Saturday, November 21, 2009

Program helps children conjure up technical skills

This is so wonderful! We're trying to get a La Clase Magica/Magic School Room set up here in Austin, Texas, too!


Program helps children conjure up technical skills
By Nancy Preyor-Johnson – San Antonio Express-News / Nov. 19, 2009

What happens in Room 137 at Las Palmas Elementary during the after-school program, La Clase Mágica, really has nothing to do with magic. But educators, students and parents say the technology skills that students learn there are extraordinary.

The new pilot program, which is bilingual, aims to be a gateway to success for some of the city's most at-risk students in an increasingly competitive job market, both now and in the future.

Two groups of students benefit — about 20 University of Texas at San Antonio education majors are paired with Edgewood Independent School District elementary students who live on the West Side.

They teach and learn the latest technology, using iPhones and netbooks to create videos and presentations and to enhance core subjects.

Instruction is innovative but fun, officials said, and most students don't realize they're learning. Esther Rios, a UTSA bilingual education major, is eager to show a video production that she and 8-year-old Ronaldo Resendiz created. All UTSA students who participate in the weekly program are given an iPhone, a netbook and other equipment.

Sisters 10-year-old Maria Rosas and 6-year-old Brenda Rosas said their favorite part of the class is playing games. In her first free moment at a recent class, Brenda Rosas grabbed an iPhone and typed in “Tom and Jerry” on and watched it for a few minutes. That skill is one she learned at the program, said her partner, Diana Davis, a UTSA sophomore majoring in bilingual education.

Davis said the program has given her real classroom experience and exposure in teaching with mobile technology — details she will happily add to her resume as she tries to get her first teaching job.

Designed after and named for La Clase Mágica, a program started in 1989 by an associate professor at the University of California at San Diego, UTSA's version costs $60,000 for the school year. It's funded through a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Education Department that also covers other programs at UTSA's Academy for Teaching Excellence.

“We decided to step up what La Clase Mágica does but using the latest technology,” said Margarita Machado-Casas, the UTSA professor who leads the program. “I tell the students this is the only class where a professor will tell them to turn their phones on.”

Machado-Casas said some elementary students began the class knowing very little about computers. They awkwardly fumbled at keyboards and didn't understand basics about technology.

But just a few months in, the students are creating their own productions, and both the elementary and college students are more confident.

Elementary students' parents are starting to notice changes in the students, some as young as 4.

Vivian Trujillo, whose grandchildren pre-kindergartener Amaya Ward and first-grader Christopher Trujillo attend the program, calls it fantastic and beyond her expectations.

“We went on a trip to Dallas; my phone wouldn't work but Christopher and Amaya made it work. Then they told me I wouldn't understand if they tried to explain it to me,” Trujillo said. “They are both very, very computer-savvy now.”

Machado-Casas said many other parents now want their children in the program and many UTSA students want in as well.

“So far, this program has gone very, very well. It's changing kids,” Machado-Casas said. “We want to provide students with resources necessary to become global competitors.”

Information about La Clase Mágica will be shared during a Dec. 1 community fair from 2 to 4 p.m. at Las Palmas Elementary.

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