Educators say initiatives learned at conference will raise test scores
by Lindsay Field
October 01, 2012 01:06 AM | 6743 views | 14 14 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Simpson Middle School eighth-grader Zac Lehman, 14, scans a QR Code with his smartphone, which will show him a video of the next class lesson. The middle school is introducing the Flipped Classroom where students will learn their lessons at home at their own pace and then begin their work in school which would allow them to ask questions. <br> Photo by Laura Moon
Simpson Middle School eighth-grader Zac Lehman, 14, scans a QR Code with his smartphone, which will show him a video of the next class lesson. The middle school is introducing the Flipped Classroom where students will learn their lessons at home at their own pace and then begin their work in school which would allow them to ask questions.
Photo by Laura Moon
Bryce Maniscalco, 13, looks up a video of his class lesson using his Kindle Fire at Simpson Middle School. <br> Photo by Laura Moon
Bryce Maniscalco, 13, looks up a video of his class lesson using his Kindle Fire at Simpson Middle School.
Photo by Laura Moon
MARIETTA — One Cobb Schools teacher who was initially skeptical of the district spending around $300,000 to send nearly 150 employees to the Model Schools Conference in Florida in June said it will help raise test scores.

“I wasn’t necessarily for it when I first started hearing about it, but then I got chosen to go to this thing and I wasn’t even all that thrilled about going … but once we went, it was fantastic,” said Michael Welskop, an eighth-grade math teacher at Simpson Middle School.

The Simpson Foundation helped pay for four teachers, including Welskop, to attend the four-day conference in Orlando, Fla.

Welskop said administrators and county level supervisors were persuaded to let teachers implement technology initiatives because of the conference.

“They heard from the experts that you’ve got to let kids do this,” he said. “Before, it was almost like they didn’t want us doing some of these things (cell phones in the class or Internet access). Now, thanks to the conference and this kind of change in mind shift, they are supporting us and making it easier for us to do these things, and we’re seeing some bigger payoff from it.”

At the conference, they learned about teaching tools such as Remind 101 and QR codes and teaching methods including flipped classrooms and Bring Your Own Device.

Remind 101 is a tool that allows teachers to text students and parents to keep them informed about class events or deadlines.

QR codes are barcode-like images students can scan with their smartphones, which then load a website, video or other information.

In a “flipped classroom,” which the school board first discussed last spring, students watch lectures online at home and do what would typically be their homework during class time.

In a BYOD class, students are encouraged to bring laptops, tablets or other electronic devices to class.

“We came back from the conference and instantly started figuring out how we can do things, and we presented it to all the principals at the leadership kick-off conference (in early August),” Welskop said.

Since then, Welskop and a score of other teachers have introduced these learning tools to the sixth- through eighth-grade students at Simpson.

“If the BYOD thing works really well and some of the flipped classroom works really well, I foresee my students’ test scores going up,” he said. “The kids are getting more out of it.”

His colleague, Marcie Donaldson, who has been at Simpson Middle for 24 years and a teacher for 25, is a sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade academics habits and gifted instructor.

She uses many of the technology tools Welskop does, in addition to Blackboard, which allows to students view instructional content, take quizzes and tests, and participate in a virtual classroom online.

“This year, we’ve made great strides,” she said. “This has been a way to advance students.”

Donaldson said she’s been able to teach at a higher level.

“We’re teaching how our world is thinking,” she said. “We have to change if society is changing.”

Like Welskop and Donaldson, eighth-grade language arts teacher Macon Weaver has introduced the new teaching methods into his curriculum, including teacher blogs that are tailored to each of his classes that offer students and parents access to homework assignments, review of supplemental materials and important messages.

He said technology has created a better learning environment for him and his students.

“I wouldn’t say it’s making our jobs easier, but I think it’s making it easier for us to help more students,” Weaver said. “It’s more time-affective. Our channels for communication have broadened beyond the walls within the time frame of a school day.”

All three teachers said their students are using technology respectfully.

“They know when they can or can’t use technology,” Weaver said.

Welskop said it’s important for students to learn to use the technology responsibly because by the time they get to college, if they haven’t figure that out, they’ll get kicked out of class.

“They are getting some of those lessons in the classroom now that they didn’t have before,” he said.

The teachers also said they haven’t heard any negative feedback from parents who were initially a little hesitant because of the safety issue in regards to online access.

“Things are blocked for safety,” Donaldson said. “There are filters online.”

Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa said the district has taken precautions to ensure students aren’t visiting inappropriate websites.

“Like most school districts, we also block access to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter,” he said. “Even with those protections in place, some breaches are inevitable. But I view those transgressions as behavioral problems, not technology problems.”

Hinojosa said he has been very encouraged by the technology pushes of the district both before and after employees attended the Model Schools Conference.

“You have heard me say before that we can no longer afford the model of public education we have now,” he said. “The education landscape is changing, and technology is the catalyst. We want to be prepared for the model that emerges, and even more importantly, we want our students to be prepared for the world in which they will live and work.”
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Shawn Doss
March 07, 2014
Go Mr.Welskop and Ms.Donaldson!
Concerned Parent
October 06, 2012
I am a parent of a Simpson student as well as a teacher in the CCSD. As a teacher I use technology in my classroom everyday. I am not against technology; it is a great tool. I'm glad that Cobb is trying to find a way to use technology to engage students. As for the teachers from Simpson who attended the conference, I'm sure they participated in all the sessions and did not use this time as a vacation. I know the teachers at Simpson work hard and are wonderful educators.

My student does not have a smart phone. I cannot afford smart phones for my children but even if I could I still don't know if I would want them to have one for various reasons. My student was very upset at the beginning of the year when she learned what her friends with smart phones could do at school. I don't think this article covered what alternative plan would be provided for students who choose not to participate in the BYOD initiative or simply cannot afford the technology. My student does have a Kindle Fire but I am not allowing her to take it to school for fear of it being lost or stolen.

I have taught in Cobb a long time and have seen many bandwagons come and go. I sincerely hope that this initiative works and that test scores do indeed rise. However I think more thought should have been given to students who cannot participate.
No Name Yet
October 02, 2012
Did Jay Dillon write this article?
cant believe
October 02, 2012
Jay Dillon still has a job...
@parent in cobb
October 02, 2012
I believe you missed the point, not that technology is bad, but that the CCSD chose to spend upwards of $300,000 for teachers to attend when they could have trained far more teachers via teleconferencing. The expense outweighs the results. And maybe while it was a nice little perk for these select teachers, was it necessary in this economy? Obviously technology will play a role in future educational endeavors, however lets get our priorities straight. When classrooms are topping 40 students and we don't have the money to hire more teachers, is a junket to Fla. really the answer? Common sense people.
Not a BYOD fan...
October 01, 2012
I have AT&T and cannot get service at my child's school - so therefore neither can my child. How will this work for these students? AND what I am seeing from the teachers who attended this conference/vacation is a big fat NOTHING.
Bob Bummer
October 01, 2012
I sure am glad that the district didn't get to buy all those laptops with the SPLOST money like they wanted to do. Laptops are being replaced by the tablet and who knows what the next thing will be.
GOP Nanny
October 01, 2012
what about the kids that cant bring their own device? are we next going to be hit with the expense of providing a "few" for the classroom?

greast spin on the cost of the "vacation trip" fro these teachers.

my vote will always be NO to any splost
October 01, 2012
A couple questions- Do you know any teachers who took this "vacation"? The ones I know attended the conference everyday all day! It was also held during a tropical storm so no skipping for Disney World visits!

Oh and SPLOST doesn't have anything to do with this trip.
October 01, 2012
Yeah, I agree, nice spin on because the landscape is changing, are we really ready to buy into Kahn Academy and leave it to our students to sit in front of computers to learn? The flipped classroom may sound great, but what happens when all the kids do is text eachother throughout the lesson? The $300,000 that the county spent to send teachers to this conference was not well recieved by people...just another example of spending that is out of control. No wonder people are leery of the Splost.
Devlin Adams
October 01, 2012
Here we go again! Spin to justify the expendture.

Now we start experimenting with somebody's crackpot ideas. The problem is the subjects of these experiments happen to be our kids and their educations.

Did anybody think to ask the people presenting this stuff for documentation of the results in places and times where the ideas had been tried and they actually worked? My guess is, nobody asked.

When are these idiots gonna learn "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Parent in Cobb
October 01, 2012
In today's world of education, everything must be data driven. Cobb County is not the first district to implement these ideas. It has been used in other counties and states. The data gathered supports it is highly effecive.

Suprisingly many students do have technology that can be used in the classroom. Technology is not only phones.

I doubt this was a vacation trip for these teacher or anyone who attended the conference. I am a parent who attended the conference. Most of the people I saw were at the conference sessions by 7:30 am and didn't leave until after 5:30 pm. Each evening of the conference I joined educators in the lobby area discussing what we learned throughout the sessions.

Technology is not replacing the teacher's role. I'm glad my child's teachers are embracing technology and utilizing it in the classroom. I wonder if our grandparents thought the same about microfiche.

Thank you Miss Field in reporting about the positives in Cobb County. It is a great school system and I'm proud my children are enrolled in CCSD.
October 01, 2012
Students and others in the schools are reporting the filters don't work, but nice spin.
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