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State

Computer-based education sets pace in Iowa school

MASON CITY — A unique approach to learning is catching on in one Iowa school district.

Three Lincoln Intermediate instructors — Ashley Flatebo, Jill Geissler and Todd Godfrey — have recently been piloting competency-based education (CBE) in their science/social studies, literacy and math courses.

Instead of traditional seat-and-lecture time, students are afforded a flexible, individualized learning environment where they progress at their own pace. There is a simpler grading scale and learners move on once they demonstrate mastery of a particular concept or subject.

While core ideas are the same, CBE can look different from classroom-to-classroom, the Globe Gazette (http://bit.ly/1ws8vHR ) reports.

Geissler teaches a split period that begins with a traditional lesson. During the second half, students might be in the computer lab, watching podcasts or looking up information for books they’re reading.

In Godfrey’s class, Anna Lehmann said she and her classmates rely on Chromebooks for lessons.

Seated nearby, Alyssa Alert, 12, used her laptop to solve a rate problem.

“It’s not a traditional class,” explained Lehmann, 12. “I don’t necessarily like math, but this helps me like it more.”

For Flatebo’s sixth-graders, gaining knowledge is often a hands-on process. Learning objectives on the whiteboard remind understanding needs to be applied in multiple methods, like explanation, building and experimenting.

Students are self-directed, using Google Docs and checking in with Flatebo as they go.

As a result, her sixth-graders are saying they finding themselves more engaged and excited about learning.

During a recent morning in Flatebo’s classroom, students were spread across the room, working at stations in small groups while others used Chromebooks by themselves to record findings.

As a miniature robot whirred as it traveled across the front of the room, a trio clustered nearby, hopeful their creation would perform as planned.

When it didn’t, the three returned to their computer, using software to tweak the robot’s movements.

Although he just picked up programming this week, Jared Whalen skillfully explained how he and his classmates “told’ the robot how to move.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Whalen, 12. “I like that I get to move around more, which makes me pay attention better.”

One of Whalen’s partners, Hunter Wright, said he enjoys working at his own pace.

“Every day, I get to do something new, which makes me more into learning,” said Wright, 11.

In a quieter area of the room, Calvin Perry used his laptop to log claims, evidence and results from experiments with levers.

Perry, 11, said he likes the streamlined approach, which permits him to bypass things he already knows and spend more time on concepts he doesn’t understand.

Flatebo is pleased with her students’ progress.

“They’re striving instead of settling,” she said, noting CBE works for all learners, including those with behavioral issues or cognitive disabilities. “I’m finding that kids are learning more deeply, can explain concepts better and are caring more.”

Although she’s only in her first year of CBE, Flatebo said she can’t imagine teaching without it in the future.

Principal Tom Novotney said CBE will likely be expanding in Mason City Schools. It is also being offered in a few classes at the middle and high school levels.

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