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Hilo school embraces learning while texting


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POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2009

In a day when schools ban cell phones and other electronic gadgetry, St. Joseph School students in Hilo are text-messaging the teacher and getting credit for it.

The coming-of-age curriculum, called Schools of the Future, also emphasizes the role of students in directing their own education and has them work on projects to develop core skills, said development director Patrick Naughton.

St. Joseph is one of several private schools in the state funded by Hawaii Community Foundation grants. With an enrollment of some 350 students from kindergarten through 12th grade, St. Joseph received $43,000 mainly for teacher training, he said.

“;The technology being used on SOTF is often called 'disruptive' by educators—the Hawaii Department of Education is adamant that 'disruptive technology' does not belong on campus. ... So as part of the curriculum we include ethics and the legal consequences of inappropriate use,”; said Naughton. “;The students respond well to this training.”;

Teacher Miri Sumida allowed her ninth-graders to ask her questions and discuss class work with one another other via text message or e-mail during a summer physical education class.

“;It went very well,”; she said.

Sumida, who also teaches graphics and keyboarding, first tried texting in a few of her classes last semester as “;an experiment to keep them quiet—they always want to speak to each other.”; She monitored them closely to keep them on task, and found communication more efficient.

Sumida also used the school's interactive “;wiki”; Web site this summer, a key element in the new curriculum. The students used it for workbooks, keeping journals and preparing for exams—a big plus for kids who do not like studying but enjoy using a computer, she said. The wiki also enabled her to keep better track of students' academic and physical fitness progress.

Third-grade teacher Carmen Stack developed the Web site, http://www.sjsfuture.pbworks.com.

“;'Wiki' is the official term for a Web site that is interactive and collaborative. A wiki is not merely a place to seek information,”; she said.

“;Right now this whole idea (the SOTF) represents a huge shift at our school. We have been known as a very traditional, textbook-based school. ... It is a huge transition from a teacher-centered environment in which the teacher has the knowledge and passes it on to the students.”;

“;What we see now in many schools is that as students get older ... they don't care about school. Cheating is commonplace,”; Stack said.

The new curriculum will help them “;to be engaged in and excited about what they are doing every day at school,”; said Stack. “;They are the driving force behind the projects; they help design and plan; they are actively involved in and responsible for their own learning.”;