Kent’s Middle Schools Embark on a Digital Discovery

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Kent County School Superintendent Karen Couch announces partnership with Discover Education, Wednesday Jan. 15, 2014

Kent County Public Schools on Wednesday announced a six-year partnership with Discovery Education to bring a web-based interactive learning platform to middle school students in the subjects of health, science, and social studies – known as Discovery Education Techbook™.

“We’re going to transform our classrooms and we’re going to empower our teachers to create high quality interactive lessons for our students,” said KCPS Superintendent Karen Couch to an audience of public officials and community leaders at the Kent Community Center. “We want to engage our students like no other.”

Techbook’s web-based interactive platform will replace traditional textbooks in the classroom and also provide “high quality professional development for our teachers,” Couch said.

“Techbook is a non-linear curriculum pathway that promotes inquiry-based learning, enhances critical thinking, and improves student achievement,” said a press release from Discovery Education that was posted on the KCPS website in advance of the announcement. “With exclusive video from the Discovery Channel, content from more than 100 educational publishers, digital simulations and explorations, hands-on labs, STEM resources, a reference library, and an Interactive Glossary and Atlas, Techbook is an intuitive, all-in-one program.”

Techbook is now used in over half of the school systems in the country, “which means roughly about 1 million educators everyday log into Discovery Education and 35 million students do as well,” said Matt Monjan, Vice President of Educational Partnerships Discovery Education, who presented Techbook using projection equipment.

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Matt Monjan, Vice President of Educational Partnerships Discovery Education introduces Techbook, Jan.15, 2014

Monjan showed how teachers, students and parents will interact differently with the lesson plans. He showed how text could be highlighted with any device and then converted to audio in English, Spanish, or French. He also demonstrated how the content could be read in different reading levels.

“If a student is a struggling reader they can have the same concept there for them but at a different reading level.” Monjan said.

The science and social studies Techbooks have a literacy component that supports Common Core.

Monjan said the purpose of the curriculum was not just to interact in the digital environment but that students would also work with physical materials as part of the lesson plans.

“We’re not just talking about using an Ipad or a Mac Air,” Monjan said. “We’re talking about using tuning forks, we’re talking about using sand and rocks and we’re talking about using water and plastic. These are things we want students to engage with.”

The school system was able to partner with Discovery Education using a $400,000 Digital Innovation Grant from Gov. Martin O’Malley, which will pay for the Techbook curriculum and supply IPads for every sixth and seventh-grader. Eighth-graders will get Mac laptops instead of Ipads.

Couch said the school system only had to come up with about $30,000 additional to cover the cost of the program. She  gave credit to KCPS Secondary Education Supervisor Nina Newlin and Technology Supervisor Daniel MacLeod for winning the grant.

She said Kent was one of six counties in the state to receive the grant and the only county in Maryland to adopt the full suite of curriculum offered by Discovery Education.

Techbook is compatible on all platforms and all devices and will level the learning playing field for all students, Couch said.

Students who don’t have access to the Internet at home will be able download lesson plans wirelessly to their devices while they’re at school.

“This is going to be a game-changer because many of our kids have challenges based on their socio-economic status. They don’t have access to devices, they may not have access to go and travel around the world, but we can bring the world into the classrooms.”

“[Students] can actually see the government shutdown and that’s how ‘real-time’ all this information is,” Couch said.

Monjan said Discovery Education had partnered with MacNeil/Lehrer Productions to present Global News from the students’ point of view.

“Whatever is relevant in the news you will see in the weekly Global Wrap,” Monjan said. He said the chemical spill in West Virginia was the current story.

Couch said that bringing Techbook to the county’s middle schools was a good place to start but envisioned adopting it for the elementary schools and Kent County High School.

“I want Kent County Public Schools to become a district this community is proud of and one that brings families to this area,” Couch said.

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