New technology was the focus of the Henry County Board of Education’s November meeting as the board discussed a new math initiative.
The Carnegie Learning cognitive math tutor is expected to boost students’ math skills at both the middle and high school levels. Middle school principal Zach Woods said the investment will be worthwhile. “We just spent $34,000 on this technology,” he said. “We may go totally to Carnegie. We definitely need to improve our math skills.”
Assistant Superintendent Kricket McClure said the district has been looking at the Carnegie tutor for some time. She said it was being used in Carroll County schools and a team from Henry County went there to observe. “It is a different way of teaching math,” McClure said. “It’s all problem driven starting with what we would call a word problem.”
Woods said an integral piece in the district’s math goal is the teaching staff and they are impressed with Carnegie. He said math teacher Jason Harris is an asset to the program. “He’s really strong in technology,” he said, “and he’s been studying ways to improve our math scores.”
Harris said the way to teach children math is through visuals. He said, for example, one class was discussing the St. Louis Arch in an algebraic context. “To demonstrate how rickety the elevator is, a student suggested ‘See if there’s a YouTube video,’” he said. Harris said the Carnegie Learning system complements class work in a visual way. “If they can see it, they can do it,” he said.
A bank of computers connected to the Internet, a clicker system and an “air-liner” (overhead receiver) have been installed in the classroom. Harris gave a clicker to each board member, then displayed multiple choice questions on a large screen at the front of the room. He told the board members to aim their clickers at the air-liner and click in their answers. The answers are automatically tallied. He said this gives students and the teacher a “snapshot” of how many class members are correct. “It’s a great way to see anonymously if the kids know what’s going on,” Harris said. “They can do the problems from their seats, and it makes a big impact.”
Woods said the clicker system also allows teachers to emphasize a class’s strengths and weaknesses in real-time. “This gives him instant data,” he said, “to see if he’s on track to teach what he wants to with the students.”
Harris also had board members try out the Cognitive Tutor computerized math program. “This is a lesson where kids are working on skills they need help with,” he said. “If you get three answers in a row right, it goes on to the next part.”
Woods said the program adjusts to each student’s skill level. “You can challenge kids who are above grade level,” he said, “and help kids learn who are below. It gives the problems in different ways until they learn.”
McClure said there is a hint space students can use if struggling with a particular problem or concept, and the intelligent software tracks progress. “The teacher can see that the student is having trouble,” she said, “and take him aside to work on it.”
Both teachers and students are embracing the program, according to McClure. “The students are absorbed, enjoying it and engaged,” she said, “and the teachers are pumped.”
Woods said students also can access the program from home if they want to do extra work. Chief Information Officer Nikkol Bauer said about 60 percent of Henry County students now have home access to the internet. “That’s pretty good, but still not way up there,” she said. Harris said using the program at home can be a boon to learning. “I have a student who’s trying to beat me to the end of the textbook,” he said.
Woods said the schools employ four math teachers and students are receiving more attention in mathematics. They go to computer lab two days per week and regular math three days per week. “We’re still learning and adjusting it,” he said. Teachers received three days of intensive training on the system.
Bauer said the program is fully integrated and includes components of classwork, self-paced computer lessons and textbook use. “The program is not just the software,” she said. “They spend less than half their time on the computer. They get a lot of group work.”
An injection of funding from state coffers will help offset the cost. Superintendent Tim Abrams told the board that the district recently received $21,752 in School Facilities Construction Commission money to be used for education technology. “I recommend we accept and match the SFCC assistance,” he said, “so we can buy more stuff like you saw tonight.”
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