Thanks to three federal grants totalling $5.5 million, the Muscogee County School District has developed a website with more than 900 educational podcasts and received high-tech devices that are credited with boosting learning.
The grants from the Department of Defense Education Activity were designed to increase student achievement. To participate, schools needed at least 15 percent of their enrollment to be military dependents. Half of Muscogee County's public schools (32 of 64) directly have benefited from the program, because that's where the additional devices -- such as iPods, digital microscopes, iPevos, digital video/still cameras and Swivls -- were implemented, but anyone can access the podcasts.
And gobs of folks have indeed.
In the past two years, the podcast website has received more than 913,000 hits from users in 42 states and the District of Columbia, plus 114 countries. In fact, the only continent not represented among those hits is Antarctica, said Tina Cross, the district's grant administrator. The Georgia Department of Education has requested permission to post some of these podcasts on its website to share with the rest of the state, she said.
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With the first grant ($1,734,508), submitted in 2009, the district's goal was for 80 percent of the military dependents to increase their End-Of-Course Test or Criterion-Referenced Competency Test scores by at least 6 percent. The district met that goal.
With the second grant, ($2,050,000) the district's goal was for the military dependents to average an increase of 7.5 percent in math and science on the EOCT or CRCT. The district met that goal.
The district has one year remaining on the third grant ($1,750,000). The goal is for the military dependents to average an increase of 7.5 percent in math and science on the CRCT. The district is on target to meet that goal.
Columbus State University professors produced the initial wave of podcasts, about 300, Cross said. The remainder, 620 and counting, have been completed by MCSD teachers. After the teachers produce them, CSU professors check them for accuracy before they are posted.
The CSU Coca-Cola Space Science Center set up a hotline for teachers to call and get answers to their high-tech questions. The teachers also can access explanatory videos on a private website.
"There is no doubt that the podcasts are assisting to increase test scores," Cross said. "We know that military parents (deployed) are accessing them and then using them to help their children with homework. Many parents are accessing them as a tutorial for the students or to help the parents help the students. We have spikes in the number of hits around homework time."
Deployed parents of students from military families can watch their children in the classroom via a private section of the website and help their children with homework via Skype.
"One parent watched it four times a day," Cross said.
The grants require a plan for students from military families to benefit, but other students are as well, Cross said.
"My original reasoning was that when a military student transfers in they are often in a different book, on a different page, or sometimes in a completely different subject," she said. "So my plan was to use them to help fill in blanks. That has happened, but teachers are using them as bell-ringers, as review, etc."
In addition to CSU and the space science center, teacher professional development for the program has been provided by the Ron Clark Academy, Oxbow Meadows, the Mathematics Collaborative of the Chattahoochee Valley and Columbus Tech, Cross said.
The final grant runs out at the end of this fiscal year, but Cross is hopeful the funding can continue.
"I've had several community members approach me about keeping the program going," she said. " When you see 114 countries access this, you're doing something right."
For a link to the Muscogee County School District's podcasts, click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com
The following Muscogee County schools have received technology devices from Department of Defense Education Activity grants:
Elementary schools: Allen, Blanchard, Dawson, Dimon, Double Churches, Eagle Ridge, Forrest Road, Gentian, Georgetown, Key, Mathews, Midland, North Columbus, Reese Road, River Road, St. Marys, Waddell and Wesley Heights.
Middle schools: Arnold, Blackmon Road, Double Churches, East Columbus, Fort, Midland, Veterans Memorial
High schools: Columbus, Early College, Hardaway, Kendrick, Northside, Shaw and Spencer.