Oregon Students Create Digital Game-Based Lessons for Peers

By Michelle R. Davis — November 05, 2013 2 min read
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Arlington, Va.

At most ed-tech related meetings and conferences, the focus is on adults: how teachers need to be trained to use technology in classrooms, what administrators should do to secure funding for tech projects, and how policymakers need to keep pace with advances in technology. Rarely is the focus squarely on students.

But this week attendees at the State Educational Technology Directors Association 2013 Leadership Summit, a gathering of heavy hitting ed-tech policy wonks, got to hear directly from students about a program that could change how educators develop ed-tech initiatives.

The summit highlighted a program at the Raleigh Hills K-8 school in the 40,000-student Beaverton, Ore., district in which students are creating online, game-based lessons for their peers. Launched two years ago, the StudentSource site has already had 5.3 million page views and its creators hope it will become a resource for teachers throughout the district, said G. Douglas Bundy, the school’s technology coordinator.

Students, often those in the upper grades, go into the site and search through grade levels and subjects, such as language arts or math, and topics for which lessons are needed. Once they pick a topic (for example, capitalizing letters at the beginning of sentences for kindergarteners), they then search for age-appropriate games that would best teach the concept, Marcie Callahan, a Raleigh Hills 8th grader told the audience of ed-tech leaders here. The students create learning modules, often using their own descriptions, images and voices, based on specific standards, to instruct their peers.

The student-creators must think critically when choosing the games they use and how they’re presented. The games can’t be too busy, but they can’t be too simple, Ms. Callahan said.

All students at the school have a designated “tech time” of 45 minutes every four days to work specifically on computers, in addition to time spent throughout the week working with technology , Mr. Bundy said. “StudentSource has become the tool in the classroom that kids access during that tech time,” he said. “It’s like an instructional assistant.”

The school didn’t create StudentSource without some financial help. In 2011, Raleigh Hills was awarded a $238,000 federal technology grant that paid for a 1-to-1 iPod Touch program, as well as laptops, tablets, and electronic whiteboards. The money also paid for technology classes for parents.

But it is the students, said Mr. Bundy, who actually create the lessons.

“This started out as an idea from an adult,” he said. “But it didn’t turn into anything great without that collaboration from the students...This opened a lot of eyes to the capacities that our students have.”

Students can play a larger role in their own education and that of their peers, and educators and parents should recognize that, said Jonathan Rosales, an 8th grade student at Raleigh Hills who also spoke at the SETDA event. “We don’t get much opportunity to show what we can do,” he said. “You’re teaching your kid and your kid is teaching you.”

Technology in the school isn’t limited to that 45-minute session, said Ms. Callahan. It’s woven throughout the instructional day in various ways. In algebra, for example, there are 30 tablets in her classroom and she can log on, often to a math gaming site, to enhance the lessons her teacher provides. “We use it as a way to reinforce concepts, but in a fun way.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.