Shaler Area science classes 'flip' for curriculum

March 8, 2012 5:24 am

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Four years ago, Shaler Area School District embarked on a plan that, among other things, updated the high school science wing with an eye on the future.

Today, that plan, called Vision for the Future, is complete, and students in ninth through 12th grades are using computers and other electronic devices to study science. The technology allows students to take part in what is called a "flipped curriculum" and enables teachers to see immediately who needs help in a specific area.

The science staff uses the array of technology to teach all students, including gifted teens and those who have special needs.

Dennis Dudley, head of the 17-member science department at the high school, said Donald Lee, who was superintendent at the time the upgrade was launched, wanted students to have the option of participating in a "flipped curriculum" -- taking their science courses online and then coming to school to show what they had learned and to ask questions about what they didn't understand.

A state grant allowed the district to train 11 science teachers in online learning. One, Joann Noble, who teaches honors chemistry and honors organic chemistry, has a master's degree in the subject.

All classrooms are equipped with laptop computers, and 100 percent of the staff has been trained to use Blended Schools Blackboard, an online learning tool offered by a not-for-profit company. At least half, according to Mr. Dudley, use the Blended Schools site extensively for the flipped curriculum and for in-class enhancement of the curriculum. Often, tests and simulated experiments are online.

Each student is given a remote device to answer the teacher's questions and their answers appear on a white board. This gives the teachers opportunities to correct, explain and enhance the material the student studies online.

In teacher Emily Mohr's freshman biology class, the students are using the remote devices and white boards to answer questions about genetics.

Students are represented by numbers on the board. As they answer questions about which traits specific parents -- today the parents are represented by SpongeBob SquarePants characters -- can or cannot pass on to their offspring, their answers light up a small block on the board that tells the student and the teacher if the answer is correct.

Rita Michel, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.
First Published 2012-03-08 04:26:06

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