A partnership between Georgia’s Forsyth County Schools and Cambridge, Mass.-based Riverdeep Interactive Learning has brought innovative online curricula to Forsyth County’s middle and high schools. District officials say the immediacy and relevancy of the content is engaging students’ interest in a topic—science—that often can be difficult to teach.

According to Mark Klingler, director of educational technology, Forsyth County began using Riverdeep’s online course offerings as supplemental material in grades six to 12 this year. The district chose to focus on science, but eventually will phase in math and language arts as well.

The curriculum is accessed through the Riverdeep.net web portal, said Anne Crawley, Riverdeep sales representative to Forsyth County Schools. Programs in use now are Middle School Gateway and High School Gateway—both hands-on science experimentation programs—and High School Explorer, which is more of an advanced-placement activity.

Science topics for the three programs include “Understanding Photosynthesis,” “Principles of Genetics,” “Principles of Electrochemistry,” “Chemistry Toolbox,” and “Geometric Optics.”

The web portal also features Earthwatch, a real-time weather feature with actual weather data that allows tracking and analysis of weather patterns.

“Never before has there been so much offered that is truly interactive, and the best part is that kids can use the portal from home and from school. And for teachers, we’ve provided lesson plans and guidance. They love it,” said Crawley.

Teachers concerned with linking curriculum to state standards can find all correlations to Georgia state standards available on the Riverdeep.net web portal. And, since Riverdeep’s online content can be accessed from school or home computers, the program dovetails nicely with the district’s new wireless computing capabilities.

“This works nicely with our notebook project,” said Bailey Mitchell, the district’s executive director of technology services. “We have 130 wireless notebook computers on rolling carts, and we allow students to check them out if they want to continue working on some of the Riverdeep activities from home.”

So far, the response to the content has been overwhelmingly positive.

“The things we like about Riverdeep are the relevant, real-world content and the simulations that allow students to manipulate data, change the conditions in experiments, and see the effects [online],” Klingler said.

Teachers are enthusiastic as well. “The students are really engaged and tuned into the program. They read the material, so they can get to the labs that come next,” said Laura Hayes, a science teacher at Vickery Creek Middle School.

A key to the program’s success has been the training that Forsyth County included for its staff.

“We started with some pretty intensive training for all instructional technology specialists—we have one at each school—and we trained all math and science teachers that would be using this in their classes,” said Klingler.

District officials pulled the educators out of class for a day, paid for substitutes, and placed them in the district’s professional development center. They were trained to use the online curriculum by Riverdeep consultants.

“The training from Riverdeep and the people they sent were excellent. That was a real motivator for this [program], because you really have to evangelize technology like this to teachers to get them excited about using it,” said Mitchell.

Riverdeep was selected by a group of Forsyth County teachers, administrators, and department heads as the best online course offering on the market.

“We have software selection committees with representatives from each school and representatives from our Teaching and Learning department,” said Klingler. “They are charged with looking for areas that need improvement, particularly areas in which technology could enhance that subject.”

But, warned Klingler, “This application is pretty bandwidth-intensive.” That’s not a problem for Forsyth County Schools, where every classroom has access to the web and eMail.

The computers in each classroom are networked and all schools are connected to a high-speed fiber-optic network that consists of 70 miles of cable provided by Adelphia Cable. “We have a DS3 circuit, and all our schools are tied back to the district by fiber,” said Klingler. “We’d definitely recommend the Riverdeep web-based curriculum to other school districts. This is the type of activity we see engaging students. It’s not your typical curriculum-based software. [Students] can actually work with the concepts they’ve been learning.”

Links:

Forsyth County Schools
http://www.forsyth.k12.ga.us

Riverdeep Interactive Learning
http://www.riverdeep.net