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High-tech school bus extends learning

Students from rural schools are shown math and science content on long bus rides home

An Arkansas district is increasing student learning opportunities on long bus rides to its rural schools.

Students in the woodsy, working-class Hector School District in Arkansas now can look at more than the Ozark National Forest in the two-plus hours they spend on the school bus each day.

The Pope County district is participating in a new program for rural schools believed to be the first of its kind: It’s playing math and science content over ceiling-mounted computer screens during the lengthy bus rides.

“To say we are rural is an understatement,” Superintendent Karen Cushman said, noting that more than 60 percent of the 600-student district is located in the Ozark National Forest and that 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The district is working with Vanderbilt University’s Aspirnaut Program to turn the bus into a mobile classroom of sorts. The program, founded by Arkansas native Billy Hudson, works with rural schools in Arkansas and Maine to help educate students in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The project aims to engage students and take advantage of the fact that they’re a captive audience with few distractions, Cushman said.

“It’s hard to get students excited about math and science when a teacher stands up there to lecture,” Cushman said.

The upgraded, high-tech bus has five ceiling-mounted screens that show math and science content geared toward different age groups during the long bus rides.

Younger students sit toward the front of the bus, and older children sit in the back. Each seat is equipped with headphones for the students. The programming rotates daily and features videos from PBS, NASA, the Discovery Channel, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Officials say that showing educational programs during commutes provides 10 extra hours of learning each week—the equivalent of 12 class periods weekly.

Long bus rides are becoming more common in Arkansas and throughout the country as states force tiny school districts and rural schools to consolidate in the hopes of providing a better education for students. While more educational opportunities are available at school, more and more students spend hours on the bus each day getting to campus.

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Comments:

  1. nikkinavta

    December 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Won’t make a bit of difference if those kids are like mine–they are completely oblivious to everything around them except for their own iPods, phones, and handheld games.

  2. nikkinavta

    December 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Won’t make a bit of difference if those kids are like mine–they are completely oblivious to everything around them except for their own iPods, phones, and handheld games.

  3. greg stack

    December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    This is an interesting approach, but I can’t help wonder if a better one would be to equip these students to learn and collaborate online. Perhaps smaller groupings in “storefront” schools could collaborate amongst themselves and with others who are in remote locations. This would also be much friendlier environmentally rather than burning the fuel required for long bus trips.

  4. greg stack

    December 1, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    This is an interesting approach, but I can’t help wonder if a better one would be to equip these students to learn and collaborate online. Perhaps smaller groupings in “storefront” schools could collaborate amongst themselves and with others who are in remote locations. This would also be much friendlier environmentally rather than burning the fuel required for long bus trips.

  5. troy cline

    December 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    What a great idea! Like anything else in the world of technology, it will evolve. I agree that not all kids will pay attention to the new screens but it will be a great asset to those who do. I could imagine teachers giving extra credit to those kids who can show proof of their participation. I could also imagine kids learning how to use NASA’s Space Weather Action Center to give video based space weather reports! What a great opportunity to brush up on science and presentation skills at the same time!

  6. troy cline

    December 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    What a great idea! Like anything else in the world of technology, it will evolve. I agree that not all kids will pay attention to the new screens but it will be a great asset to those who do. I could imagine teachers giving extra credit to those kids who can show proof of their participation. I could also imagine kids learning how to use NASA’s Space Weather Action Center to give video based space weather reports! What a great opportunity to brush up on science and presentation skills at the same time!

  7. pkellogg

    December 3, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Pat Kellogg says that I have thought for a long time that using travel time for learning is a good idea. I also believe that learning time could be extended to school lunchrooms during breakfast and lunch hours.
    What about having professional development opportunities available for teachers during planning periods and lunch periods. Teachers can listen and duplicate and eat.

  8. pkellogg

    December 3, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Pat Kellogg says that I have thought for a long time that using travel time for learning is a good idea. I also believe that learning time could be extended to school lunchrooms during breakfast and lunch hours.
    What about having professional development opportunities available for teachers during planning periods and lunch periods. Teachers can listen and duplicate and eat.

  9. jdodson@mac.com

    December 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    This is a band aid for the real problem, consolidation. 2 hours a day makes 10 hours a week and 360 hours in a 180 day school year. That makes 9 forty hour weeks a year that these students are spending on a school bus. Talk about educational opportunity lost. Do you really think these kids are going to voluntarily plug into this programming without some sort of monitoring? It is kind of like online learning. In my rural county community colleges providing dual credit classes on line that have nothing but powerpoint presentations, proctorless open book multiple choice tests, and no discussion or writing. No cost, no pain education for all is an illusion. This country is going to have to make some real choices, painful choices or our slide into mediocrity will only accelerate.

  10. jdodson@mac.com

    December 6, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    This is a band aid for the real problem, consolidation. 2 hours a day makes 10 hours a week and 360 hours in a 180 day school year. That makes 9 forty hour weeks a year that these students are spending on a school bus. Talk about educational opportunity lost. Do you really think these kids are going to voluntarily plug into this programming without some sort of monitoring? It is kind of like online learning. In my rural county community colleges providing dual credit classes on line that have nothing but powerpoint presentations, proctorless open book multiple choice tests, and no discussion or writing. No cost, no pain education for all is an illusion. This country is going to have to make some real choices, painful choices or our slide into mediocrity will only accelerate.

  11. saul674

    December 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Having instructional materials on the school bus has been around for more than 25 years. School systems have installed VCRs and presented instructional videos for passengers; some districts have installed wifi on their buses for students to do homework while riding to and from school. It is not a new phenomenon, but any productive approach to filling time is better than not doing it.

  12. saul674

    December 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Having instructional materials on the school bus has been around for more than 25 years. School systems have installed VCRs and presented instructional videos for passengers; some districts have installed wifi on their buses for students to do homework while riding to and from school. It is not a new phenomenon, but any productive approach to filling time is better than not doing it.

  13. aataylor

    December 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I think it is a great way to reach students. Even if they don’t pay complete attention to it, they will get something out of it. I also think that it would help with discipline by giving the students something productive to do.

  14. aataylor

    December 7, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I think it is a great way to reach students. Even if they don’t pay complete attention to it, they will get something out of it. I also think that it would help with discipline by giving the students something productive to do.