Pulaski County Public Schools (PCPS) will be among the first in Virginia to use new digital learning resources developed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
VDOE unveiled those resources during a visit to Pulaski Elementary School Monday morning. Superintendent of Public Education Patricia Wright presented the materials – a new virtual astronomy course on iTunes U, as well as the beta release of “EduWidgets.”
“The use of technology can really stretch a student to think more critically and analytically,” said Wright.
The virtual astronomy course corresponds with the commonwealth’s science standards, and could be used as a stand-alone course, or as a supplement to other science courses. The course is available for free on iTunes U, and optimized for iPad.
Students taking the astronomy course will satisfy a state diploma requirement that they complete at least one virtual course. It does not require constant Internet access, meaning that students who lack access at home can download it at school for later use.
VDOE is also developing a companion iBook for the astronomy course.
EduWidgets is an online authoring application that teachers and students can use to create interactive digital content for classroom devices, tablets, and the web. For PCPS, those tablets will replace traditional textbooks in some classes with Standard of Learning aligned content, media, and apps.
Following Wright’s presentation, the new technology was displayed throughout the school. While the virtual astronomy course was shown on iPads in the library, fifth graders worked with the new EduWidgets on iPads in their classroom.
Although it was the students’ first time working with EduWidgets, they grasped on to the new technology almost instantaneously, and even helped to provide critical feedback.
According to Tammy McGraw, Director of Educational Technology for VDOE, digital tools like EduWidgets put the lesson in the hands of the students.
“It gives them an opportunity to have more control over their own learning,” said McGraw. “They can instantly get feedback on whether something is correct or not, and they don’t have to wait for the teacher to grade a paper to hand it back.”
With those resources at hand, both the students and teachers will be able to customize the learning experience on both ends. Students will be able to learn in real time, while the teachers will be able to create interactive timelines, and other media, such as graphs and images.
According to Wright, these new digital resources fit the current generation of student’s educational needs.
“I think the technology we rolled out today fits nicely with the way students learn now,” said Wright. “You have to reach students in the ways that they enjoy learning, they are motivated and encouraged when they use devices at school that are similar to what they use at home.”
The virtual astronomy course and EduWidgets were developed by the VDOE in support of the eLearning Backpack Initiative. The initiative provides grants to help school divisions purchase tablets and content-creation packages for high schools that are not fully accredited.