Indianapolis charter school trying out computer-based curriculum

Mark Forner, principal

Efforts to improve Indiana schools are challenging students in ways they could not have anticipated even just a few years ago. A new Indianapolis charter school has students working longer and learning from teachers inside computers. They call the experience "awesome."

With so many cubicles and so many computers, it looks more like a workplace than a classroom. Turns out, it's both.

"I see individual learning taking place. I see a lot of kids working hard," said Dr. Mark Forner, principal of the new Carpe Diem charter school. "If you like our model, we are considered progressive. If you feel threatened, we are considered radical," Forner added with a smile.

A computer-based curriculum is tailored to each student. They work independently at their own pace, but must complete a certain number of lessons each day.

An elaborate network of computers, tablets, and teachers keep tabs on everyone's progress.

While a teacher or coach may not be in sight, those educators are looking over the shoulders of every single student using a wireless handheld electronic Nook.

"She's ahead in math but needs to get caught up here," Josh McKinney said as he scrolled through a few pages of a student's real time data.

The math coach says he knows a student's in trouble and needs help even before they raise their hand and ask for it.

"And I can go over and say, 'I see you are struggling, you want to talk about this?' During our visit, several teachers were moving from cubicle to cubicle answering student's questions and asking a few of their own.

Students who aren't struggling can jump head and skip over what they've already learned. It keeps Jessica Elliott, an eighth grader, from being bored. "I don't have to go through the lecture, if I already know it. I can take the test and pass it, so it's awesome," she said.

There are also traditional classes. So-called "workshops" give students an opportunity to compare notes, ask questions and see the importance of what they are learning.

"We are not taunted by the age-old question, 'When are we going to use this?' We are shown right then and there," said Elijah Pouges, a high school junior.

Carpe Diem started in Yuma, Arizona and plans to open several more schools in Indianapolis.

The eight-hour school day is about two hours longer than most. But there is a benefit. Carpe Diem "seize the day" allows students to own the nights. They don't have homework.