Ready or not, the “significant disruption” federal health officials urged schools to prepare for in late February is now upon us. Yet even before the first schools closed, Coronavirus had already disrupted crucial enrichment activities as schools abruptly canceled field trips and educational travel plans. Now wide-spread school closures have relegated students to their homes and solitary lessons have replaced face-to-face learning.
While some districts have high-quality remote study options in place, others have left teachers and even parents scrambling to lessen the blow closures are having on learning. Unfortunately, much of what they’re encountering online lacks real educational value.
On the flipside, parents and educators employing the Calculus Roundtable DORS program, an online science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational platform, have students engaged in active and highly-stimulating learning. It features over 800 student-tested and culturally-inclusive STEM activities aligned to common core and NGSS standards with real educators behind the scenes assigning and grading student work.
Bridging the Gap, Whether School Doors are Open or Closed
Sacramento mom, Amy Green recently began supplementing the school curriculum of her two boys with DORS after her 11-year-old son, Jack, who usually enjoys academic learning, started getting into trouble at school. The pace felt slow for him and he wasn’t engaging, especially in math.
Now Green reports that Jack is working at a level that’s stimulating and participating in real-world projects that fill his deeper need to contribute and make a difference. His younger brother Ryder was eager to explore the platform and is exploring projects at his own level.
“Both kids are really enjoying the playfulness and the charge put forth by the online assignments,” shares Green. “In a situation where we have the doors to schools closed for an extended period of time, I think Calculus Roundtable can certainly step in and bridge the gap.”
Unlike teacher strike closures where libraries and park districts often serve as alternative venues of learning and socializing, infectious disease epidemics confine kids to their homes making isolation a real and troubling issue. The unknown nature of the COVID-19 virus in particular spells quarantine of indefinite duration. Reports from countries such as Japan and Italy where schools and most other establishments have been closed for many weeks show lack of social interaction weighing heavily on children and families.
With both sons actively engaged in learning online and Jack connecting virtually with other children who’re contributing to an actual archeological dig in Tanzania, Green is guardedly optimistic about the shutdowns here.
“Something like the DORS platform allows kids access to each other when they can't be together in person.”
Easy-to-use modules enthrall kids wherever they’re learning
Not only are parents like Green benefiting from high-level STEM enrichment for their children, whole districts in California have implemented the innovative online learning platform offered by Calculus Roundtable. While some schools are using DORS in after-school or summer programs, others have incorporated it into their regular curriculum.
Many of the modules have an interactive game-like quality that has proven effective in raising the bar with students who have traditionally struggled with STEM subjects like math and science. While distractions encountered at home differ from those students face in a school setting, in both scenarios children crave compelling material that grabs their attention especially those with short attention spans.
“Students need to hit the ground running with their online learning experience—so lessons need to engage students right away,” explains Jim Hollis, Calculus Roundtable founder and director. “Like the games they love so much, as soon as kids get their hands on them they’re able to learn with very little instruction and motivated to accomplish tasks so they can move to the next level.”
“I was shocked at how easy it was,” notes Green who’d stepped away to cook and returned to find her boys, educated in a system that doesn’t emphasize technology, had figured it out and were already up and running.
Technology that brings hope to under-served communities. Yet relying exclusively on technology to provide education during a crisis raises equity concerns with good reason. Lack of access to quality academic and enrichment programs whether live or virtual has further deepened the divide along racial and economic lines.
Hollis has literally dedicated the past 17 years to confronting the issue of educational equity in under-served communities where it deeply affects children of color. He founded Calculus Roundtable to fill this critical need for enriching STEM education in these communities. Accessibility and culturally-relevant content are among the powerful advantages of DORS. With a proven track record in high-poverty schools and with children of color, the platform has also been time tested in juvenile detention centers with incarcerated youth.
“[CR] has created a model that really has served a community of kids of color with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests,” says Todd Groves, former West Contra Costa Unified School District School Board President who brought the Calculus Roundtable programs to the district in 2015.
“The beauty of the lessons is that they’re satisfying to complete, have a wide aperture and engage students where they’re at. That really helps remove the stigma for kids who’re behind grade level, which can be hard for a kid.”
He’s personally witnessed students engrossed in what they’re learning and motivated instead of being worried about measuring up to standards.
Melissa Perkins has noticed a tremendous increase in her 6th grade son Messiah’s self-esteem and interest in learning since he started the DORS program during science class at his school in Oakland and other extra-curricular Calculus Roundtable activities. Prior to his involvement, he showed absolutely no interest in science and like many boys his age played a lot of video games. Now he’s creating animation with game coding and about to build his own PC computer unit.
Perkins is confident that Messiah’s new hunger to learn to deepen his technical skills will pull him through despite school being closed. A year ago he’d easily have been like so many kids she knows “happy to miss school and stay up all night playing games on their phones.”
She’s incredibly grateful to the Calculus Roundtable program for, as she puts it, “saving my baby” by giving him direction and awakening his natural leadership abilities at a critical age.
“It’s not just giving our youth hope, it’s actually giving them something concrete they can do with their lives and succeed,” says Perkins.
When considering Edtech options as part of a contingency plan or to augment curriculum, school administrators should bear this in mind--A platform that transports kids to ruins in Tanzania is thrilling while one with the substance to launch their students into a fulfilling future—that’s a very wise investment.