Young students see ‘The Force’ of digital learning

The sounds of squeaky, rainy day boots mixed with laughter and chatter on a recent morning at Kingston Elementary School. Teachers and staff worked the hallway to get students where they needed to be.

The noises changed as children passed Room 1.

“Whoa, that’s awesome!” one said.

“That room’s cool!” said another.

Principal Sharon Shewbridge and Assistant Principal Terry Davis dress as Star Wars characters for an event to kick off a digital learning initiative. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)
Kingston Elementary Principal Sharon Shewbridge and Assistant Principal Terry Davis dress as Star Wars characters for an event to kick off a digital learning initiative. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

Room 1 was filled with “Star Wars” decorations, from the streamers on the ceiling to the Chewbacca pictures on the walls to the blow-up R2-D2. Theme music from the movie franchise played in the background. School employees dressed as characters, including Princess Leia and Darth Vader.

It was all a part of #MaytheTECHbewithyou, a rollout celebration for a new digital learning initiative.

Kingston Elementary is one of 11 Beach schools — and one of six elementary schools — participating in what the district calls its Digital Learning Anchor Schools program. It’s part of an initiative that aims to help students find “multiple pathways” for learning.

“We’ve been having lots of dialogue about how our kids are really going to become creators of their learning, not consumers of their learning,” Kingston Principal Sharon Shewbridge said.

Jason Niehoff, Kingston’s instructional technology specialist, signs out a laptop for a student as part of a Virginia Beach digital learning program. (Kelly Kultys/Southside Daily)

Every student from third grade through fifth grade received a laptop computer to use during the school day, while students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade will use tablets throughout the year.

“We want to see how much better you can learn using a computer everyday,” Jason Niehoff, Kingston’s instructional technology specialist, said to a fourth-grade class during an instructional session on Thursday.

Third-grade teacher Keri Kenison has been showing her students how to use the devices since the start of the school year.

“I don’t use it for everything. I still do some writing,” she said. “Just anytime what we’re doing can be done on the computer, instead of paper and pencil, then we use the computer.”

One of her students, Garrett, summed up how the class felt about using the computers.

“Cool,” he said.

Anna, a classmate, added that she thinks it helps her learn better.

“My favorite part is that we get to go on the internet and learn stuff,” she said.

Kenison said it appears the children have taken to the program faster than some of their parents.

“The parents were a little concerned about making sure we’re still going to be doing stuff with paper and pencil, which we assured them we are,” she said. “We’re still going to be reading books. We’re still going to be doing all of the regular stuff. It’s just, when we’re writing now, we’re not going to be doing our writing on a piece of paper, we’re gonna type it, because that’s what they’re going to do when they get a job.”

Also participating in the digital learning program are Green Run, Bayside and Kempsville high schools, Great Neck and Corporate Landing middle schools, and five other elementary schools – Newtown, Rosemont, Strawbridge, Tallwood and Thoroughgood. The self-described “guinea pigs” will test devices and strategies before the district adds them in all of its schools.

The 11 digital anchor schools communicate often with each other.

“We’ve tried really hard to keep each other posted on things that are going on within our school and each of us is a little different,” Shewbridge said. “We all have our own building issues, infrastructure issues, but we’re all trying to communicate and share with each other.”

The digital learning anchors schools will put on a “showcase” for the superintendent and other district schools in April.

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