Pilot app – there are testers for that at McCarroll Middle

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, November 10, 2012

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Upper management in a paper towel company, state legislators and Fort Worth city council members are among those who will receive letters and video clips created by seventh graders at McCarroll Middle School in Decatur urging them to consider eco-friendly options, address school funding and look at ways to help the homeless in the coming weeks.

EXPERIMENTAL PROJECT – McCarroll Middle School seventh grader Madison Kyle presents a draft of her public service announcement encouraging Fiji Water to use biodegradable substances to make their water bottles. The project was a pilot app designed by the Pearson Education Foundation, and Decatur students were the only ones in the country to test it. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The 12- and 13-year-olds created the public service announcements addressing a wide range of topics – both local and global – as part of a pilot program tested exclusively at the Decatur school by the Pearson Education Foundation last month.

“Pearson, known for textbooks and traditional teaching methods, is going more cutting-edge and implementing technology in what they do,” said seventh-grade English/Language Arts teacher Rhonda Lemieux. “They put together the lesson, and I agreed to test the app – only to later learn I was the first and only teacher to be tested in the entire pilot program.”

Abilene Christian University – with whom the district has collaborated for more than a year to implement future-ready, project-based learning – recommended the school.

Lemieux and the students in her classes downloaded onto their school-issued iPads a Pearson-developed app that outlined each step of the project. Students pitched an issue and once approved, began research to draft a presentation that could include a letter or video public service announcement.

“There are 76 completely different papers,” Lemieux said. “The idea and the students’ solutions were more than I could have ever dreamed. My students were not thinking about small problems, but problems that affect them in much larger ways. My students began to think about global issues, i.e. hunger, educational funding, and the rise in homelessness. They have researched ways to solve some of the ideas around our country as well as in Wise County.

“The kids are excited, enthusiastic and energetic,” Lemieux continued. “It’s chaotic, loud, students are all over the page. But they know where they are going. They don’t have to be on the same road … This is something kids embrace. My email blows up at night with kids sending ideas or updates on their progress. They don’t see (the assignments) as homework. They are excited about it. They see it as stuff that they need to do, stuff they need to find.”

In late October, a film crew for Pearson visited the school to document how the lesson was taught and how students were engaged.

“(It was) challenging and fun,” said Jorge Aguilar, who addressed the issue of racism in the workplace. “We could really explore, at our will, things that are important to us.”

For Madison Kyle that was encouraging officials at Fiji Water to change the composition of their water bottles from plastic to a biodegradable, plant derivative substance.

Although she researched the cost in question, where to obtain the material and the like, her public service announcement satiricly depicted a world buried under plastic. She planned to add a tag line “to make it easy to remember,” she said.

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, presented a silent video he plans to send to the Texas Department of Agriculture to discourage the selling “off of farmland for urbanization.”

Others plan to send letters to members of the local chambers of commerce and commissioners court.

“They are really excited that their letters are being sent out, that their thoughts are being voiced,” Lemieux said. “We will mail the letters and wait for responses. Some students have contacted county commissioners and are awaiting meetings. Others are putting final touches on PSAs that they hope to share with our community.”

In the meantime, Pearson will present the video, featuring Decatur students, at a conference for the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) – the largest technology teacher association in the state – and will modify the app based on student and teacher feedback before releasing it.

“We were the first people to try that app in project-based learning,” Principal Dewayne Tamplen said. “I’m very proud for our school. It shows that our school’s on the cutting edge of using technology.”

Lemieux added: “To think it all started with a litte Decatur teacher and her little Decatur classroom and the profound issues they wanted to address.”

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