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Lansdowne Elementary hosts 'Night of Innovation'

Students become teachers at Night of Innovation event @ Lansdowne Elementary

Instead of adults teaching, students were offering guidance and direction during a special program at Lansdowne Elementary School Thursday night.

The "Night of Innovation" hosted by Baltimore County Public Schools was to showcase the school system's transition to digital learning, known as Students & Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.) which began this year.

"I just like that the schools are opening their doors and showing us what [our children] are learning, so that we know where to go and what to do to help them," said Danielle Bowers, 32, of Lansdowne.

Kyleigh Hamby, 9, a fourth-grader at the school, described how to use Photo Story 3, a free Microsoft program used to create animated photo slideshows.

"I'm going to demonstrate how to create a photo slide show," Kyleigh said with confidence to her audience.

She was one of dozens of students who showed what they're learning in school during the event, which was held in the gym of the school at 2301 Alma Road.

"It's really fun because I love technology," she said.

The school is one of 10 "Lighthouse" elementary schools in the county to pilot the digital conversion, which aims to outfit all schools with technology to enhance learning over the course of five years, according to David Robb, supervisor of the county's Office of Innovative Learning Projects.

Each "Lighthouse" school was chosen through a selection process that required support from teachers and administrators, Robb said.

In addition to Lansdowne Elementary, Fort Garrison Elementary in Pikesville, Joppa View Elementary in White Marsh and Hawthorne Elementary in Middle River also volunteered to open their doors to their communities last week.

"There are 13 learning stations, or innovative stations as we call them...designed to give parents, stakeholders, community members and teachers from other schools a sense of what we're doing to transform teaching," said Stephen Price, the school's principal, Thursday as he spoke enthusiastically about changes underway at the school.

Five representatives from Discovery Education, a digital content provider and K-12 professional development company hired by the school system to support the conversion, were also in attendance Thursday night, Price said.

"It's only been three months, but we're seeing a lot of successes," Robb said. "Obviously we've run into roadblocks — this is a huge initiative. But we're very happy right now and positive moving forward.

"We're using the technology to enhance instruction, but that's not at the forefront," Robb said. "What is at the forefront is we're creating a student-centered learning environment and in the student-centered learning environment, students have more choice."

In that environment, students have the choice where they want to work — with their peers or independently; in a bean bag chair or on a yoga mat, Robb said.

"It will give them more flexibility to move around," Robb said. "There's a piece of that that makes it more efficient and gives students more choice of how they want to work."

Price said student-centered learning is "about meeting kids on their level, using small group instruction rather than teaching everybody one thing."

In this system, teachers can break students up into groups, based upon their learning level, Price said.

"Rather than shooting for the middle, I can ask each group really powerful things and move them forward at their own pace," Price explained.

Students in first through third grade in the 10 Lighthouse schools have personal digital devices, HP Elitebook Revolve 810 G2 laptops. Those devices are expected to be in the hands of all students by the 2017-2018 school year, according to Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) information.

They are using the devices to create multimedia projects like videos and photo slideshows, communicate with their classmates in online forums and research information on the Web, said Lansdowne Elementary teachers Amy Meliker and Beth Pyzik.

Both agreed the instructional changes were a difficult adjustment for educators at first, but now consider the technology helpful.

"Once we got the kids all logged on, it's so much easier," Pyzik said. "It's really just getting into the routine of it."

They said their students have picked up the technology quickly.

"I was worried about overwhelming them, but they want more," Meliker said.

"We've really seen some positive changes." Robb said. "And just anecdotally...the principals are reporting student discipline referrals are down in the grades where students have devices, so I think that shows we're getting more students engaged.

Four other "Lighthouse" schools will showcase their progress in the spring, Robb said.

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