“Technology allows me to connect the curriculum I teach to my students,” explains Henok Tadesse, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta. “By blending different technologies, I can reach students in different ways and students are able to collaborate with each other both inside and outside of the classroom.”
Henok’s teaching exemplifies his school’s philosophy “that every child has gifts and talents that must be discovered and nurtured.”
Henok and his colleagues at Drew Charter use a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach that incorporates technology and integrates ideas and skills across subject areas. For example, for one unit, Henok uses the United Nations as the focal point and asks each student to select a country to learn about in depth. In social studies, they research the government and people. In Language Arts, they select an iconic figure—whether a writer, scientist, inventor or political leader—to study. In math they research statistics on their countries’ populations, while in science they learn about natural disasters that affected their nations. In each class, students develop research and writing skills, while learning important subject-area content. The project culminates with students writing an essay and designing an online space (PB works wiki-page) to share their work publicly.
Drew Charter students engage in similar cross-discipline projects each quarter and each of Henok’s social studies units ends with a student-selected and –designed presentation or written work product. By the end of the year, Henok’s students have developed and presented Prezis to their peers and community, designed websites or wiki-spaces to widely share their research and writing, and practiced applying their knowledge through scenarios and role playing on the free online site iCivics.
“When I first found out about iCivics from a colleague, I stayed on its website the whole night,” says Henok, who now serves as a national teacher council advisor to the organization. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009, iCivics builds students understanding of the United States government and laws by engaging them in the work of attorneys, jurors, legislators and even the President. Tapping into gaming theory, iCivics asks students to argue about constitutional rights, make decisions on a tough court case, draft new laws based on current issues and more.
“My students know all 27 amendments to the Constitution and have applied them to their lives by playing iCivics,” Henok tells us. “I had one student who many people would label as a ‘problem’- he was not engaged in learning or with the other kids. He really took to iCivics. He had memorized all of the amendments and then was helping his peers when they mixed them up or did not understand them. It was awakening for him.”
It is not surprising that Henok and his colleagues have received numerous accolades for their work. Drew Charter School was recently recognized as one of the “25 Coolest Schools in America” by Scholastic Parent & Child magazine. The school also was named Georgia Charter School of the Year, with the elementary level ranking #1 and the middle grades ranking #3 within the Atlanta Public Schools system on the GA DOE’s College and Career Ready Performance Index for the 2012-13 school year.