Dist. 57's electronic curriculum gets high marks
Lions Park Elementary School teachers Patty Kennedy, Debbie Pavlowski and Julie Vowinkel have heard plenty of student complaints about social studies during their careers.
"You'd hear so many kids say they hated history class, that it's so boring," Vowinkel said.
But the number of complaints has dropped recently, the teachers say, and they expect that to continue next school year. That's because Mount Prospect Elementary District 57 plans to introduce a new digital upgrade of the History Alive teaching program for all students in the fall.
The district started using History Alive — known as Social Studies Alive at the elementary level — in 2005. The program, developed by California publishing company TCI, places a premium on interactive classroom activities and the use of technology in the teaching of history.
The original system included printed materials and additional activities on CD-ROM. TCI recently introduced an updated version that's based on the Internet, and that's what's coming to District 57.
A number of classrooms across the district piloted the program during the current school year, and teachers say it worked beautifully.
"It's visually appealing, well-organized, engaging," Kennedy said. "I think it's going to be great."
The web-based version allows teachers to log onto the program website and pull up a lesson for the day. Each lesson comes loaded with resources, from printable handouts to interactive activities for the students. Teachers choose what they want to use on that day and then project the material onto a whiteboard via an LCD projector.
Because all the data is stored online, information is updated in real time. So when a major event occurs somewhere in the world — a natural disaster like a tsunami, or a political revolution — the relevant lessons are immediately changed to reflect it.
"The days of waiting years, sometimes, for textbook updates are long gone," said Donald Angelaccio, principal of Lincoln Middle School.
Lions Park second-graders Anika Knipple and Etienne Sirois both have used the upgraded version in class this year. They give it high marks.
"I loved when we got to make our own maps with it," Knipple said.
Dominick Lupo, a teacher at Lincoln, pointed out the program is aligned with the Common Core learning standards that the state of Illinois is in the process of implementing.
"I think this really is the future of learning," he said.
District 57 is spending nearly $140,000 for the upgrade, a cost that's been spread out over two years. Superintendent Elaine Aumiller said the upgrade provides students with logins that allow them to access materials from home. Traditional hard-copy materials also are provided, as not all students have access to the Internet away from school.
The district, with help from the District 57 Education Foundation, has been adding LCD projectors to classrooms over time. The district plans to finish that project this summer, so teachers and students can take advantage of the new digital curriculum in the fall, Aumiller said.
Traci Cook, a spokeswoman for TCI, estimated that 75 school districts in the Chicago area use the TCI curriculum.
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