Continued from page 1

Shannon Parks, training director for Alabama Learning Exchange, said the state selected Decatur to pilot the program because the district already has many of its components in place.

“We had a lot of requests, but Decatur already has a lot of advanced technology and was already doing a lot of interactive learning in its classrooms,” she said.

But there are still areas where significant change will come, Parks said.

“It’s a huge, huge shift in the classroom,” she said. “This is not just a lesson plan teachers will teach for an hour. It’s systematic and integrated learning that will change the learning culture in every school.”

Parks said the only other school with project-based learning is Winterboro High in rural Talladega County. The school introduced its learning model in 2009, and the impact was immediate, former Principal Craig Bates said.

He said test scores improved, discipline referrals and the dropout rate went down, and students were more engaged from beginning to end.

Bates said students have “so many technological tools” at their fingertips and that project-based learning allows them to use those devices in the learning environments.

“You can’t power students down when they walk in the door,” he said.

In Winterboro, the district replaced traditional desks with tables supporting desktop computers.

Every student has a computer, and teachers use technology such as SMART Board, which provides touch control of computer applications on a white board in the front of the room.

West Decatur Elementary Principal Datie Priest visited Winterboro, just south of Talladega, in February and is one of the administrators in training this week.

She said she was stunned by how one program transformed a school and made it the center of a rural community.

“We all know that the culture of learning is changing, and we have to sell this to the community in Decatur,” Priest said.

She said Decatur already is doing some things like Winterboro, such as making sure academic programs are aligned toward grade levels.

“We still have challenges, but I believe in this,” Priest said.

Story Continues →