Published July 3, 2014
By Devin Corbitt, News Editor
World Geography teachers at the Belton Independent School District couldn’t be more excited for the upcoming school year, when they will unveil the latest development within their classroom learning curriculum: an iTunes U course created by the teachers themselves.
“As we’ve gone through the process, we’ve gotten more and more excited,” team leader and World Geography teacher Megan Crook said. “We’re innovative thinkers, and we want to do innovative things for our students, so I think this is an opportunity to springboard to other things.”
The course is available to both students and their parents through a downloadable app on smart phones and iPads.
“Now parents can see the week, what we’re going to be doing and how we fit that into what the state wants us to do,” Crook said. “They don’t have to wonder, ‘What is my kid doing in World Geography?’ Parents can consistently check to see what we’re doing, and we’re excited for that.”
Putting together this course took a collaborative effort between both teachers and administrators at BISD, including Crook, teacher Barbara Epperson, teacher Krystal Hawk, teacher Heather Schroeder, teacher Brad Wright, Director of Curriculum Instruction for Secondary Kim Christy-Anderson and former Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Ed Braeuer.
“We’re a high-functioning team,” Crook said. “We actually like each other and talk, and so I think what we do well is we know each other’s skills and talents, and we hone in on that. I think that’s why this took off and took off very fast. I have the expertise and knowledge of 13 years of teaching, Barbara’s more of the ‘Let’s just calm down, put the steps together,’ and then Krystal’s the technology person.”
Along the way, the developers have received nothing but support for this project.
“This has been something that’s been a district initiative ever since they started to look at technology in the classroom,” Crook said. “Kim Christy-Anderson has been a big supporter, pushing us in those directions of bringing in more technology and more innovative teaching. In Belton, from the top down, from the (school) board all the way to the classroom, bringing in technology is a top priority.”
The app features multiple interactive resources, including an iBook written by the World Geography teachers. Right now, the book contains 51 pages of pertinent information, graphs, maps and quizzes, but it will continue to grow as the teachers discover what does and does not work within their classrooms.
“We made sure that it’s a complete text so that it covers everything we need per unit, but it’s not so wordy that the kids get lost,” Hawk said.
By putting their course material within an app, World Geography teachers can adjust their classes with the ever-changing world without spending thousands of dollars on new textbooks.
“Say that something changes in the world, we can quickly add that to this (iBook) within a matter of 30 seconds, and it can be constantly updated,” Crook said. “This allows me to remain relevant and innovative, so it means that I can offer my students more. As an educator, that is seriously important to me, the number one thing.”
The app also allows for a significant increase in student-led discussions.
“When students have ownership of the material, they get more excited about it,” Epperson said. “I had one student who was obsessed with CNN, and she’d always be really intense doing something on the iPad, but it was always CNN videos and articles. She would send me the neatest things, these very obscure things. She became very proud when I would show those videos to the whole class.”
Although the World Geography class is classified as a freshman class, the app accounts for a wide range of learning skills and abilities within a single classroom.
“Now we can really take that one-on-one time because we have this,” Crook said. “We can go more in depth with concepts rather than just barking out a lecture.”
This is also achieved through enrichment sections in each unit, ensuring that more advanced learners never get bored.
“On the enrichment, we were really careful to make sure that they were engaging activities, so that if students were finished with the activity and get to the engagement section, it’s not a punishment. That’s not what it’s supposed to be,” Hawk said.
Through this initiative, BISD is setting a precedent across the country by taking the lead on a technologically-based curriculum.
“One of the things we want is 21st century skills,” Crook said. “Being used to using technology for your own learning, that’s what they (students) are going to be seeing more and more in college. We want them to be prepared for that when they get there.”
Many subjects within BISD are working on similar projects. According to Crook, the Physics I iTunes U app is more than halfway completed, and English I teachers are well on their way to creating their own course.
For more information on the World Geography course, contact Kim Christy-Anderson at email@example.com.