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21st century learning: Kaneland students talk about computer-based program at education conference

ST. CHARLES – Andrea Petrarca stood near a poster board Thursday at a table in a crowded conference room at Pheasant Run Resort and Conference Center, and explained how important computers have become to her school days.

Kaneland students were there with their teacher, Beth Trafton, as part of an exhibit at the Illinois Computing Educators Conference, which drew thousands from the education community to various events and exhibits throughout the day.

Petrarca, a senior at Kaneland High School, flipped through a book and showed examples of how tools such as comic strips, Google Docs and flash cards have helped enhance the learning experience in special-education classes at the school.

Petrarca said that has made a huge difference.

“My disability is writing,” Petrarca said, adding that it “is hard for me to write a full essay.”

Instead, she said, the computer-based tools allow her to learn in other ways.

Petrarca and two fellow students, Alexander Ochoa and Arturo Silva, were at the station with Trafton.

The students said they have enjoyed the ability to use the computer tools, especially Google Docs, which will allow Trafton to look over students’ work as they write it. Also, the students described a comic strip they created based on “The Canterbury Tales,” in which each student would create a character.

Students said they have been using the tools for two years, and Ochoa, a junior, described his writing lessons as a freshman as difficult.

“We didn’t have all this technology,” Ochoa said. “I’m a visual learner.”

Silva agreed.

“It was hard to write our papers,” he said. “I’m not very good at writing. I got half of the words wrong.” And now, he said, it seems like it’s a lot less work.

Trafton said that only seems to be the case. While it’s true they might not write traditional essays, she said they are putting in just as much effort and time.

“They thought they did less work, and they thought it was easier,” she said. But she said that the only difference was the method and the format.

“And that’s really what 21st century learning is all about,” she said.

She said the opportunity to have the special-education students presenting at the conference was a big deal.

“A lot of people look at them and say, ‘They are special-ed students. What can they do?’ ” she said. “But just because they learn differently, it doesn’t mean they don’t learn.”

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