By Jennifer Wohlleb
At the end of this school year, freshmen at Trigg County High School will receive credit for a class that, in the traditional sense, they won’t have taken.
Now that all freshmen at the school have a district-provided laptop computer, the skills taught in the Computer Technology Applications class have been integrated into other classes, allowing students to earn a performance-based credit.
“In the past I have taught the computer applications class in the traditional classroom, where the students come in and I give them a scenario and they have to create the documents that go with that scenario,” said business teacher Stacey Jones. “We felt like now with the students having their computers and taking them to their classes, it would be better for them to use them in a real situation. So they’re using it with the actual math (or in other core content areas) that they’re learning instead of me just giving them random numbers to use on an Excel spreadsheet, for an example.”
PHOTO: Trigg County High School freshmen use their new laptops to work together during a “fusion” block at their school, which allows for an interdisciplinary approach to problem-based learning. Photo by Kristen Wright/Trigg County High School
Assistant Superintendent Beth Sumner said the idea to make the CTA class performance-based began during a discussion about the district’s Career and Technical Education programs and how to get students into more higher-level classes. She said with the addition of the laptops, it became apparent that this was the route to take.
“Stacey and I sat down and went through the standards of the class and started thinking about what kind of work samples could be provided, what would they use in social studies to demonstrate the standards that are required and we just went through it,” she said. “Almost everything was there; there were only a couple of places where she intentionally built in some extra things.”
Jones said this approach also gives students more freedom.
“In the past I remember a presentation I did about CPR,” she said. “It was stuff that was teacher-generated and students just took the information and put it where I told them to put it and learned how to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations that way. This way, they have more creativity, more freedom to create the documents on what they’re interested in. They do the research and get the information and create the documents from their research.”
Principal Shannon Burcham said the Kentucky Department of Education has signed off on this approach, which will see students assemble what is essentially a digital portfolio with pieces that demonstrate their mastery of each standard in the computer technology class.
“What this does is open up another space in the sequence of freshman courses, it opens up another space for other options,” he said. “They are still working on CTA in the same time frame as they would have in the past, but at the same time they are able to do some problem-based learning, they’re able to do some math intervention techniques that we are trying to implement as well. So we’re integrating it, but what it’s done is create some flexibility with our staffing, create flexibility with our scheduling, and it’s allowing us to integrate and make sense out of content and tie it to technology.”
Trigg County school board Chairman Mike Davis said this is what the board had in mind several years ago when it approved a performance-based policy for the district.
“Quite often we teach things in a vacuum and our idea on this is, the more things that we can teach closer to where you’ll actually use them in a real-world application, the better everyone will learn them and internalize them,” he said. “They’re going to do the work, they’re just going to do it in a different format, a different setting than sitting in the typical Carnegie unit classroom.”
Dr. Dale Winkler, associate commissioner of KDE’s Office of Career and Technical Education, who worked with Trigg County on the project, said more districts will be moving in this direction because it makes sense for the students.
“Lots of times when you are doing something in that manner, you’re taking technical skills and you’re integrating them into your academic courses, the students are learning in context and it just comes alive for them; it makes more sense,” he said. “It’s projects-based. Personally, I believe that they comprehend or achieve those competencies quicker and have a better understanding of how they’ll apply them.”
He said it also is another way to address the increasing rigor expected of students.
“With the number of high school graduation requirements that always seem to be increasing, and with the push for students to be career ready and to have the technical skills that business and industry need, we just need to find more opportunities for them to free up time in their schedules to take more upper-level elective courses,” Winkler said. “It’s just a shame sometimes to require students to sit in a class when they can demonstrate through some type of performance-based activity or industry certification that they already have those competencies. If they can prove that and move on to those upper-level courses, the better prepared they are to enter the workforce or to do postsecondary course work while they’re still in high school.”