P.S. 130 part of exclusive D.O.E. technology initiative


BY Aline Reynolds

The D.O.E. is piloting a new, technology-based teaching method at a select number of schools this year, including P.S. 130 Hernando de Soto in Lower Manhattan.

The interactive program, called “Time To Know,” integrates the public school’s core curriculum of English Language Arts and Math into a digital teaching platform. T2K staff say the program enables the teacher to better manage instruction, learning and assessment in the classroom.

The program is part of the city’s Department of Education’s Innovation Zone (iZone), whose goal is to “free schools from the compliance-oriented culture that has inhibited real innovation in our nation’s schools,” according to the D.O.E. website.

P.S. 130 is the only school in Manhattan that is implementing the program in both grades four and five.

“I’m excited,” said P.S. 130 principal Lily Woo. “It’s the next logical step with our technology initiative [in] that we have the resources to help our kids use technology as a tool in doing research in their learning,” she said.

“It’s not e-learning, where the kids are looking at the computer, and the computer is teaching the kid,” explained P.S. 130 instructor Camila Torres, a T2K math coach. “It’s based on the constructivist theory that kids learn best when they’re forced to explore a concept on their own.”

Torres and Sedecca will work with the teachers in and out of the classroom twice a week. She and Jennifer Sedecca, the English Language Arts coach, will co-instruct classes and help teachers carve out their lesson plans to their liking.

“It’s a very empowering program for a teacher where they’re the facilitator, determining exactly what they’re teaching and exactly what order they’re teaching it in.”

Fifth graders at P.S. 130 will start off the semester learning about telltales, and fourth graders will learn about the history of chocolate, with animated characters and game shows to keep the youngsters engaged.

T2K exercises are custom-designed for children of all abilities.

“There are activities in our program that allows for differentiation for children who are below-level, on-level and above-level, so it meets all the children’s needs… in the same class,” said Evette Avila, senior manager of professional learning for T2K’s New York division.

The digital program contains special narration and highlighting features for students who struggle with auditory learning. One quarter of its student body failed the English as a Second Language Achievement Test, according to Wong.

“[The program] will open doors for our kids,” said P.S. 130 Principal Lily Woo. “They’re somewhat limited in access coming from homes that don’t speak English.”

Seventy percent of the school’s students come from homes that don’t speak English. T2K will also have printer-friendly exercises for youths who don’t have Internet access at home.

The students will catch on quickly when learning the web-based program, since they’re required to take at least half a year of compute…r science every academic year, according to Renny Fong, technology specialist for P.S. 130.

Last week, Torres and Sedecca began training teachers from P.S. 130 and the other schools to use the T2K program at P.S. 130.

“The first day was very overwhelming — there was so much to learn and to know,” said Stefanie Chow, a 4th grade homeroom teacher at P.S. 130.

By day two of training, she began to pick up the T2K lingo and learn the basics of the program.

“It’s a little easier and clearer,” she said. “I feel a little bit more comfortable.”

Tailoring the teachers’ lesson plans to the T2K program might prove difficult for some. “I worry a little bit about the teachers in terms of the planning they have to do,” said Fong, who sat in on the training session. “Most teachers don’t want to…have a prescribed curriculum.”

And teachers and students who aren’t tech savvy might hit some bumps in the road.

“The program involves a lot of clicking, dragging and manipulating,” he said.

Fong is also concerned that teachers might waste instructional time trying to fix technological glitches in the program that could result from an overcrowded server.

The T2K instructors assured Fong there would be a tech person handy to resolve problems.

“There’s already been some glitches [during] training,” Fong said. “I’m hoping they’ll be able to help us out.”

Fong also said the school is in search of funding for additional computers for the T2K classrooms. So far, they have nine carts of 35 laptops, one for every classroom, out of the needed twelve.

T2K was conceived by Israeli entrepreneur Shmuel Meitar in 2004. It has since been adopted by 50 schools around Israel. The Texas school system experimented with program in 2007, where it has had promising results. According to an independent study, T2K students in Texas outperformed their peers that were not using the program in vocabulary growth, mathematical reasoning and standardized tests.

But prepping the kids for the standardized tests is only one of the program’s objectives. “Instead of drill and kill where they learn something just for the test,” Torres said, “our theory is that if we teach kids in a constructivist manner, that learning becomes real to them, and they have owned it, and they’re able to apply it in the future.”

P.S. 130 plans on getting the parents involved, sending newsletters about the program via snail mail and inviting them to attend classes.

“We’ll have children teach the parents so they can help the kids with their homework,” Avilla said.

But first, the teachers have to get a firm grasp of the program. “We still have a lot of questions,” Chow said. “The coach is going to be here, holding our hand,” she said.