Gone are the days when students need only pencils, paper and books. Technology continues to add new dimensions to learning at The Villages Charter School. The Villages Elementary School’s 4th & 5th Grade Center is offering a new computer science course. By the end of the semester, students will have learned Python coding language and Google Suite programs such as Word, PowerPoint and others. Instructor Jennifer Leschak teaches these skills to around 240 fourth graders and around 260 fifth graders. “I love teaching this class,” Leschak said. “I think it is so helpful to the students as well as their teachers. I have heard from some teachers that they have such an easier time with projects now, as I am teaching some of the skills they have had to teach in the past.”
Those skills also will benefit the students as they progress into higher grade levels.
“My hope is that I am able to lay a foundation for my students, making future interactions with technology a little easier for them,” Leschak said. “Like any new language, coding as well as technology use in general begin with a foundation and build each year.”
In addition to teaching classes during school hours, Leschak also teaches Computer Coding as one of the extracurricular courses offered through the Buffalo Adventures after-school program.
“They use a fantasy-based program that teaches them to move their characters in order to complete part of a quest,” Leschak said. “With each board, the skill they need to show increases.”
Another helpful tool is the i-Ready online instructional platform that was expanded this year to be used at all grade levels at VCS.
Students complete an initial skills assessment in each subject area, then the program designs a custom electronic folder of assignments in the areas they need to improve.
Lori Hogan, a seventh grade language arts teacher, is one of many instructors taking a deep dive into the program’s capabilities this year.
She said it enables teachers to assess learning gaps more easily and address them in a more timely manner.
“Daily use gives students the opportunity to ask me questions, should they arise, while they are completing their work,” she said. “I also get a chance to see their online work, check the class and individual data, and assess and implement any changes I may need to make in my curriculum.”
The school’s instructional interventionists also use i-Ready and other diagnostic tools to help teachers find, track and help students who are struggling.
Another new tool teachers have are the interactive screens installed in each classroom during The Villages Charter Middle School’s renovation prior to the start of the school year.
The screens are synced to work with students’ Chromebooks and allow teachers to project their lessons and interact with students in inventive ways.
“We use a digital platform, StudySync, as our textbook, and all reading and assignments are projected on the big screen for me to refer to as I teach,” Hogan said. “Students can answer questions from their Chromebooks or be called up to answer questions by writing directly on the screen. It is an amazing piece of technology.”
Austin Downey, a seventh-grade civics teacher at the middle school, said the screens are a huge upgrade.
“The interactive TVs really stand out from a typical whiteboard,” Downey said. “They are a TV, computer, keyboard, whiteboard, and recording device all in one. The possibilities are quite endless with the amount of different ways I can utilize this new technology.”
Downey said he uses the recording function frequently so students can access his lectures if they are absent or can go back and rewatch them.
“The new technology has affected my teaching quite a bit,” Downey said. “I am able to utilize the new technology in many ways to not only explain key concepts better, but it has also helped the students get involved to where they can have hands-on time with the new technology.”
At The Villages High School, students now are using Canvas, an online application that lets them view their courses and other materials online. Canvas is used by many universities and state colleges in Florida.
Technology also is being used to make extracurricular learning more fun at the high school.
The Computer Science Club competed for the first time this year in VEX Robotics tournaments, with a upcoming competition on March 7 at the University of Central Florida. They use coding to program robots that compete in skills tests.
Students also can join the new Gaming & Esports Club, in which they compete in online live-streamed gaming competitions on Twitch to raise money for charity.
Staff writer Garrett Shiflet can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5367, or [email protected]