- Associated Press - Sunday, May 4, 2014

KINDERHOOK, Ill. (AP) - Sitting in front of the computer screen, Emery Rucker makes a note, then reaches for her calculator to work out a problem.

It’s a math class at Western Junior High School, fueled by Edgenuity, a provider of online and blended learning solutions for schools across the nation.

Students move through the lesson at their own pace in the computer lab, where it’s quiet enough to hear every click of the mouse under the low murmur of conversation when a student asks a question of teacher Liz Greger.

“It’s a good way to concentrate. You usually have your headphones. You kind of tune out everything else and focus on your education,” said Emery, an eighth-grader.

The district expanded Edgenuity into all sixth- to 12th-grade classes this year and became the only one in the area to launch eSpark, a similar program for kindergarten to fifth-grade students.

“It helps us connect what we’re learning in class to other world things. It challenges us,” eighth-grader Paige Borrowman said.

“We don’t have just a teacher. We have different ways it can be explained to you,” said Paige’s classmate, Makenna Myers.

Greger introduced her algebra students to the Pythagorean Theorem with an Edgenuity lesson on Monday, spent Tuesday and Wednesday in classroom instruction, and revisited it online Thursday.

“No one learns just one way,” Greger said. “Maybe if they didn’t understand it in the classroom, they can be taught on Edgenuity and understand it better.”

Greger creates templates for the students to follow on Edgenuity tied to classroom work, then keeps close tabs on their progress.

“If they’re moving faster, I can take things out. Maybe they don’t take that quiz or do that assignment. I can pick and choose,” she said. “There’s a bunch of different apps and more graphic material instead of me just instructing the class.”

Junior high and high school students usually spend a portion of each day on Edgenuity, while elementary students log in three times a week.

High School Principal and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher-leader Connie Thomas said it’s important to expose students to the technology and broaden classroom offerings.

“It allows us to give our students electives they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get. Psychology, sociology. I know the art teacher has brought in art design, graphic art,” she said.

But students say it’s important to balance technology with traditional classroom instruction.

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