- 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.

“Some understand more when in the classroom with a teacher. Some understand more when on the computer,” Emery said. “I like the balance it is now.”

Interim Superintendent Steve Goodman sees the technology as a way to supplement what goes on in the classroom.

“It’s not meant to say ‘here turn your computer on and wake me up in 45 minutes.’ It doesn’t work that way. Kids need attention when they reach areas they struggle with,” Goodman said.

“It’s kind of like in the old days when you would assign math problems and walk around the class to see if they were doing it right. That’s about what you’ve got to do when you use different programs on Edgenuity and eSpark.”

Films and audiovisual materials supplemented instruction when Goodman was in the classroom, and he sees today’s technology filling the same purpose.

The hope is to build on the growing interest and skill in using technology at all grade levels to boost student performance.

Western failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The district is in its second year of district improvement in reading and academic early warning status in math.

Boosting technology use is part of the effort to improve. Elementary and Junior High Principal Michaela Fray points to gains made from fall to winter in math and reading scores.

“We’re above where we should be for midyear,” she said. “In math goals and reading goals aligned to eSpark, especially in math, we’re making significant growth.

“The great thing about eSpark is it takes all the best educational apps and actually chooses educational quests for each individual child based on their measurement of academic progress, their MAP scores. So let’s say that you’re a fourth-grader and reading on a sixth-grade level, your eSpark quest will be aligned to sixth-grade standards. If you’re working below grade level, you’ll be able to master Common Core standards.”

The transition hasn’t been without growing pains.

“I like it, but it can be a challenge to sit in front of a computer the entire period,” Myers said.

“Last week we didn’t have Internet,” eighth-grader Caleb Hart said. “One bad thing is if you’re in the middle of a test or something, and you need to go to next period, you can’t just save the test. You have to finish it or start it next hour.”


Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://bit.ly/1n76j1N


Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig, https://www.whig.com

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