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Keeping up with the pace of education

The modern student operates on a different plane than predecessors from more than a decade ago. Where the tools of the educational trade were a textbook, pencil and paper not very long ago, today’s learners often require a higher level of stimulation in order to achieve optimum educational performance.

“The video games are faster. Everything is instant gratification,” U.S. Jones Elementary School Principal Dr. Tony Speegle said.

The same types of technologies that allow modern children hours upon hours of mindless visual stimulation also afford educators the opportunity to enhance lesson planning.

“Dr. Speegle has made sure we’re on top of all our technology,” Amelia Mackey, teacher in one of U.S. Jones’ two technology labs, said of the efforts put forth at the school responsible for Demopolis’ third through fifth graders.

The technology labs allow Mackey and her counterpart, Rosemary Luckie, to provide lessons that serve to fortify the basic curriculum students learn in the traditional classroom.

“One day a week they come for 55 minutes and they work on Study Island math,” Mackey said of one program U.S. Jones students focus on to improve their arithmetic skills.

The Study Island program enables students to continue developing their math skills at an individual pace while also familiarizing them with the multiple choice question format they will encounter when taking the Alabama Reading and Math Test.

“It just gets them used to the language and the format of the test,” Mackey, who oversees the operations of a lab filled with 27 student-use computers, said.

Mackey, who is in her 24th year working in education, noted that students react much more openly to working on computers than in the more customary classroom circumstances.

“It’s a motivator. It’s something different. It’s not that pencil and paper,” Mackey said. “It’s another way of doing things. Computers have always been just highly motivating.”

“Tech labs are hands on,” Speegle added. “They are showy. When you have the bells and whistles to go along with the lesson, it makes it more interesting.”

The curriculum at U.S. Jones also allows students to employ their newfound skills in a more relaxing way once every three weeks when they enjoy a game day.

The labs also help students with reading growth through instruments such as Learning.com.

“They put their headphones on and they work through it themselves and they get to move on when they complete their task,” Mackey said of students’ work with Learning.com.

Fifth grade students at U.S. Jones spend some of their technology lab time learning to utilize the tools provided by Microsoft Office.

Current fifth grade students have already worked with Excel and Power Point and are currently learning how to use Movie Maker for presentations.

“We’re trying to show them how you can use these tools in an educational way and also in a real world way,” Mackey said. “They are going to do a documentary of the Gulf Oil Spill and its effects. Each student is going to make a documentary to show to his or her class. They are learning how powerful pictures can be to tell a story.”

Additionally, students are also able to take virtual field trips and use Web Quest to help learn more about a wide variety of subjects.

“If you walk into our classrooms right now, you will see a technology station in every single room,” Mackey said. “The types of lessons you can provide now are unbelievable. You’ve got the whole world at your fingertips.”

Speegle hopes the future holds an even greater utilization of technology by U.S. Jones and other schools like it.

“I want us recording lessons. If the kid is out, he can log on and not miss that class time,” Speegle said before pointing out that teacher training can also be made easier through technology. “One thing we want to do with new teachers coming in is have videos for fire drills and tornado drills ready for them to look over.”

The possibilities are endless and the advantages infinite. While education will likely never be able to keep up entirely with cutting edge technologies, at least at U.S. Jones Elementary School in Demopolis, students are not lagging behind the proverbial curve as they are provided an array of opportunities to better themselves utilizing the advancements.