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Tuesday, June 8, 2004



Online math course
is new teacher's pet

Isle educators laud the experiment
for its help with students




Isle pilot adds up

What: Public and private schools are invited to pilot online courses in pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II starting this fall.

Cost: Free in exchange for data on use of the pilot course

Sponsors: Pacific Center for Advanced Training and Technology at Honolulu Community College, McGraw-Hill, Cisco Systems Inc. and EdgePoint Technology

For more information: Click on Global Learning Network Pilot at www.pcatt.org



When Ikaika Plunkett was studying to become a teacher, he wrote a paper on how the Internet would change the face of education. Today, he's living the reality -- and getting time to surf after school as a result.

"I used to spend 2 1/2 hours grading homework each night," said the 29-year-old math teacher at Kahuku High and Intermediate School. "Now the students get it instantaneously on the computer. They do the work and they know right away. It's a breakthrough for me."

The change is the result of an online algebra course he tested this year that gives students immediate, personalized feedback on their work. Teachers still teach a regular classroom full of students, but instead of textbooks, their students use an interactive computer program that tailors itself to their needs.

Three industry giants -- McGraw-Hill, Cisco Systems Inc. and EdgePoint Technology -- have chosen Hawaii to test online courses this fall in pre-Algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II. The Global Learning Network Hawaii Pilot Project is being offered through a partnership with the Pacific Center for Advanced Training and Technology, a consortium of community colleges led by Honolulu Community College.

The courses are available free to public and private schools statewide. In exchange, schools are asked to provide data on their use. McGraw-Hill has not set a price on what the actual course will eventually cost.

The program does not replace teachers, it just gives them another tool to reach students.

"It's like a stronger textbook, an interactive textbook," said Lisa DeLong, Kahuku's principal.

The online Algebra I course was developed by Dallas Shiroma and Mario Mediati at the Pacific Center and sampled by several hundred students at six public schools and two community colleges during the past school year. McGraw-Hill and EdgePoint are creating the new pre-Algebra and Algebra II courses.

"This is the computer generation," said Michael Turico, chief technology officer for EdgePoint Technology, based in Phoenix. "If we can get them doing math problems instead of games, theoretically the scores should improve."

"Students need the classroom, the mentoring and the tutelage upfront from teachers," he added, "but teachers also need to quickly know which students are doing well and which are not, and in which areas."

This fall will include pre- and post-testing of students to see how their performance compares with those in traditional classrooms, information that was not collected in the initial algebra run.

Honolulu Community College Chancellor Ramsey Pedersen sees the new approach as a way to respond to what he calls the national and local "math crisis in the schools." Many students arrive at Hawaii's community colleges unable to handle basic math.

"Almost 40 percent of our students are in need of remediation in math," he said. "This is a real big issue for our adult learners. We have to get kids proficient in math, and we have to use the best technologies to do it."

The online textbook is dynamic, responding to what students do not know and steering them to relevant sections. When students are stumped on a problem, they can hit the "hint" button to get suggestions. The program offers guided solutions, quizzes and simulations.

"I liked it because you can learn at your own pace -- the teachers are not rushing you," said Cassy Young, who just completed 10th grade at Kahuku. "The computer explains it better than the textbook. They have several examples of how to do it, all different ways. A video clip shows you how to do it slowly. If you don't understand, you can push pause and figure it out."

Course developer Mediati said students appreciate the private feedback the computer gives them, because they do not want to "look stupid" in front of their peers. And the teachers like it because they can work more effectively with a range of students, letting the fast learners forge ahead.

"The ones out front don't get bored," Mediati said, "and the slower ones get more help."

To participate in the test, a school must have a lab with Internet access and at least one computer for every three students, preferably more. The Kahuku algebra classes had 30 students with 15 computers among them. Students either shared the computers or took turns, allowing the teachers to work with those not online.

"As a teacher, you cannot get to each student to give them the personalized assessment that you get from this program," said Kahuku math teacher Yvette McDonald. "You're more active with this, more one on one with the kids. You're walking around."

"I had kid with C's and D's last year that are pulling B's," she added. "They're so proud of themselves. They'd say, 'I hate math.' Now they say, 'I think I like math.'"

Although response to the test was overwhelmingly positive, it did not work for everyone. Amanda Wilson, a ninth-grader at Kahuku, said she did better with a traditional textbook during the first trimester. Her grade later slipped with the computer program, in part because rigid online tests required precise comma placement between answers, for example. It did not help that her computer at home is broken.

"The first trimester I got an A, and now I've got a C," she said last week. "I don't like computers. I think the teacher is a lot better because you can ask them questions."

At Radford High School, Math Department Chairman Herman Leong tried the computer program for one algebra class but dropped it after the first semester. He was using it to supplement the textbook, which was challenging because the sequence of topics differs, and he did not want to monopolize Radford's computer lab every day for his class.

"The way I was using the program didn't fit my needs," he said. "It was hard to do what I wanted to do with the textbook and then go to the computer lab. It's a matter of can you fit everything that you want to in your time limit."

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