad correctly, not just as a learning tool, but also to be safe with it.
“On top of that we are working to get systems into place for a response … so if a child breaks it or it is taken from them … they won’t be without.”
Another possible issue that is being addressed is student access to Wi-Fi. All of the city schools have recently had a wireless Internet infrastructure upgrade.
Several teachers have volunteered to stay after school to keep the school open until 4 p.m. so that students have after school access to Wi-Fi.
The system is also partnering with area businesses to identify those that provide free Wi-Fi.
A Rocket Hotspot decal will designate these businesses.
“I believe it will be mutually beneficial. [The location] will be a place that will be friendly to the student, and [the businesses] will probably get [more sales],” Fletcher said.
He praised the system leadership for its direction.
“We’re proud that we have a school board that’s committed to children and a director who has vision and has put the tools in our hands to be as effective at focusing on learning.”
Westwood held a digital Flip the Scrip launch night from 5-6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the school cafeteria to acquaint parents with the iPads. Parents will view and sign various security and usage policies to help students with their devices as well as visit various demonstration stations. Refreshments will be available and a drawing for an iPad mini will be held.