Have you ever been to Southeast Arkansas? Chances are, not. I’ve been coming to Arkansas for six years and yesterday was the first time I set foot in the place. I’m sorry I waited so long; it was a treat!
First was getting there. I left Little Rock yesterday morning and, within minutes, urban life was behind me and I was cruising along Interstate 530 cushioned on each side by verdant woodland alive with the bright new leaves of spring. Once I left the Interstate, my route transitioned from woodland to a rural landscape dotted with tilled fields, horses, goats, churches and screened porches. Two hours after leaving Arkansas’s capital city, I arrived in Monticello, a city of 9,000+ inhabitants and the self-proclaimed “economic, educational and cultural center of Southeast Arkansas.”
Tommy Tyler, assistant superintendent of Monticello School District (and a TICAL cadre member!) welcomed me and took me on a tour of Monticello High School. The highlight there was my visit to Keturah West’s EAST Lab where senior Will Hunter was making some final edits to video podcasts produced by other students.
Later in the day, I visited the Southeast Arkansas Education Service Cooperative. Karen Eoff, assistant director (and a TICAL cadre member and Tommy’s twin sister!), gave me a tour of their facility. I learned about everything from the Hippy program to how the cooperative helps districts do Medicaid direct-services billing in support of their Special Education programs. From an educational technology perspective, the most fascinating stop on the tour was the Early College High School Program. Serving 1500 students across Arkansas, it’s a wonderful example of how technology can increase educational opportunities for all students, regardless of where they may live.
This morning, I got to spend quality time at Monticello Middle School where I saw two excellent teachers using technology as a tool of teaching. In my job I get to see technology used in a lot of classrooms, and too often, it seems to drive instruction, instead of the other way around. The class is not doing math, it’s doing “podcasts.” Kids are not writing essays in English class, they’re “doing PowerPoints.”
In both the classes I observed at Monticello Middle School, the technology was subservient to the instructional goals. The students in Lisa Brown’s science class had been studying Newton’s Laws of Motion. For review, Lisa showed clips from a MythBusters episode and called on students to identify laws exemplified in the clips. Math teacher Monica Sims had traded her chalk and blackboard for an Interwrite pad and board and was using both effortlessly to develop the concept of symmetry. In addition, she had the students using “old” technology such as MIRAs™, mirrors and rulers.
Southeast Arkansas may not be on Fodor’s Hot List, but if you want to visit a beautiful, welcoming place and see some state-of-the-art technology integration at the same time, you can’t go wrong here.