MODESTO — Leilani Villoria spent two hours living history, dressed as Cleopatra and reciting research on the Egyptian queen's life. Later, the fourth-grader fast-forwarded to the future, joining a digital presentation to save a mock city from ecological disaster.
Then she went to lunch.
After a decade spent helping kids behind catch up, Leilani's school has set its sights on pushing the front- runners forward. Agnes Baptist Elementary in north Modesto is piloting a program for gifted students that wraps academics in arts and technology.
Which is how folks from ancient Egypt and colonial America came to be running a PowerPoint program Thursday.
Researching characters online required the use of technology. Costumes, speechwriting and posters brought in the arts. Mixing it all together made history unforgettable.
Third-grader Joseph Davis picked Mark Twain. "I like how he was so creative. He made a real book. I wrote a speech of stuff about him," Joseph said through a thick white mustache.
Enoche Reed, a tall sixth-grader, picked Albert Einstein because he was smart and "kinda weird" in a cool way.
Farther down the aisle, Laci Whitaker stood in a curly blond wig, telling the life of child star Shirley Temple Black. Bouncing on her chair, Laci said she couldn't wait for her next two-minute gig. "Yesterday I was so excited for today!" she bubbled.
More than 100 third- through sixth-graders presented the Biography Museum on Thursday, then headed back to class. For fourth-graders, that meant a turn in the technology classroom.
Principal Tom Price said teacher-assisted online learning will expand to all Stanislaus Union schools. "The goal is for blended technology to be districtwide," Price said.
Utilizing more tech
That blend of teaching and tech-ing allows kids to get extra help as they need it or scoot ahead if they get it. "It really is a great equalizer. It gives more children more opportunities," he said.
Teachers say the switch takes energy, but they're seeing results.
Most students spend nearly two hours a day on computers. Fridays are for art lessons or performing arts, all tied to academics.
English technology time teaches online research, writing reports and creating presentations. Math offers the cutting-edge adaptive software that keeps pace with student understanding.
That same technology is expected to revolutionize state testing starting in 2014-15. Fourth-grade teacher Helen Baker said she uses a mix of online and paper tests as students adjust to the change.
Baker, too, is adjusting to change after 31 years teaching. She said technology saves her work in some ways, makes work in others. "It's more work this year getting to know the programs so we're a step ahead of the students," she said.
But having homework online means it can't be forgotten on the kitchen table or eaten by the dog. Simple assignments correct themselves and the online writing program lets her add marks and comments easily. "We're getting more in," Baker said.
New teacher Katy Theodozio said she likes the instant feedback of online software, adding being part of the pilot let her start her teaching career off "with the latest technology and up-and-coming teaching methods."
Technology teacher Toni David shares students from gifted classes. "Our program aligns with the idea that technology is part of the learning solution and students need basic technology skills to succeed in the 21st century," David said.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter, @NanAustin.