Introducing Education 2.0

Don J. Rahn supervises a cluster of tech-savvy 10-year-olds  --  from left, Marcus Oden, Brant Lott, Ashley Beamer and Monica Ricci  --  at Mountain View Elementary School in Purcellville. About 100 educators visited Loudoun schools to learn about ways to apply technology in their schools.
Don J. Rahn supervises a cluster of tech-savvy 10-year-olds -- from left, Marcus Oden, Brant Lott, Ashley Beamer and Monica Ricci -- at Mountain View Elementary School in Purcellville. About 100 educators visited Loudoun schools to learn about ways to apply technology in their schools. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 1, 2007

Fifth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Purcellville put a new twist on a well-known science experiment last week. They mixed vinegar and baking soda in plastic bottles, then watched as bubbles filled the bottles and gas inflated balloons fitted on top.

What was unusual was how they logged their observations. Using hand-held computers, students recorded audio descriptions of the experiment, listed measurements of the balloons' circumference in tiny spreadsheets and -- before, during and after the experiment -- drew pictures of the bottles on the miniature screens. With a tap on the screen, they launched a slide show of the whole process.

Each student in the class was given a hand-held computer and folding keyboard as part of a pilot program that is one of many technological advances the school system has embraced in recent years, an effort that seems to be paying off. Last summer, Loudoun County was one of three school systems honored by the National School Boards Association for its success in using technology to enhance student achievement.

Last week, because of that distinction, Loudoun hosted about 100 visitors from schools across the country who were looking for innovative ways to apply technology in their schools. They visited several Loudoun schools over two days, including Mountain View, where several educators marveled at students' comfort with the gadgets. Mountain View teacher Don J. Rahn said it took his class "about five minutes" to figure out the computers' basic functions and start exploring features.

Preston L. Coppels, director of instructional services for the Loudoun schools, said the system's long-term goal is to have one computer per student, something many school systems have tried with laptops. He said hand-held computers are more practical and affordable and may offer Loudoun the best chance of reaching its goal.

Visiting principal Robert G. Davis took pictures throughout his tour to show his staff back in West Des Moines. His school opened three years ago with many high-tech features to serve students from two low-achieving elementary schools that were shut down by the district.

"I think [my staff members] should be pretty happy," he said, because they already have much of the hardware on display. But he said there were some software applications, such as student databases, that might be useful to incorporate.

At Newton-Lee Elementary School in Ashburn, visitors saw fifth-graders doing multiplication and division exercises with computerized pens that can tell students when they make a mistake. And in foreign-language classes at Smarts Mill Middle School in Leesburg, students used a computer program to record their voices so teachers could assess their progress in speaking.

In several classrooms, interactive whiteboards aided lessons in English and math, as well as sessions on improving test-taking skills.

Tim Magner, director of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education, told the educators over lunch in Lansdowne that schools need to help students sort through the mountain of information they encounter through media outlets. He said they also need to learn to appeal to students through the venues they are relying on for information.

"Their world outside of school is very different than the world inside," he said.

Sherry Holt, director of library media for the public schools in Hampton, Va., said she was impressed that Loudoun has so many staff members dedicated to helping teachers implement technology in the classroom. Loudoun has a technology resource teacher and a technology assistant in every school. Hampton schools are trying to move in that direction, with a goal of having one specialist per 1,000 students, she said.

Before the visitors went home, they picked up suggestions from the county's team of technology teachers.

Peggy Tyree, a teacher at Belmont Station Elementary School, suggested building a science lesson around a Web site, http://journeynorth.org. A second-grade class at Belmont Station has gone to the site to follow the migration of butterflies from Mexico to the southeastern United States, learning about Mexico and butterflies along the way.

Another technology instructor, Beth Walker of Park View High School, suggested a podcast project that uses video and audio software and asks students to make an iTunes playlist to illustrate their topic.

"Put an 'i' in front of anything, and they'll love it," she said.


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