Morgan participates in futuristic education program

Teachers and students in the Morgan Local school district are getting a glimpse of the future of education in Ohio.

Morgan is one of 10 public districts and community schools around the state participating in an Ohio Department of Education pilot program using the Thinkgate instructional improvement system. It will allow teachers to store and analyze student data, as well as create tests and assessments based on the new federal Common Core standards.

“It puts at the teacher’s fingertips just an unbelievable amount of resources,” said Howard Troutner, director of school improvement for the district.

Using the Thinkgate system, teachers can access multiple databases, including the Common Core standards for every subject and grade level. Another database provides assessment questions based on those standards.

“I probably can pull up as many as a hundred questions that relate to division of fractions,” Troutner said. “I can develop a 25-question test in maybe two minutes.”

Teachers can also use their own questions and even share them over the database, he said.

That test could then be administered on a smartboard, with students answering questions using “clicker” devices that record their answers, or even online with devices like tablets and laptops.

Once the students have completed the test, a teacher can quickly see how they performed individually and as a group.

“That allows me to instantly make a decision as to whether we need to go over a certain topic again, can we move on, do I need to just talk to two or three kids,” said Loretta Davis, a seventh-grade math teacher at Morgan Junior High School.

Davis is one of 15 teachers – three at each school in the district – trained to use the system. Currently, they’re able to “play in the sandbox” and explore the system’s features, including another database that provides access to documents, video clips and other resources dealing with a variety of topics.

The program is also designed to compile and track students’ test scores, illustrating how they’ve performed and improved over time. The school already uses regular formative assessments to see how students are doing in subjects, but this program will combine all that data in one place, Davis said.

A release from the Ohio Department of Education says it will allow teachers to “give students customized learning options based upon real data that identifies student needs.”

Davis said the data could be useful to students as well. For example, she might be able to show a struggling student they are making improvements.

“To be able to see that, I think, would help spur them along a little more … and help keep them on that positive note,” she said.

Pilot participants will work with ODE and Thinkgate to ensure the system meets state requirements and works with other state and local programs before rolling it out to other districts. It will be available at no charge to districts participating in the Race to the Top program for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the release says. Other districts can pay for the service starting with the 2013-14 year, although the release notes use of it is voluntary.