Tuesday, December 3, 2002

Making the Grade: PeachStar Classroom

The pilot year for PeachStar Classroom, PeachStar's distance-learning course for high school physics and chemistry, is off to a good beginning. Seven teachers are using PeachStar Classroom materials in a variety of classroom settings and student populations, from large counties to small rural areas. Here's a little bit about the teachers who are using PeachStar Classroom right now, and how they're doing.

Marcie Dennis is a Chemistry and Physics teacher at Dodge County High School, and is one of the teachers who originally joined the project when PeachStar conducted training in July. She has her teaching certification in Broad Field Science, and taught Chemistry and Physics last year. "I live in a rural area where there are no teachers certified in Physics or Chemistry, so my principal came to me and asked me about teaching these classes," says Marcie. "I had prior experience facilitating other distance learning classes. Also, as a beginning teacher it would provide me more experience with teaching some of the difficult content."

Marcie was also hoping that PeachStar Classroom would spark the interest in her students about science. According to Marcie, the interest was certainly there: while she started her school year with only 2 students enrolled in PeachStar Classroom, through word of mouth that enrollment increased to 12. She says her students often come into class asking if they'll be watching a video that day, but take it very seriously when they do. Marcie is teaching on a traditional schedule, for which PeachStar Classroom was designed, and her teaching calendar has followed the curriculum calendar quite closely. She frequently participates in Friday afternoon phone conferences with PeachStar staff, discussing problems with the materials, issues with using it in the classroom, and the pace of the programs.

Melanie Peacock is a colleague of Marcie's at Dodge County High School. She has been a science teacher for 14 years, and this year teaches five different classes. In addition, she is currently working on her National Board Certification. With so much on her plate, Melanie is very excited to be using the PeachStar Classroom materials with her students. Having both a veteran teacher and a newcomer not only offers students a choice, but also helps to validate the program. "The materials are really covering what they need; there's not a lot of fluff in the program," says Melanie. Having taught science for so long, Melanie has plenty of materials and experience of her own to draw from.

Principal Don Robinson of Calhoun County High School was concerned about two of his science faculty teaching in areas that were not their strongest. So teachers Mary Alice Hilton and David Crowdis joined in August as PeachStar Classroom teachers. David is a certified Biology teacher, and Mary has her certification in Secondary Math; because of the constraints of the CCHS school schedule this year, David was asked to teach Chemistry, and Mary asked to teach Physics. Principal Robinson had heard of PeachStar Classroom through Sara Erwin at the Southwest Georgia RESA, and contacted PeachStar about getting his teachers involved. Now that both of them are using PeachStar Classroom, they feel a little more confident in their classes, their students are enjoying learning, and Mary and David are learning a little themselves.

Al Strom teaches Chemistry and Physical Science on a block schedule at Fitzgerald High School in Ben Hill County. A forty-one year veteran teacher, Al holds a Chemistry degree from the University of Tennessee, as well as a Bachelor's degree in Education and a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction. Initially he was asked by his superintendent to attend the PeachStar Classroom training, having no idea what the curriculum was like. Since being introduced to the program, and having an opportunity to use it in the classroom, Al is very pleased with both the content of the course, and the way it has been received by his students. "At first they thought we were going to spend all our time watching videos," Al says of his students' reaction. "They were pleased with the organization and soon discovered that what we were doing fit into the text we were using."

Fred Whitaker teaches Chemistry at the newly built Taliaferro County High School. TCHS is operating on a block schedule, and because the PeachStar Classroom programs are being rolled out on a gradual basis, Fred has been using the videos as a classroom supplement this semester, and hopes to use it fully next semester. Taliaferro County is a very rural county west of Augusta, and Fred wants classroom materials that can hold his students' interests and attention in subjects that otherwise would hold no appeal to them. He finds that because most of the content is delivered by video, the students find it a little more engaging to watch, and retain the content more effectively.

Carol Cort teachers for the Gwinnett County Public School system in the Teleclass Program, which serves homebound and medically disabled students. Because Carol does not teach in a traditional classroom, her use of PeachStar Classroom will be radically different than that of the other teachers involved. The materials will mainly serve to supplement the textbooks and other materials already issued to her students. Because PeachStar Classroom is delivered via satellite to Georgia schools, but many of Carol's students are not regularly in the school setting, she has had trouble getting the videos to her students. She has used some of the print materials to cover topics, such as scientific notation and the metric system, with which her students needed more reinforcement, and the reaction was positive. Over the summer, however, while Gwinnett County prepares for its fall textbook adoption, Carol will look over the whole curriculum and decide how best to integrate it into her teaching next year.