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Oregon District Goes Digital for Elementary Science Texts

Ontario School District (OSD) of Ontario, OR, has implemented an online textbook as the primary instructional tool for its fourth- and fifth-grade science curricula. The decision grew out of the creation, funded by a grant to the district in early 2010, of five technology-rich learning environments at Ontario Middle School.

For its new program, OSD will use the science "techbook" from Discovery Education, which offers a complete science course and features multiple digital modes of instruction, including videos and virtual lab experiments. The inquiry-based framework of the course, aimed at fostering student interest, comprehension, and exploration while stimulating overall critical thought, correlates to the Oregon Science Curriculum Standards.

"Within Discovery Education Science K-5/6, videos, reading passages, engaging hands-on virtual labs, and more come together to bring the world of science alive for every type of learner," said OSD Superintendent Linda Florence. "The techbook helps district educators address every type of learning modality and engages students in the digital world in which they live."

Beyond engaging the students more effectively than traditional texts, however, the digital resource is far superior at ensuring currency, explained Melissa Williams, OSD director of instruction and student support services. "Our elementary teachers [were] very excited about the digital option, and they felt that science was a good place to start. We adopt textbooks on a six-year cycle, but science is always advancing so rapidly." She said the company's ability to continuously update the electronic text offers the benefit "that there would always be current information available."

The other deciding factor, said Williams, was the amount of visual learning tools contained within the digital textbooks. "We have a lot of English language learners (ELL) in our district, and things like video and virtual labs give them an opportunity to interact with the content, to dig in and do some problem solving. Kids tend to understand things at a deeper level when they have that opportunity."

In addition to the interactive online resources, the Discovery course also includes printable worksheets and activities, and comes packaged with DVDs and hands-on suggestions, allowing students to pursue their understanding of the material outside of class when Internet access is unavailable. And the course contains an ongoing formative assessment tool that allows teachers and students to keep track of which skills, concepts, and other course components each student has mastered and which ones still require various levels of further study and comprehension.

Finally, Williams noted, Discovery Education provides a good deal of staff development in terms of both subject matter and using the technology, to optimize instruction and its results.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.