Loris Elementary students, staff join White House virtual chat on technology in schools

vgrooms@thesunnews.comJune 7, 2013 

— When the White House calls, people tend to listen.

So instead of being out the door on the last day of school – a half-day at that – 10 students and several school officials stuck around Loris Elementary School Thursday afternoon for the chance to tell government officials, and the nation, how they use technology in their classrooms.

Loris was one of three high-tech schools that were invited to participate in a national, virtual “show and tell.” Students and teachers talked via a Google+ Hangout session, which was moderated by Betsy Corcoran of “EdSurge” and included James Kvaal, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. They were joined by students and teachers from the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and Chappell Elementary School in Green Bay, Wis.

The invitation came at a time when Horry County school board members are reluctant to fund a personalized digital learning initiative in next year’s budget. The initiative will be part of the discussion at Monday’s board meeting when preliminary approval of the budget is due.

“How exciting is this?” said Principal Mark Porter about the event. “This is an honor – they’ve worked so hard.”

Teacher Ashley Arthur and the students, all fifth-graders, fielded questions that Corcoran asked, and each of the schools had an opportunity to respond. Ashton Norman explained how they had created a book project using iPads, while Mayleek Moody told viewers about a project he did on the civil rights movement using Glogster, an online tool.

“I didn’t put in too many weird things,” said Mayleek, although he was struck by the number of people who were put in jail.

“That’s a pretty powerful lesson,” Corcoran said.

Hands flew in the air when Corcoran asked who watched YouTube videos and asked if that interfered with their learning. Ashton told her she also plays softball, but they take standardized tests during the season. She said sometimes, she has to give up her extra-curricular activities in order to concentrate on things that are important to her, like school.

Mason Tyler spoke about using Compass Learning, a technology-based program, and working on projects at home. Arthur said that was difficult for some students, because they can’t take their devices home.

The session followed a speech given by President Obama from Mooresville, N.C., where he visited middle school students to learn more about technology in the district. The Mooresville Graded School District gives a device to each student for grades three through 12, predominantly uses digital curriculum content and has seen improvements in graduation rates and state test scores over the last three years.

In his speech, the president introduced a new initiative called ConnectED, which would connect 99 percent of America’s students to the Internet through high-speed broadband and high-speed wireless within five years. It also would support teacher training and build on private-sector innovations that are making digital tools price-competitive with textbooks.

Loris is a Title I school where Porter has been able to employ a variety of technology tools to meet the personalized learning needs for all of the students. The school has provided every student in grades three through five with a laptop and a variety of learning software, and plans are to expand and reach more students through blended learning rotations.

Porter said one of their greatest challenges is that so many students don’t have Internet access at home. He said they try to build in time during the school day for those children to be able to work on projects, but that would be easier to do if the traditional school day was restructured.

Other students at the session were Joshua Causey, Andre Shaw, Ishan Patel, Manley Simmons, Zakiya Reaves, Toni Bell and Molly Beck, and all of them were chosen because they were interested in technology and entered the district’s technology fair. They were dressed in the T-shirts the school gave them for their participation – blue with the logo “LES Technology Roars.”

School officials were contacted about the possibility of the event several weeks ago, and the area was vetted as the site for the president’s speech, but it wasn’t possible to hold the visit on the last day of school. Porter wasn’t notified until Wednesday morning that the event was happening, and he had to scramble to line up students and to arrange for a makeshift studio, as renovations are taking place all over the school.

“I feel like this is a huge honor,” Ashton said after the session ended. “I believe technology makes us smarter. … I feel like when I’m on the computer, I am the smartest person in the world.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_VickiGrooms.

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