From Kansas to Louisiana, Multimedia Is Creating a New Look in the Classroom

In McPherson, Kan., interactive multimedia has helped educators create an innovative new approach to teaching history, social studies and geography at the high school level. And in St. James Parish, La., elementary school students are taking "field trips" in their classroom, thanks to an exciting new multimedia program developed jointly by IBM and Children's Television Workshop. "We didn't set out to rewrite history or to change the content of our social and physical sciences," says Dr. Randy Watson, assistant superintendent for curriculum in McPherson, Kansas. "We simply wanted to change the way students learn and make learning exciting and fun again," he adds. "We decided on a thematic or inter-disciplinary approach that encouraged student initiative, group participation and the development of inter-personal skills." During the 1992/93 school year, McPherson Unified School District initiated a new approach for teaching American and world history, government, social studies and geography at the high school level. A textbook-less environment, which embraced multi-disciplinary subject areas, combined many of the concepts taught previously in separate courses. Students were organized into learning teams to explore over-lapping topics in history, government, social sciences and geography. Among the topics were "immigration and exploration," "war and conflicts," and the "Bill of Rights and other freedoms." IBM's highly interactive programs #172;Columbus: Encounter, Discovery and Beyond; Evolution/Revolution; and Bill of Rights #172;were chosen to support the initiatives. These knowledge-based programs fully utilize multimedia computers' CD-ROM technology; their presentations are alive with text, photographs, music, sound, graphics and video. To supplement the software component, students were encouraged to do individual research and to participate in group study and discussions. Assigned responsibilities included reviews of periodicals, library research and the use of electronic media such as CD-ROM. Student Test Scores Impressive At the conclusion of courses, students involved in the programs were required to make oral presentations and to take the same written tests given to students in traditional classes. The results, according to Watson, have been "nothing short of spectacular." Of the students involved in the initial programs, only 4% received "C" grades. The remaining 96% earned either "A's" or "B's" and they were far more well-rounded in their comprehension than the control students. This compares to an average performance curve of about 18% of all students receiving "F's", "D's" or "C's." An unexpected benefit was the performance of special educational students, who worked at their own pace and far exceeded previous records of achievement. McPherson was not one of the early school districts to embrace computer technology for its classrooms, according to Watson. But starting later allowed it to learn from others' experiences and to choose the most effective approach for its students. The district began implementing classroom technology during the 1990/91 school year in the primary grades. Next, it was added at the middle- and high-schools levels. McPherson plans to network classrooms in all six schools by 1997 and is looking at the possibility of expanding multimedia in all areas of the junior and senior high curriculum. Multimedia at Elementary Level Some 1,000 miles away #172;in St. James Parish, La. #172;the Mississippi River moves at a leisurely pace as it winds through the heart of the parish school district. But in St. James' schools, the pace is anything but leisurely. In 1984, Romeville Elementary School became one of the first schools to install IBM's Writing to Read program, and later, Writing to Write. Test score increases of 20% after only one year with Writing to Read led to a plan for adding technology in other St. James Parish schools. In fall of 1994, Romeville introduced elementary students to interactive multimedia with the addition of IBM's Nature of Science Visit Series for grades 1 through 6. "The Nature of Science Visit Series is a very compelling new learning tool for our young people," says Janie Vee Henderson, instructional supervisor at St. James Parish. "The program not only makes science fun and exciting, it creates enthusiasm for learning that spills over into other areas of the curriculum." The Nature of Science Visit Series, developed in conjunction with the Children's Television Workshop (CTW), embraces IBM's Teaching and Learning with Computers methodology, encouraging personal involvement, individual decision making and higher-order thinking skills. At the primary grade levels, the highly interactive Through the Woods and At the Seashore programs allow students to take colorful and fun-filled "field trips" right in the classroom. Along the way, they encounter all sorts of animal and sea life, depicted in photographs, illustrations and video segments. As students experience these fascinating trips into multimedia computing, they begin to understand the animals' relationships to their environment, according to Henderson. Children also learn to observe and ask questions and develop a positive attitude about nature and science. In grades 3 through 6, students explore more advanced course content, including solar energy and investigating light. Built-in Motivation Romeville elementary teacher Glenn Chenier says that students can't wait for their afternoon classes and working with the multimedia technology. "One of the more touching examples of the impact of this program involves a student who was being evaluated for special education classes," he says. "He was lethargic and totally un-involved in the classroom. After being exposed to this program, the student became totally engrossed, and his attitude in the class changed dramatically," notes Chenier. "Many of these children have grown up with educational television," says Henderson, "and interactive programs such as the Nature of Science Series build on the techniques of combining entertainment with education in a very stimulating and challenging way." It's a combination that's not only stimulating children to learn, it's exciting St. James educators over the possibilities.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.

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