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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Elementary Students Get a Wired Education

Computers and multimedia are seamlessly woven into the curriculum at technology-rich Mary Scroggs Elementary School. Read the article.
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Teacher: Okay, pull.

Narrator: From the outside, Mary Scroggs Elementary School looks like it could have been built in the '20s, but this building, part of a neo-traditional development in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is just three years old, and on the inside, it's one of the most wired schools in the country.

Teacher: And there's our web page, and our end of the day summary.

Narrator: Here, tech tools facilitate everything from kindergarten web pages to the daily morning newscast.

Student: The news is brought to you by the students from Miss Todd's third grade class. Now, Bryson, what are today's announcements?

Bryson: Hello Scroggs Frogs, here are today's announcements. Today, Wednesday, some people--

Susan: We let everyone from kindergarteners to fifth graders try it. And then they practice with their teachers in the classroom. I give them a sample script, they practice with that. And then they come down, and that morning, the five or ten kids that are going to be on, and we run through it a few times with them, and then we do it live every day.

Student: I woke up, I listened to all the different sounds coming from--

Susan: I've got four fifth grade helpers. They're there every day to help with all the backstage stuff, and they basically run the whole show.

Student: Dear Martin Luther King, I have a problem. It's that all children cannot have equal access to shelter and healthcare.

Susan: Sometimes it's really good, sometimes it's not, and sometimes we have major calamities and sometimes it goes smoothly.

Student: Today's date is January 15th, 2000 and--

Narrator: The newscast is beamed to every room in the building over the school-wide data network.

Susan: The general setup of technology here is that we have four to five computers in every classroom, and then we have three wireless labs of iBook computers, so everybody has a network account, and a kid can walk just about anywhere in the school, log into the computer, and get what they need. All their documents are available to them from almost any computer in the school.

Teacher: The laptop people, Miss Dodge will come around and let you know when it's time for you to log in, okay? All right.

Susan: And those wireless labs come into play when a teacher needs to introduce something new, or have the whole class working on a project at the same time, maybe to move through a project a little bit faster, or because that's the best way to teach the concept.

Teacher: The main thing that I want you to focus on today, is how to group your information so when you start writing, you'll be able to get your paragraphs.

Susan: The inspiration, and kidspiration, are both very powerful tools, because they allow children to organize their thoughts and their ideas before writing.

Teacher: A lot of people are moving into their spreadsheets now. Make sure you have the number of shares of each stock filled out.

Narrator: Much of the school's curriculum is delivered through projects like this stock picking competition.

Student: I get General Electric, Walmart, Coca-Cola, Nike and Target.

Narrator: Students often work in pairs, with tech savvy students tutoring their peers.

Student: Did you get your stuff today or yesterday?

Student: Yesterday.

Student: Oh, okay.

Susan: Kids who spend more time on computers at home, are much more comfortable doing basic things here at school, working the mouse, working the keyboard, typing, scouting around, being creative on the computer. And we want to give kids who don't have the resources at home, necessarily, we want to give them more opportunities.

Teacher: The goals of the Tech at Home programs are to extend the learning opportunities and resources into students' homes--

Narrator: To help bridge this digital divide, the school established a Tech at Home program, which provides free computers and low internet access fees to families of students on free and reduced lunch.

Julie: Our goal is that children will be online every night, they'll look up our website, they'll-- when they see our website, they'll see a homepage that will give you updates of what's going on at Mary Scroggs in our classroom. They'll find a separate homework link where they'll go and see the homework for the week.

Student: Tuesday.

Dorothy: Tuesday, what do you have to do today?

Narrator: So far, the Tech at Home program is getting high marks from teachers and parents like Dorothy Setliff.

Dorothy: They're naturally inclined to start using computers early, they play games on it, and it's so that it becomes, homework becomes like part of the game. Having him start now, means that it will be so much easier later on.

How do you spell music, do you remember?

Student: U, U, U..

Dorothy: That's right, then what?

Julie: A majority of the homework that we're moving more toward is, they respond through the e-mail to me, because it's a really great way to keep track of their homework, I can reply very easily. Less paperwork, I don't have a stack of papers to go through that sometimes don't make it back home. It's just much easier to give them immediate feedback through the e-mail.

Student: Send it to me on the e-mail.

Dorothy: And having a nice way of getting in contact with the teacher, just send an e-mail, and you get an e-mail back, rather than trying to catch a teacher on the telephone. Now old technology, this is much better.

Kathleen: That's the sound a crow makes. Let's see if we hear that sound?

Narrator: In addition to new technology, Mary Scroggs new building design facilitates a variety of learning experiences.

Kathleen: Put your binoculars on. I see something on that tree right there. Can you look right straight--

I think that the building itself is just wonderful. It's beautiful and I love the porches. The area for science, for what we're doing with the birds, as far as having bird feeders out there, and the children being able to go out and watch the birds.

Kathleen: You see a blue jay?

Student: Me, too.

Narrator: Inside, every classroom features wall coverings that allow children's work to be displayed everywhere. There are several rooms where teachers can gather and small nooks for one-on-one sessions. In fact, the building has been an asset in recruiting prospective teachers, especially when they learn that they will have their own office and phone.

Paula: I think typically, over the years, teachers have gotten by on a shoestring. They're told they're professionals, but sometimes not always treated as professionals. For teachers, it's a big deal to have a phone that they can use throughout the day, either to communicate with parents, or to be available to their own families.

Narrator: The physical plant is just part of the appeal of working here. For kindergarten teacher, Kathleen Eveleigh, the best of Mary Scroggs, the technology, the literacy focus, and the parent involvement parts, come together every day when her kids write the end of the day summary.

Kathleen: Who has something to tell me about what we've done today? Jeffrey?

Jeffrey: Are we going to have enough room for the whole webpage just on that one line?

Kathleen: We will, you'll be surprised. It just goes right down.

When we started discussing ways to make the webpage more powerful, the suggestion came up of putting a daily synopsis of what we had done during the day, and it was very easy to sit down with the children, just put the keyboard in my lap, and just go to it.

Student: Some people want to reading books.

Kathleen: Some people--

And it tied in with what we do in literacy, which is to have children say things and you write them out for them, and then they're able to read what they have said. And so it tied into the balanced literacy that we do in our school.

Our mystery was four o'clock. Very good.

All of a sudden, I was getting e-mails from parents, letters from parents, I love the website, it's helping me so much, I can get things from the web page, and then ask my child about it, and we have so much to talk about, so that kind of input just got me more excited, and then I just started doing it more and more, and making sure I was doing it every day.

Jeffrey: We had a fantastic super day.

Kathleen: We had a fantastic super day. Wow, that sounds so great. You guys did a good job. See you-- do you want me to put, see you tomorrow? See you tomorrow.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to edutopia.org.

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Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Leigh Iacobucci


  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • John Paul Demè
  • Robert O. Weller

Production Assistant:

  • Miwa Yokoyama


  • Kris Welch

Editor's Note: Although most of the teachers interviewed in this video have moved on since it was filmed in 2002, the school continues to infuse technology throughout its curriculum. Unfortunately, the grant for the Tech@Home program has expired, but school staff seek new funding to reinstate it.

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