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Pipestone Schools to try independent learning

PIPESTONE -- After years of sticking to the traditional classroom model, Pipestone Area Schools is trying something new.

Next year they will launch a pilot program allowing students in second through fourth grades to work more independently and move through the three grades at their own pace.

Students who want to participate in the program would be supervised by three teachers who would all teach participating students jointly.

Jim Lentz, Pipestone Area superintendent, received permission to pursue the project at the Jan. 28 School Board meeting.

He is now seeking out interested teachers and will send letters to parents to see if they are interested in letting their child participate.

Pipestone elementary currently has four sections of second, third and fourth grade and Lentz said they will only be applying the pilot program to one section per grade.

"We will draw names if we have too many and do a lottery. Actually, that would be a good problem to have and would show that people are interested in us changing (the way we teach)," he said.

Lentz said he believes similar programs, with different degrees of variation, have been tried across the country and found to be successful.

Next fall, students participating in the program will be taught "where they are" rather than being taught at the medium level of the class, said Lentz.

Regardless of which grade level a student is in, he explained, they will be taught at the level of their ability. Therefore, if a second grade student comes in at a third grade reading level, they will be taught at the higher level.

In a traditional classroom setting, this approach would flood teachers with extra work, but Lentz said they will use 21st century technology to make the proposed model efficient and effective.

In the proposed plan, each of the participating students would receive handheld devices, such as tablet computers, for school and related use.

"Technology is a great equalizer. We can create portfolios for each child. We'll know what's going on and when they are ready to move on to the next level," Lentz said.

An added benefit of the pilot project is that students would work with the same teachers for three years, allowing the three teachers to get to know the students very well.

Lentz said he hopes the teachers chosen for the project will be diverse enough that each child will be able to connect with a teacher.

All of this is part of an effort to move away from the traditional classroom model of having students sitting in rows of desks facing the front of the room while a teacher lectures.

The pilot project was originally part of a federal "Race to the Top" grant application that was submitted last year with five other schools -- Jackson, Windom, Lakefield, Marshall and Minneota.

Lentz said the application was turned down because they didn't have experience implementing pilot projects. He hopes that if funding comes around again, this project will give them a stronger chance of receiving future funding.

After the first year, the success of the project will be evaluated. Before any decision is made about continuing the project, the test scores of the students in the pilot project will be compared to those of students in the traditional classroom setting.

In addition to the pilot classrooms in the elementary school, the Pipestone Area Schools District is also in the initial stages of developing a video and audio production studio at the high school.

The studio would be used for mass communications classes and would train students in writing, producing, reporting, researching and camera and video production.

The project cost will depend largely on the equipment bought and is currently unavailable. An estimate for the elementary school project is also unavailable as the specific type of handheld device has yet to be selected.

"One of the goals is to get (students) out from behind the desk and to get them working in the community, creating and being responsible," Lentz said.

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at 376-7322.

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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