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Eagle Ridge blogs into the future

Theresa Liebler, a resource teacher at Eagle Ridge Middle School, assists six-grader Stella Lee on an assignment in the school’s technology pilot program. Times-Mirror Staff Photo/Jonathan Taylor
Sports, technology, Xbox, snow days and family Christmas presents.

These are the topics Eagle Ridge Middle School sixth graders are blogging about on the 30 computers in their classroom.

In English, the students run their own blogs.

In math, they are able to research properties, exponents and perfect squares while sitting in class.

In science, students learn about weather and wind chill through research on their computers.

Eagle Ridge is the site of a Loudoun County Public Schools Technology Readiness Assessment pilot program.

The program, spearheaded by the LCPS Department of Technology Services and overseen by Eagle Ridge principal Scott Phillips, is being tested to gauge the effectiveness of the 1-to-1 initiative currently being considered for inclusion in the fiscal 2015 budget by the School Board.

In the program, teachers are issued a laptop for each student – which stays in the classroom – to use in four core subjects, math, science, history and English.

Michelle Huseltine, a sixth-grade English teacher at Eagle Ridge, is using blogging to teach her students grammar and other essential tools. The students each have their own blog that's open to the public.

“Blogging is probably one of the things I have done the most. I personally blog myself, so to get them excited about it is great,” Huseltine said. “I am able to make changes in live time, and they share them with their friends.”

During the recent days-off due to inclement weather, Huseltine was able to look through the blogs the students had done. When they returned to school, the students could see where they had made mistakes and make the necessary changes.

“I am able to show them changes they needed to make without conferencing with each individual student, and I could work with the students that really needed the help instead,” Huseltine said. “This has allowed me to get them to revisit their writings, and they love it now. They don't realize they are reading and revising over and over again, because there is a social aspect to it.”

While blogging has become a staple in English class, math teacher Jennifer Amores-Kalich has been using the computers to allow her students to develop their own review activities.

“For example, some of these students are working on properties and some are working on exponents and perfect squares, and they are able to make their own review activities,” Amores-Kalich said. “After lunch they will switch and meet with the other groups to show each other what work they have done.”

Amores-Kalich likes the program because it allows her the ability to work with students who need extra help.

“I have students who are at different levels, so those who are getting it a little faster can move on. I can make it more customizable, so they aren't bored while other students need more review or 1-on-1,” Amores-Kalich said.

Students at the school have really responded to the program and to using Google Docs.

“I really like using the computers a lot, because if you need to research something you don't have to ask the teacher,” Nick Asencio, 11, said as he worked a math problem in Amores-Kalich's class. “In elementary school we only had three or four computers in the classroom. It is nice to have the laptops so everyone can have their own computer. I love the Google Docs because you can do work with friends and it makes it a lot easier to learn.”

Student Alexandra Broughton thinks the program has helped her stay organized, as all of her science material is in one place.

“Using the Google Drive is great because I can go home and finish up an assignment I started in class without having to carry a bunch of textbooks home in my backpack,” Ian Devenish said in a presentation to the School Board Jan. 14. “I used to feel rushed and stuff as well, and with this you can work at your own pace.”

First-year principal Scott Phillips, who previously led an android tablet pilot program at Stone Middle School in Fairfax County, explained the program.

“The pilot is a year-long program, so we started the first day of school and will run through the whole year. There are three sixth-grade interdisciplinary teams made up of math, English, history and science teachers. Students are assigned to those teams based on random scheduling,” Phillips said.

Collaboration has become a main component in the program.

“We are being asked as educators to get kids college- and workplace-ready. The workplace is all collaboration in particular,” Phillips said. “When looking at these classrooms, you have kids in groups and talking to one another and sharing projects through the computer. It strengthens their learning and ups the retention of what these students are learning.”

This particular pilot works with only one of the three teams, Team Flight, consisting of about 150 students.

“All of the material is saved on a secured Google Drive. We haven't run into any issues. These are staying in the classroom. They are Microsoft laptops so they interface with everything we use here. Since they stay in the classroom, there is not that back-and-forth beating them up,” Phillips said.


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