When the Michigan State Board of Education instituted a high school graduation requirement mandating two credits of a foreign language and one online learning course, it created an opportunity to tackle "21st Century Skill Sets" with 21st century technology.
The addition of the language and online requirements was part of the state's initiative to include more rigorous academic classes to better prepare students for the global needs of the future and, according to board of education president Kathleen N. Straus, "We needed to act now."
Tim Brannan, professor of educational technology at Central Michigan University, saw an opportunity to test new waters while helping schools meet the new requirement. He obtained a twoyear grant to introduce online learning at the middle school level, believing that middle school students with a foreign language grounding would have a better foundation for fulfilling the high school graduation requirement.
Brannan, who has directed college-level distance-learning programs, implemented powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> for Spanish I and II in the Lansing and Dewitt districts.
The powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> method is a core component of the program. Unlike other language programs, which are primarily retooled adult learning products, powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> is designed specifically for children. The program uses games, simple narratives and regular writing and speaking challenges to engage young students.
"With powerspeaK??, the kids build an avatar of themselves and learn the language through songs, storytelling and games," says Brannan. "But it's not just 'edutainment' because there are lessons, learning objectives and assessment. It's a fun way for kids to learn a language, but they still have to be motivated because the courses are stringent learning."
The roughly 100 students who signed up in the Lansing and DeWitt districts were able to access the online language programs during after-school programs and also from home computers. Those who completed both programs and also passed a written and oral proficiency test were awarded high school credit and would be immediately eligible for Spanish II once they entered the ninth grade.
Brannan expects to show that students using an accessible and fun program such as powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> would be encouraged to continue with foreign language study in high school because they wanted to, and not just because it was a requirement.
Although district administrators supported the program, there were some concerns among foreign language teachers about the quality of content. Brannan said the teachers were encouraged to use the program so they could judge the quality of powerspeaK?? for themselves. After the teachers spent time using the courses, they approved and supported the program, Brannan says.
The true benefits of the program are yet to be fully explored, Brannan notes, because the students have not been tested or entered high school. But anecdotal evidence is encouraging: Students are engaged and having fun with the powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> method.
"Now that foreign language is a high school requirement coupled with an online requirement, such a program can help satisfy both requirements," says Brannan. "In addition, because kids are so busy nowadays, it's hard for them to find the time to explore a language program at their own pace. The program is serving this need, and they can earn credit."
For more information about powerspeaK<sup>12</sup> go to www.k12.com/powerspeak-demo