Thursday, February 19, 2009

21st Century Education in Iowa

On Sunday, the Des Moines Register ran an article about an amazing program at East Marshall High School. With the help from Mechdyne Corp. in Marshalltown, East Marshall acquired an obsolete virtual reality system.

The school, though, had no money to hire a teacher to teach how to use the machine. So Rex Kozak, the principal, decided to hand over the manual and let some students explore how to use it.

Education and business leaders believe it's the kind of technology that could transform Iowa schools.

Businesses are donating the machines for schools next year and have asked state economic development leaders to provide $200,000 to support the pilot. "It could be disruptive technology for education," said Rockwell Collins' Jack Harris. "It could mean not just evolutionary change, but revolutionary change."

The reason, say Harris and others: The students' desire to tap virtual reality's 3-D capabilities drives them to learn about challenging STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The East Marshall students' projects have ranged from a virtual working engine to a blood cell flowing through a human body.

"We call that discovery learning - this idea that students are uncovering the learning themselves with some guidance, as opposed to us throwing it at them and they spit it back at us," said Scott McLeod, an associate professor of education leadership at Iowa State University.
This is an example of why local control of educational decisions works. Mechdyne learned of the availability of the virtual reality system, contacted a local school, and helped them get the machine. East Marshall High School wasn't confined by outside forces and was able to see a future educational use for the virtual reality system. Now students at this small, rural district have an amazing educational opportunity that most college students don't have.

Last week, Iowa official adopted a statewide core curriculum. I hope the Iowa Core Curriculum provides the flexibility for a school district to test out programs like these.

1 comment:

Ben said...

I can't believe East Marshall is letting these kids waste time playing 3d games instead of drilling them for their next Iowa Test of Basic Skills sessions. Clearly East Marshall is a school in need of assistance.

And what about all the students who are failing and can't understand the math, science, and computer science to use the VR room? They're being left behind in favor of the choosen elites. We don't need to invest money in the top acheivers, but rather make sure -everyone- performs at an average level.

East Marshall has clearly forgotten that the goal of education isn't to have students that excel, but rather to force every student regardless of intelligence to perform at no more then an acceptable level on their next standarized test.

(note the use of sarcasm)