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Nevis history, geography classes go ‘paperless’

Luke DeWulf, right, and William Andress consult computers during history class. (Jean Ruzicka /Enterprise)

By Jean Ruzicka

No more pencils, no more books… Now it’s a computer that gets the looks.

Schools across the nation are adopting a one-on-one computer-to-student ratio, but “it’s a bold concept to go paperless,” Nevis history and geography teacher Richard Johnson told the school board this week.

But that’s what’s evolving in his classroom.

Textbooks remain in use, but Microsoft Surface devices now serve as the primary learning instrument. Students are able to access and complete assignments online or make a presentation “with quotes from Monty Python,” Johnson joked of the extent of info available via the Internet.

Johnson reviews what’s been completed and provides direct feedback and grades.

“But it doesn’t export scores to the grade book,” he said. That he does the old-fashioned way.

Last January, with the devices in students’ hands, he decided to experiment. George Washington’s Siege of Yorktown, a pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War, was about to get a re-write.

The conflict in the fall of 1781 ended in victory for the American colonists, British troops surrendering and the war ending.

He posed the question, “What if Washington had lost the battle? What would happen next?” If the colonies remained under British rule, how would this impact slavery, which was abolished by England in 1833?

The students, splitting into teams, employed critical thinking skills to write scripts, locate maps and develop visuals on their devices.

Three chapters in history were rewritten.

“It makes the gears start to spin,” he said of the young minds with a wealth of information literally at their fingertips.

“There must be a way to use more,” he determined.

In August, he learned of Google Classroom, where teachers can hand out assignments and students turn in work without paper, via the devices.

“The key word is creating,” he told the board. “They’re learning through the process.”

This has allowed the curriculum to be more project-based, Johnson said. And creation boosts retention.

The textbooks are available both in hard copy and online, via a user name and password. Surface has a note taking device and a split screen, so students can refer to the book while working on an assignment.

Students at home sick can work on assignments as can kids on trips.

The paperless method prepares students for college, he said, where it’s prevalent.

“It makes the transition for seniors going to college easier,” said vice chair Marv Vredenburg.

Some of the students are a bit resistant, Johnson said. And not everyone has Wifi at home. But they can complete work offline and copy it to the app at school.

“When kids are able to create, to illustrate, that’s when the light bulb goes on,” said Johnson, who teaches seventh grade U.S. history, eighth grade geography and world history to juniors.

Now, kids can’t say, “the dog ate my homework.”

“Now it’s the dog ate my Surface charger,” Johnson quipped.

In other action, the board:

n Reviewed reports on Adequate Yearly Progress, Multiple Measurement Ratings and Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment scores.

The MCA proficiency scores for all grades in math show 60 percent of Nevis students tested were proficient, compared with the statewide 61 percent.

Grades 3-8 and 11 were tested.

Reading scores reflect 60 percent proficiency by Nevis students compared with 59 percent statewide.

Grades 3-8 and 10 were tested in reading.

In science, 55 percent of Nevis students earned a proficient rating compared with 53 percent statewide.

Students in grades 5, 8 and 10 took the test.

A “big change” will be all juniors taking the ACT test April 28. The $52.50 fee will be covered by the state. In the past, tests were taken at student discretion on Saturdays at other sites.

“The good news is all the students will take the test,” Superintendent Gregg Parks said. “The bad news is that in the past just college-bound students took the test.” There will be a drop, he anticipates of scores, “a new data point.”

n Approved the amended version of the district’s bullying prohibition policy, now in line with state guidelines.

n Scheduled a special meeting for canvassing of election results for 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10 in the media center.

Parks explained canvassing can no longer be conducted on election night.