New way of teaching math clicks with students
Devon Judge, 13, an eighth-grader at Wilkinsburg Middle School, listened to an instructor through headphones and read a question on his computer screen during his math class.
"It's challenging, but I like it because I can visualize it," Devon said, as he reviewed his answers.
He then picked up a pencil and scribbled down some calculations on a work sheet. After a pause, he clicked his selection, and the computer flashed words of praise: "Great Job!"
The clicks of a mouse replace the tip tap of chalk across a blackboard during mathematics classes that use "I CAN Learn" software at Wilkinsburg Middle School.
"I CAN Learn," is an interactive, self-paced program used to teach pre-algebra and algebra courses in middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide. Wilkinsburg Middle School is one of only two Pennsylvania schools to use it. Roosevelt Middle School in Lycoming County is the other.
John Staudacher, director of technology for the Wilkinsburg schools, said the state Department of Education paid for the computer system in Wilkinsburg.
"We try to evaluate all online program options that'll provide instruction to students at all levels," Staudacher said.
The "I CAN Learn" system is valued at $300,000 for a 30-student classroom and provides three years of technical support and training, said John R. Lee, president of Jackson, Miss.-based JRL Enterprises Inc., which distributes the system.
Lee said the program is effective for students in urban, suburban and rural settings and reaches students who have not responded well to traditional teaching methods, but are engaged by computers.
More than 150,000 students use the program, which debuted in the 1994-95 school year. Lee said schools using the program have been able to boost their test scores.
According to a study from the company, two middle schools in Los Angeles that previously had state test results below school district averages boosted their results above the averages after using the program last year.
Last year, 26.2 percent of Wilkinsburg Middle School eighth-graders achieved the ranking of "proficient" or "advanced" on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment test.
"We were looking for something feasible for our low-performing students," Wilkinsburg Superintendent Archie Perrin said.
"We view it as a program on how it's going to be implemented. The success or failure of this is about implementation, how students pass or fail tests, take notes ... This doesn't replace teaching. This is a tool," Perrin said.
In the program, students don't carry a textbook. An instructor's manual is provided by JRL Enterprises. A one-year course has 88 lessons, and every lesson has 10 problems. If a student makes a mistake on one, a lesson review automatically begins.
The two Wilkinsburg Middle School mathematics teachers -- eighth-grade teacher Russell Bush and seventh-grade teacher Cami Plymire -- said they like the program as much as the students in the classes seem to.
"I feel a lot better," Bush said. "I feel like I can get to people individually now."
Eighth-grader Petrice Taylor, 13, said she likes working on the computer.
"If I sit down with paper and pen all the time, I get bored," she said.
"I think I know more and this is helping me a lot, said Petrice, who is beginning to learn algebra.
Brian McDonald, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said technology in the classroom benefits students in the long term.
"We're dealing with a competition that is truly global," McDonald said. "In order to adequately prepare students to compete for the best jobs and pay, we want to offer the best resources and tools to enhance the way we're teaching in the classroom."