When Beaufort County schools Superintendent Jeffrey Moss asked for a volunteer to pilot a project to completely overhaul the school media center, Red Cedar Elementary principal Kathy Corley raised her hand.
Now their traditional library is gone.
Dancing robots, bowling orbs and bees in tables now occupy the space. Promethean ActivTables, three Promethean boards, a computer center and a production studio comprise the new technology hub.
A pilot program for the District, the hub changes the way students can research, study and work.
Red Cedar’s academic program revolves around project-based learning, where the process of building and programming a robot, for example, is the achievement, rather than the finished project. Funded by a Foundation of Excellence Grant, members of the before-school Robotics Club build the robots.
Fifth-grader Phillip Scott and his project partner, third-grader Andrew Hart, have worked together to build and program their robots to “dance.”
“I like challenges like this,” said Scott. “It’s fun to see what you can do with the sensors on the robots.”
The sensors can detect and react to other objects and light, similar to what car manufacturers are building into their newest models.
Teachers like Audrey Kaney use the computerized ActivTables to give students new ways to work on parts of speech, math problems, science and history. Once a group begins work on a task, the program does not allow the students to move ahead or close the problem until it is correct and everyone agrees.
Although the familiar hardcover library books are gone from the technology hub, books are not completely absent from either the room or the school.
In fact, the actual library is now one of the first things students encounter as they come to school. The shelves and hardcover books have moved into an open area closer to the front door and within sight of the hub.
In the hub itself, students can access the virtual Follett Library, a digital feast of 13,000 books readily available to every student at Red Cedar.
Corley sees this innovation as a way to expand the adventure of reading both electronically and with the familiar paper volume.
“We’ve rented these books for nine weeks, and then they go ‘back on the shelf’ where other groups can rent them,” said Corley. “There are also different supports available immediately with the electronic books. You can look up words; highlight something to look up later. It’s different from the old-fashioned reading experience.”
Students can access any of the books, and on the top shelves of the actual school library are cardboard representations of books available in both formats.
The virtual library also gives teachers, students and even the principal a chance to interact through a book project with everyone able to ask questions and interpret phrases picked out for discussion.
“We do a project every year for fourth- and fifth-graders called ‘Got a Problem.’ We have the book ‘Brownville Dreaming’ on the iPad, and we can read it through a thing called Subtext,” Corley said, showing the different topics. “It lets you annotate and ask questions. We can share the book in ways you wouldn’t be able to share a regular book when we read it electronically.”
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.