By Johnny Jackson
Starting this year, students at Luella Middle School are getting an education akin to that used in colleges and professional institutions.
Traditionally, middle school students are confined to classrooms and textbooks. Students at Luella Middle will also be able to interface online with their teachers and peers, according to Luella Middle Principal Aaryn Schmuhl.
The students, Schmuhl said, will have access to an Internet-connected learning management system, which will allow them to obtain, send, and discuss course work.
"Kids today are 'digital natives,'" Schmuhl said. "They have grown up with texting, social networking sites, and the Internet. They live an entirely online existence that doesn't always blend with the world they see at school."
Schmuhl helped spearhead an initiative to provide existing technology, which had been used by teachers and administrators within Henry County Schools, to students in the classroom.
"We want to make the best use of the technology we have to help kids be prepared for college and the work place in the 21st Century," Schmuhl added.
The school district has used a learning management system for the past four years for professional learning and for courses in its Online Academy, said Steve Thompson, Henry's instructional technology coordinator.
Thompson said the district switched software providers earlier this year to Angel Learning, Inc., a software company that produces web-based teaching and learning tools.
"The use of [Angel's] learning management system itself is not new," Thompson continued. "At Luella Middle School, we leveraged the use of an existing resource - our learning management system - to provide students with access to classroom, curricular and instructional materials over the Internet."
Schmuhl said he plans to use the learning management system as a "blended learning" tool in addition to traditional face-to-face classroom instruction, making it available to all three grades in every academic class at the school.
"Over the past four years, we have allocated a portion of our local school funds to purchase LCD [liquid-crystal display] projectors and ActivSlates so that, this year, we have one in each academic classroom to support the use of Angel," added Schmuhl.
"Our leadership team did a good deal of research on the use of integration of technology in effective schools, and has been working to put a system in place that is user friendly, standards based, and engaging for students."
According to Schmuhl, Angel's learning management system will allow the school to maximize resources which already exist in the school, and will provide parents the opportunity to see their students' work in real time.
"As a school, we know that there will be some bumps in the road as we work to get students, parents, and teachers use to this new way of thinking about learning and thinking about school work," he said. "[However,] we know that kids are engaged whenever we use technology, and our goal is to use that natural engagement to get kids to do high level, rigorous, academic work."
The school has set up computer lab times to allow students Internet access before and after school, as well as during school hours, said Schmuhl.
"We live in a Facebook, YouTube society," Thompson added. "Students have access to all sorts of digital information in the Internet. They were born with the availability of the Internet in their life."
Thompson said Luella Middle's school-level use of the tool will serve as a pilot for the school district. "In determining whether blended learning was a 'best fit,' school leaders, like Mr. Schmuhl, realized that providing digital content to students in a format that they are so accustomed to is a natural progression," he said. "School leaders throughout the country have made this leap and are finding success."
He said the school district plans to implement the learning management system this fall to serve high school students in Math I and Math II.
"We will phase in the use of our learning management system in other high school content areas as the year progresses," he said. "We will monitor the effectiveness of this resource to determine the future use of blended learning in Henry County Schools."