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A report released last month by EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit focused on improving internet access, found Mississippi has made progress in providing all students access to high-speed internet service. Although Mississippi is still ranked among the bottom five of all states when it comes to connectivity, more than 158,000 students have gained access to high-speed internet since 2015.
The improvement comes as many districts are expanding or launching programs that give students access to a digital device each day. At the same time, some schools are using or seeking out technology to increase course offerings and improve access to subjects that have been given the short shrift in an era of standardized testing. Here’s a look at a few efforts to use technology to improve opportunity for students.
1. Online Advanced Placement courses for rural, low-income school districts.
The Global Teaching Project, an initiative aimed at providing high-quality content to promising students, and the Mississippi Public School Consortium for Educational Access have launched a three-year pilot program to bring college-level AP courses to schools that lack certified teachers and course offerings. The pilot program will reach 11 rural Mississippi schools this year. Students in the program have already started taking AP Physics from Meg Urry, Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics through a mix of videos, live videoconferencing, online lessons, and in-person labs. In some of the schools, a teacher with physics experience leads the lessons. In others, a teacher serves more as a “facilitator” of the online content, according to Matt Dolan, Founder and CEO of the Global Teaching Project. Physics majors from the University of Virginia and Yale University work as tutors, providing individual attention to students via an online platform. Dolan says they hope to offer AP Physics 2 and AP Calculus AB soon.
2. Infusing lessons with music
At Nora Davis Magnet Elementary School in Laurel, the arts are already a regular part of the day. The school is an arts magnet school and days are infused with dance, music, drama, and the visual arts. But three years ago, the school went one step further and bought First Note, a music curriculum that prekindergarten and kindergarten teachers use to bring more music education to students. The curriculum, which was developed by the Seattle-based Children’s Music Foundation, includes videos, music and lesson plans that teachers can incorporate into their lessons each day. Principal Tammy Griffith said she finds students are more focused on their work, thanks to the extra music exposure. “The kids love it, that’s a big part of our success at Nora Davis,” Griffith said. “They especially love music, and they expect to be taught that way.”
3. Using computers to teach foreign language
The Rankin County School District has offered a foreign language program for years, but school officials haven’t been happy with outcomes. When graduated from the district’s high schools, “the major issue was that they couldn’t [understand] the foreign language by a native speaker,” said Josh Frazier, the district’s innovation and research coordinator. “[Students] couldn’t speak it. Some could read it but … [instruction] wasn’t presented in a way where they had a lot of opportunity to speak.”
In 2016, the district purchased the Rosetta Stone foreign language software for Spanish instruction. The district installed the program on laptops, which students have access to daily, and bought headphones so students could access the program on their own, anytime. Officials said while teachers still plan and teach foreign language lessons, having foreign language instruction available on digital devices makes it possible for students to receive individualized instruction whenever they want. The program gives kids more opportunities to become attuned to the sound of Spanish as spoken by native speakers and to practice speaking the language outside of class.