To create digitally literate students, Akron trains teachers

Will today’s students be “digitally literate?” Only if their teachers are. That’s the central conviction of a training organized this week by the Ohio STEM Learning Network – Akron Hub.

Students (like most people) learn best by doing. That’s why many Ohio teachers are working hard to create classes where students do much more than fill out worksheets. Instead, class time is spent building model airplanes, researching topics, and finding ways to answer tough questions. Called problem-based learning, it’s one of the best ways we have to make STEM learning come alive.

But problem-based learning poses its own challenges. While researching online, students can easily be fooled into trusting inaccurate resources. They need simple ways to find, evaluate and then cite sources; methods of critical evaluation that can serve them from school to college to the workplace.

Every year at the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (middle) School in Akron, Susan Hall and Julienne Hogarth lead fifth and sixth grade students through an entire course dedicated to using digital resources for class work. The director of our Akron hub, Alison White, asked them to compress this 18 week series into an intense two-day session for local teachers.

Over the two-days, the teachers learned key lessons students can use to evaluate the credibility of online resources:

  • how to interpret different parts of a website address for information about the author
  • how to pull information about who paid for the creation of a website
  • how to track a website’s changes over time

“We want to create (students who are) critical thinkers,” said Hall, the Media Specialist at National Inventors Hall of Fame® School. Co-facilitator Julienne Hogarth, a Learning Coach at the school, added “A lot of teachers need to learn this so they can teach it.”

The training brought in 26 teachers from the National Inventors Hall of Fame® STEM (high) School and Buchtel High School (Akron Public Schools), Buckeye Local Schools, Orchard STEM School (Cleveland Municipal School District) and Barberton City Schools.

“I found this extremely valuable,” said Rebecca Butler, a ninth grade physical science teacher at the Butchel Community Learning Centers. “How can I ask my kids to read a textbook when they have the internet on their phones?” Butler continued: “If we don’t engage our kids with technology we’re not preparing them for the real world.” This training was a pilot by the Akron Hub, and the Hub does plan to offer it again as an ongoing professional development opportunity for educators in the fall, spring and summer. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Alison at [email protected].

One final note: During the training Mary Crabtree of Buckeye Local Schools offered a quick story that demonstrates just how powerful problem-based learning can be. Crabtree explained that she had to improvise when staffing changes forced her to go from teaching eighth graders one year to first graders just months later. “I didn’t know first-graders didn’t do research papers, so that’s what we did,” said Crabtree. “We figured out a way to make it work… (and) it raised my expectations for all my kids.”

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