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Texas Replaces School Science Books with a 21st Century eLearning Solution

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced last year that they planned to replace printed science text books in their schools with eBooks that could be downloaded by the students and teachers.  A Houston-based educational resources company decided that schools would benefit from a far more ambitious resource and invested heavily into developing a 21st Century science teaching program that will show the rest of the world the future of education.   Texas schools are not being offered eBooks as a replacement to their printed textbooks, they are being offered eLearning.


The move to electronic content is schools follows a technology progression that exists outside schools, observed heavily by the generation of young people who will use the resource TEA will invest in.


Rather like music and film downloads, which have overtaken physical media purchasing in stores, the concept of purchasing and reading eBooks has already gone far beyond just a vision of the future.  eBooks have already outsold printed books from the biggest book suppliers, Amazon, who stated that they had sold 105 eBooks for 100 printed books through their website in April this year.   It is therefore a fairly logical move for TEA to take an interest in eBooks.


eBooks and eLearning is not a move to scrap books, it is a move to take advantage of a host of new features that computer software can offer students over a static printed page.


Curriculum supplied in a digital format can be updated immediately and provide a continuously up-to-date source of reference for the students.  Content in eBooks is easier to index and access so students can easily go straight to the topic they require.  It is also possible to get a whole library of eBooks on a memory stick or CD and carry them around in your pocket.  Many eBooks are available to access directly online using a web-enabled device.  If the content is online, then the students only need to have an internet connection in order to access the entire library and not have to worry which books they have brought with them to school.  Large computer organizations such as Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are investing heavily in “cloud technology” and the concept of renting digital content on web servers to subscribers.


Most students are used to accessing their media on their computers and books are no exception.  It makes sense that the students access school resources using a method that they are now completely used to.


Digital textbooks are also seen to be a green solution that will greatly the reduce paper consumption across schools in the state.


When the TEA made the announcement that they intended to replace printed science books used in Texas schools with electronic versions, the well established Texas educational company, “Technical Laboratory Systems Inc” (Tech Labs) had a vision of replacing the books with a new and very ambitious 21st century eLearning solution called “a href="" target="_blank">SciTex Learning”.   Unlike most traditional publishers of text books who wanted digital equivalents of their existing titles (with perhaps a few enhanced illustrations), Tech Labs decided to invest substantially into a project


Tech Labs, based in Houston, decided to develop a full eLearning solution with engaging, dynamic, multimedia and interactive content as an alternative to ‘eBooks’.  After all, most of the elementary schools across Texas are already using media-rich science eLearning materials supplied by tech Labs – why shouldn’t the middle and high schools have access to similar resources as well?  They saw little advantage in simply digitizing existing text.   


Students use multimedia resources everyday while using social and content sharing websites such as Facebook, My Space, You Tube, MSN, Twitter and now Google Plus.  Teaching materials need to reflect the way that students gather information outside school and communicate information in ways that they would expect it.


SciTex Learning consists of a blended learning solution with powerful theory presentations that are fully illustrated with video, animated graphics, simulations and interactive activities.  Each presentation is accompanied by a tutor character that will add a voice-over for the information on the screen. 


This project was a massive undertaking and required a large and highly skilled human resource to action it within a very short time frame.  Tech Labs decided to work with one of the world’s best known science, technology and engineering educational software houses, LJ Create Inc.  LJ Create is an Anglo-American company who has produced teaching materials for a global market for almost as many years as Tech Labs (Tech Labs was founded in 1977 and LJ in 1979).   LJ Create was able to provide a highly experienced and multi-skilled workforce of teachers, eLearning specialists, technical authors, educational editors, photographers, artists, graphic designers, animators, video producers, and software development engineers that the project required.

Tech Labs and LJ have worked hand-in-hand on many successful projects for spreading across three decades.  With Tech Labs’ knowledge of the Texas science education specification and a massive and highly experienced eLearning development team effort that LJ could readily supply, the partnership became a winning solution.           


The Tech Labs / LJ partnership for school science resources is no surprise to many science teachers across Texas.  LJ Create’s science materials supplied by Tech Labs have already been used in hundreds of elementary schools across Texas, with teachers stating that the students’ TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) scores have improved dramatically since their new lab installations.


The result of the big team effort, 'SciTex Learning' is a complete online science curriculum solution for Middle and High Schools in the State of Texas.  It is a complete science curriculum especially designed for Texas by Texans.  Even the name of the science solution comes from the combination of the words ‘SCIence’ and ‘TEXas’.


Tech Labs was proud to have this brand new range of middle and high school science eLearning resource approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) during the evaluation process in June this year.


The addition of the middle and high school ranges means that Scitex can cover science from Elementary School or Kindergarten up to year 12 (K12).


The new Scitex system covers combined Science at Middle School level and the subjects of Biology, Physics, Chemistry and IPC (Integrated Physics and Chemistry) at High School level as specified by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).


The program features 100% coverage of the 2010 TEKS. 100% alignment to the TEKS is assured with a standards based menu system. Teachers and students select lessons base upon TEKS, student outcomes, or even a specific breakout. Students and teachers can display the related TEKS and student outcomes within the software. This makes the Scitex system easy to use with any form of curriculum mapping.


Scitex includes interactive science laboratory simulations for true inquiry-based learning. Students can place apparatus, sensors and samples anywhere on screen while sophisticated algorithms link items together for a truly life-like hands-on experience. Students plan and implement their own experimental inquiry, all done on-screen and on-line.   It is easy to use and full of experiential learning activities.


The program includes presentations that can be downloaded and customized by teachers, audio tracks and videos.


Assessment questions form part of the learning experience, allowing students to test their own knowledge against a particular outcome.


Thomas M. Deliganis of Tech Labs explains why Scitex has been so successful at elementary school and should be implemented at all school levels...


While true Artificial intelligence is still in our future, Interactivity and Simulations are here now. They are proven pedagogical methodologies that are already being used with science instruction in Texas’ schools. One such product, SciTEX (and there are others) is being used in hundreds of districts throughout the state.


According to Dr. Greg Garcia, Science Coordinator at Brownsville ISD and former Petroleum Engineer:


“Our science TAKS scores were flat until we implemented SciTEX. We immediately saw significant gains allowing our students to be academically competitive with any students in the state”.


And this is a district with an overwhelming number of Hispanic minority students who are well below the poverty line. If the result of this adoption process is to merely digitize textbooks from the same ole’ publishers who brought us those bulging backpacks then we are wasting a seminal opportunity leap forward. Our students deserve computer based lessons that use the full power of the computers to interact with the learner and simulate scientific concepts, experiments and processes in ways that engage our digital natives to learn and achieve more than any generation before them. If this is accomplished then no other state or country will have the effective basal science materials that will be available for our Texas students.


The academic discipline we call science is by its very nature exploratory, experimental and engaging. Popular among science educators and policymakers alike are the Five E’s Learning Cycle Model: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate and Evaluate. You cannot hope to facilitate the Five E’s when computers are used as electronic page turners and the content is passive and not interactive. Science demands that practitioners and students use all of their learning senses: tactile, auditory, visual and etc. as they solve problems, unlock mysteries while simultaneously applying both creativity and discipline. Therefore if science instruction is to be deployed via computer or similar device then its essential that media and instructional materials used be laden with highly engaging interactivity and simulations. Or as Dr. Garcia of Brownsville ISD notes:


“If we use computers to merely upload and deploy our passive and boring textbooks without changing the very nature of the pedagogy, then we are wasting the taxpayer’s money”.


Carlos Chavez of Rivera High School, Brownsville talks about using the science resources in his school.


"I feel that the product has been instrumental in helping the students be successful."


For more information or to tryout some of the resources, visit the SciTex Learning

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