Like other school districts across the country, Region 16 Education Service Center — covering schools in the Texas “panhandle” — strives to improve student performance while meeting the mandates of NCLB, the No Child Left Behind Act, dealing with ever-increasing workloads, and facing the pressure to provide greater access to computerized learning tools for all students. To tackle these challenges, we are always looking for creative ways to meet these lofty goals, such as the school-wide deployment of low-cost handheld computers, or Personal Digital Assistants – PDA’s.
The PDA offers opportunities to stimulate young minds and engage students at a cost-per-student much lower than for traditional desktop or laptop computers while making teachers more efficient. Handhelds have been useful for entering text in the Memo Pad, learning time and time zones, staying organized, etc., but to increase their capability as a powerful teaching tool they need to be equipped with software programs specifically designed for enhancing a student’s education. As we looked for software programs to enhance our students’ learning opportunities with PDAs, we discovered the fun, yet powerful, educational games offered by Leading Step — games such as SpellChamp!, designed specifically for the elementary classroom.
Our team found SpellChamp! while researching software solutions that would meet the requirements of the RFP for the Panhandle Academic Advancement in Literacy and Math, or PAALM grant, sponsored by the Texas Education Agency. Our region won a PAALM grant, funded for three years, and we have put to use several handheld reading and math applications in the classroom, including SpellChamp!, which 130 teachers and 2,000 students in 12 school districts and 19 campuses now use.
The PAALM grant team selected SpellChamp! for several reasons:
- We liked the fact that SpellChamp! presents the words to students in the context of sentences. Since using context clues is a vital part of reading comprehension, this was a significant factor.
- Another noteworthy aspect of the program is its integrated database, which includes over 5,800 frequently used words. Teachers use this database to create groups of words for students to practice, saving them valuable time by eliminating the need to type the words themselves. Various criteria, such as letter combinations or number of syllables, help select words chosen. They may also be chosen according to sixteen different spelling rules including those with distinct prefixes or suffixes, or selected from ten diverse categories such as homophones, compound words, or contractions. Once a new word group is created, the teacher simply beams it to the students.
- Another SpellChamp! feature is the ability to increase the level of word difficulty. Students progress from recognizing the correct spelling, to unscrambling the letters of a word, to filling in the blanks of the word, to spelling it completely on their own. This feature allows students at any level to feel successful.
- SpellChamp! makes teachers more efficient: the existing word database, coupled with the ability to select words based on spelling rules, is a real time-saving feature and the tracking component allows teachers to monitor student progress and determine trouble areas.
SpellChamp! has been a welcome addition to the schools of the Texas Panhandle – for both students and teachers. Based on the success of the SpellChamp! program, our schools have begun offering students other Leading Step games, including "Size It Up", “Shape Up: Geometry” and MathChamp!.