How Discovery Education Helps Students Achieve Through Digital Environments

September 18, 2014

In honor of the new school year beginning, I recently spoke with Matt Monjan, Discovery Education’s Vice President of Educational Partnerships, about the expansion of their 10 year partnership with Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).  This partnership provides educators across the school system the professional development and digital content they need to create dynamic learning environments that prepare students for college, careers and citizenship. On June 16, Discovery Education and PGCPS kicked-off this new phase of collaboration with the largest professional development event in the school system’s history.

I sat down with Matt to understand more about the partnership, the outcomes of the event, and how the next 10 years will be even better.

Valikai: How is this phase of the partnership with Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) partnership different than the previous phase?

Monjan: Since 2004, PGCPS educators and students utilized Discovery Education Streaming, a comprehensive digital library of over 100,000 learning objects that enhances curriculum and supports all subject areas and learning styles.  This service was used primarily as a supplemental resource, complimenting the static textbooks that served as the core instructional resource for science and other academic disciplines.

In this new phase of our partnership, Discovery Education is now providing students in grades K-8 access to the Discovery Education Science Techbook™.  Discovery Education’s digital textbooks engage students in learning concepts through rich digital assets, including virtual labs, video clips, an interactive glossary, and more.  It is important to note here that PGCPS envisions the Techbook eventually replacing students’ hardcover books and serving as the primary instructional resource for science.

In addition, at this stage of our partnership, there is an increased focus on professional development. Dr. Kevin Maxwell and the tremendous team at PGCPS understand the importance of preparing educators to integrate these resources into classroom instruction.  To support them, we worked closely with our colleagues at PGCPS to create a unique professional development event for all of the district’s approximately 9,000 educators.

Valikai: How is this Discovery Education professional development different than other professional development that PGCPS educators will receive?

Monjan: I think the collaborative nature of the professional development delivered on June 16 is the differentiator.  Working closely with the PGCPS professional development team, Discovery Education experts specifically designed the day to help educators use the new digital content at their fingertips to teach critical literacy and problem solving skills.  In addition, teachers and administrators learned practical instructional strategies for using digital media to support the integration of Maryland’s College and Career Ready Standards into classroom instruction.  Through a series of interactive sessions, educators had the opportunity to really engage in the new resources at their disposal and connect them to their instructional practice. 

At the end of the day, the educators created and posted digital artifacts to Discovery Education’s Discovery Educator Network blog (www.denblogs.com/pgcps) to share their experiences with one another.

Valikai: If I were an educator attending this event, what would have been most beneficial for me during the day?

Monjan: I would have really appreciated the opportunity to see exactly how the new resources from Discovery Education could be integrated into instruction to promote creativity and problem-solving, support literacy standards, and inspire curiosity in students. Teaching is a craft, so being able to see and interact with these resources would have allowed me to fold them into my classroom practice.  In addition, I would have loved the opportunity to connect with my peers across the district to share best practices. 

Valikai: Tell me about how the Discovery Education Science Techbook works…how does it compare to traditional ways of teaching science?

Monjan: I think to answer this question, you need to consider today’s student.  Generally, he or she is fluent with technology, digitally savvy, and is used to interacting daily, or hourly, with high-quality digital content. 

With those facts in mind, Discovery Education’s Techbooks are designed specifically to engage that student.  They include standards-aligned video, digital simulations, virtual and hands-on labs, an interactive glossary, audio and video, and core interactive text with text-to-speech that engage every type of learner.  They allow students to toggle between English, French, and Spanish texts, and they feature digital note-taking and highlighting capabilities. In addition, the Techbook was designed to be cloud-based and platform neutral to work with whatever hardware a student is using: iPad, tablet, mobile device, laptop, or desktop.

In terms of comparisons to traditional ways of teaching science, two recent independent research studies shows usage of Discovery Education’s Techbooks is associated with higher science achievement scores.

We recently worked with South Carolina's Rock Hill Schools to empower their teachers with digital resources and professional development to further science achievement and engagement throughout the district. After less than one year of implementation, an independent study found that 21 percent of fourth-grade students using our Science Techbook scored at or above the exemplary level on the Science PASS, compared to only 15 percent of students who weren’t using these resources. 

Another example of the efficacy of the Techbook can be seen in Florida’s Collier County Public Schools. According to independent research conducted in that district, students whose teachers had one or more years of teaching experience and used Science Techbook for instruction scored higher on the state assessments than students whose teachers had similar levels of experience but had not used Science Techbook.  Additionally, fifth grade students who were English Language Learners (ELL) whose teachers used Science Techbook for instruction were 66 percent more likely to score at the proficient level or higher on state assessments, compared to English Language Learners students whose teachers were not using Science Techbook. 

Valikai: A recent Verizon commercial has become notable for showing how there is a powerful but often times unnoticed bias towards discouraging girls from STEM. The commercial quotes a statistic that 66% of 4th grade girls like science and math, yet only 18% of engineering majors are female. How does your professional development event and/or your Science Techbook support STEM for girls?

Monjan: While the PGCPS event focused on improving teaching and learning for all students, Discovery Education is committed to offering STEM learning experiences specifically for girls to engage them in solving real-world problems while addressing college and career readiness, literacy, and mathematical practice standards. For example, we recently held a STEM Camp in partnership with Florida’s Osceola County Schools, where an all-girls camp group explored a dynamic series of standards-aligned STEM curricula featuring hands-on and virtual labs, engineering challenges, digital investigations, videos and career connections.  We also held a separate camp for students who are learning English as a second language.

In addition to STEM Camp, our Science Techbook supports the growth of STEM skills through the Scientific Explanation format, which guides students in supporting claims through evidence, fact-backed reasoning and arguments.