Janesville58.7°

Whitewater charter school offers different atmosphere

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Kevin Hoffman
July 26, 2011
— When Whitewater’s charter school opens its doors this fall for the first time, it will carry a theme familiar to its young students.

Smart boards in every classroom.


Laptop computers and iPads aiding students in research.


It’s the type of technology their generation has become accustomed to. Now, educators plan to use it to establish an innovative style of learning in the school district.


“It really is the natural way kids learn,” said Jo Bernhardt, principal at Lincoln Inquiry Charter School. “If you look at kids, what they’re doing when not in school, they’re really doing this.


“A lot of kids are using social media, using computers, and they’re already very technologically savvy, but they don’t necessarily know the most efficient way to use it or the most ethical way to use it. That’s part of what schools need to do now.”


Nearly 360 students in kindergarten through fifth grade will attend the “21st century learning” institution when classes begin Sept. 1. Staff there are spending the summer developing curriculum, which will continue to be ironed out during the first year.


A significant portion of the school’s instruction will revolve around problem solving and investigation. The idea is to familiarize students with technology, allowing them to use it to complete assignments and answer questions.


That type of teaching already is taking place across the Whitewater School District, but this is the first time a school will focus its attention on it, Bernhardt said. A federal grant helped the district purchase digital smart boards for every classroom.


Bernhardt said the school also has three carts with laptops to help students in their assignments. A wireless infrastructure was built into the school, allowing students to conduct research from their desks.


In the past, students would need to find time to access the computer labs.


The school also will use iPads in its instruction. Bernhardt said the focus isn’t on buying the most popular gadgets but rather technology that will support students in their research.


Classes will be multi-aged, pairing students from other grades, and they will be assigned to the same teacher for at least two years.


A large part of the instruction revolves around a model called “big six, super three,” Bernhardt said. It’s similar to the scientific method and creates steps for solving problems and evaluating information.


“It’s such a thrill to be part of this effort,” Bernhardt said. “It’s been two years with all these people working on it, developing a school we think is going to be a great opportunity for kids.


“It’s all about getting the year started, getting back together with these kids and launching it.”


Bernhardt said the district recently received preliminary approval for a $250,000 implementation grant. It will help the school pay for several initiatives and professional development.



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