Online courses offered to Phillips TAG students

Phillips Middle School is now offering online courses for its Talented and Gifted Students.

“The Belin-Blank Center at the University of Iowa is doing a pilot program this spring and they’re offering selected schools the opportunity to participate,” Diane Pratt, TAG instructor, said.

The pilot offers online, high school-level courses to middle school students to see if it makes a difference in the students’ level of challenge, level of engagement, and improves test scores, among other areas, Pratt said.

“They have a whole study going on,” she said. “We were selected because of the degree of interest and support for our gifted students in Fort Dodge, in our schools.”

Fort Dodge Community School District has a “long relationship” with the Belin-Blank Center, Pratt said.

“Our high school students take advanced-placement online courses through them,” she said. “We’ve had this long working relationship and then we were fortunate enough to be one of the schools they selected to add a middle school program into.”

The program started in January, and is supervised by Jennifer Larson, Phillips TAG instructor.

“She has students working at different times during the day, it’s not a class,” Pratt said. “She has five or possibly six different classes that the individual students are taking, and she supervises their progress.”

The program comes with software support, so the supervising teacher can see how each student is doing, the quality of their work and when they last worked online, Pratt said. The students are also given the opportunity to work on it every day in class.

“It’s a good way for students to be offered online classes because there’s a great deal of support and there’s a live person right there that can monitor the student’s progress,” she said. “Sometimes with online classes you just login and do the multiple choice stuff and it’ll grade it and you’re done. This program, the students have not only the local person helping them, but also there is an instructor they interact with regularly, a real person who gives them feedback.”

The Phillips students are enjoying the pilot program, Pratt said.

“They love it,” she said. “The students that (Larson) has working are just right on top of things, she hasn’t had to help them out too much. They’re highly motivated to do this.”

According to Pratt, the students were able to choose courses in the subjects that most interested them.

“One student is taking creative writing, one student is taking psychology,” she said. “They were able to select the course they wanted, so there’s a little bit of motivation right there. They found something they were interested in, and are doing very well so far.”

Pratt said these students benefit from extra academic opportunities and challenges.

“A highly able student sitting in a regular classroom, when they’re not motivated or challenged, it’s as stressful for them to sit in that classroom as it is for a lower-level learner who doesn’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “It’s important for us to get our TAG students to a level where they’re being challenged and are actually learning something new instead of learning the stuff they already know.”