Study Island motivates Columbia elementary students

Friday, March 25, 2011 | 7:38 p.m. CDT; updated 6:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday, March 26, 2011

COLUMBIA — Freddie Boland has 108 blue ribbons, and he’s only in the second grade.

Even though the ribbons are virtual, winning them has given Freddie an academic boost.

His elementary school, Cedar Ridge, has adopted a national, online academic program called Study Island, which rewards students with blue ribbons as they progress through subjects such as math and communication arts.

Freddie is class leader in blue ribbons, and he's happy to show anyone how it works.

"Question 1," he said. "Nighttime is usually described as being ...”

He laughed when he saw that one of the possible answers was "flat."

"Well, that is obviously wrong," he said. “The answer is D: Dark!”

Some schools in Columbia, such as Cedar Ridge, are new to Study Island. Other schools, such as Parkade Elementary, have been using the program for years.

“We started it about a month and a half ago, and the kids can’t seem to get enough of it," Cedar Ridge Principal Angie Beutenmiller said. “I can’t tell you how many messages I’ve gotten from students telling me how many ribbons they have now. It’s a great feeling as an educator.”

Beutenmiller said the students also get a real kick out of teachers and principals sending messages to them.

"This one is from Mrs. Pudenz, my teacher," Freddie said. "She said she's proud of all our blue ribbons and we're lucky to have Study Island because it will make us super smart."

Second-grade teacher Chris Pudenz takes Freddie and other classmates to the computer lab at least three times a week in the mornings for Study Island time.

Pudenz said she hasn't met a student who doesn't like it.

"Our saying in class is we're going to the island," she said. "One day we even put on Hawaiian leis and went down to the lab to get on Study Island."

Pudenz called it very kid- and family-friendly. She thinks the program is able to kill two birds with one stone. 

"The kids are happy because they feel like they're playing a game," she said. "And the teachers are happy because it's just the type of game we like, a game that has to do with prefixes and suffixes and tens and ones."

Freddie said his parents encourage him to log on at home, and sometimes they will even watch over his shoulder and cheer him on.

"They think it's educational or something," he said.

Parkade School has been using Study Island since 2008.

“We began using it for our after-school tutoring program, Power of the Paw, but have enlarged the program and its use after last year,” Parkade Principal Amy Watkins said.  

Last year, Watkins said teachers began using the program in their classrooms, and this year, they’re systematically using it with all their second- through fifth-graders.

Students can use it during literacy centers time, classroom visits to the computer lab and after school in day care and at home, Watkins said. 

“Many of our students took full advantage of this at-home feature during all of the snow days we’ve had this year," Watkins said.

Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon said Study Island serves as a change of pace for kids.

Lyon, along with Peter Stiepleman, the assistant superintendent for elementary education, played an integral part in approving Study Island for Columbia schools.

“It is fun and engaging for them, and better than doing worksheets in a lot of ways,” Lyon said.

It serves as more than just a break from the ordinary classroom routine. Study Island compiles data from users within the schools that can be used to track school progress.

“You can look at how an individual student is doing in communication arts, how the fourth grade is doing overall in math, or what areas the entire school may be struggling in,” Beutenmiller said.

Pudenz said she likes that the program could be used to both identify areas where some students may need a little extra help and also allow other students the chance to strengthen their skills. 

"For the kids who are struggling in a certain area, I can see the items missed and make adjustments to instruction," Pudenz said. " I can also go in and make my own custom assignments. But for kids like Freddie, Study Island can be used as a self-tool. He can advance all on his own. It allows for individualization."

The data can also be accessed by building, classroom or individual student, which allows for rich conversations, Watkins said.

“Our plan is to collaborate together to gauge the effectiveness of this program to improve student achievement,” she said. “The data is easily understandable and easily comparable between buildings.”

Students are even given the chance to move up grade levels in math or communication arts, depending on how well they do on the previous level. 

"Two more question sets," Freddie announced, "and I'm in third-grade math."

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Betsy Murphy March 26, 2011 | 2:01 p.m.

This article goes a long way towards explaining why students, even when they become "college" students, expect to be entertained.

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