Educational databases add another element to Franklin Regional classrooms

| Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012, 11:01 p.m.

Most of Lynn Skoff's fourth-grade class had never experienced a hurricane. But for 15 minutes, the Sloan Elementary students were put in the eye of the storm – watching debris fly, learning how they could help prepare and seeing what weather conditions are perfect for a major storm – with a click of a mouse.

Down the hall, Audra Adams' kindergarteners know they don't like germs – but they don't know where germs come from or how to best get rid of them. A six-minute video projection featuring singing cartoon germs and a few characters spreading germs on donuts and doorknobs changed that quickly.

Both Franklin Regional teachers used one of the district's new curriculum tools for teachers – a series of online video databases that give teachers access to thousands of educational, age-appropriate clips for use in the classroom. The databases replace VHS tapes and DVDs, which districts would buy or borrow from the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit in the past and might not fit each teacher's needs.

Now, teachers can download multiple clips via the district's new wireless network for immediate viewing. The databases have changed how Skoff, a nine-year veteran, teaches.

“I think it helps make lessons more engaging for the students of today,” Skoff said. “They like to learn in various modality – printed, text and visual.”

Franklin Regional uses two databases at the elementary level – Safari Montage and Discovery Education. Discovery uses videos from organizations such as BBC Worldwide, Scholastic, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA. Skoff said she prefers those videos for her fourth-graders because they have more videos geared toward older children.

The Discover Education videos often have quizzes at the end that Skoff uses to see what she needs to re-teach students who are struggling with the topic. The videos also have worksheets and additional text that she can work into her lessons.

“It's great because the text might be above their grade level, but they can get the information out of the video,” Skoff said. “They're totally engaged.”

Safari includes clips from ABC News, PBS, the History Channel and other educational providers. During a recent storytime session, Adams downloaded and showed an episode of “Reading Rainbow” – the classic PBS show that encouraged a generation to get lost in stories.

“But they're not just sitting and staring at a screen,” Adams said. “They're engaged while learning different content.”

After Adams showed her students the clip on germs, she quizzed them on how to spread germs and to stop germs. Then she brought them into a small group setting to show how skin protects people from germs using, for example, an apple.

While Discovery Education has been around for several years in different forms, last year was the first for Safari Montage. Cindy Perott, the librarian at Sloan, is one of the administrators for the database use in the elementary schools. She said she sometimes struggles to get teachers on board with incorporating new technology in their lessons, but she said once teachers try it, they become very enthusiastic and use the program weekly.

“It's about their comfort level,” Perott said. “It's definitely enhancing the classroom — rather than just looking at a handout on ancient civilizations, a teacher can pull down the video screen and open the world to them.”

Tammy Gianvito, a technology teacher at Newlonsburg Elementary, said teachers in her building like the ability to divide a video into segments, based on their classroom needs.

“You may not have 41 minutes for a video,” Gianvito said. “You can look by topic what to show and bring up related videos on the same topic.”

Nicole Fetsko, one of Skoff's fourth-grade social studies students, said she likes when her teacher uses a video to expand a lesson. It helps her follow the lesson better, Fetsko said.

“It's interesting to go along with what she teaches us,” Fetsko said. “It's kind of a good way to end the lesson and a good way to learn.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or

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