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Interactive Learning Environment Keeps Modesto Students Engaged

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The Classroom Performance System provides four district junior high math andscience classes with a wireless, collaborative, instant-response learning solution.

With a growing and diverseenrollment of 34,000 students,Modesto City Schools (CA)invested its $500,000 Enhancing EducationThrough Technology grant in technologyfor maximum impact in math and scienceclasses at four of its junior high schools. Thetechnology purchased by the districtincluded computer-based math training;scientific measuring equipment for gathering,charting, and interpreting data; andparent access for online tracking of gradesand classroom assignments. But the componentthat has made the biggest impact on thejunior high classes is Pearson NCS’ (www.pearsonncs.com/cps) Classroom PerformanceSystem (CPS), a wireless interactiveresponse system that lets every student use ahandheld remote to respond to teachers’questions, while providing instructors withimmediate feedback on how well theirstudents understand a topic. A portion of thegrant money was used to buy 12 classroomperformance systems, CPS Challenge Boardsoftware for each, and six CPS Chalkboards.

Each CPS comes with a receiver thatplugs into the teacher’s computer through aUSB or serial port, and 40 response pads thattransmit students’ answers to the receiver byinfrared signal. A projector or monitor thencan be used to display true/false or multiple choicequestions, as well as the answer givenby each student. CPS makes it easy to buildlessons by including 57 question templatesand the ability to: import state standards,access ExamView item banks, create yourown questions, and complement questionswith graphics/ diagrams. The system alsohas automated grading and reports fortracking student performance against statestandards.

CPS Challenge Board software waspurchased for each system. In mimickingthe TV game show Jeopardy, ChallengeBoard provides an opportunity for collaborativelearning by allowing students toform teams and compete to answer questionsgrouped by subject matter and difficulty.The Challenge Board has introduceda new form of collaborative learning in afun, interactive game format that createslively sessions which reinforce understandingthrough repetition and review.

The CPS Chalkboards are wirelessgraphic palettes that let teachers draw on theprojected image from anywhere in the classroom.Teachers can even circle an object ordemonstrate how to solve a problem.

Improving Teaching and Student Performance

We recruited 23 seventh-grade math andscience teachers to share CPS kits the firstyear. In October 2004, Pearson NCSprovided one day of introductory trainingspecifically for math teachers and anotherday just for science teachers. Then inDecember, the teachers received additionaltraining on importing ExamViewquestion banks to create lessons. Havingaccess to questions that are right from thetextbook and that align with state standardsis a big advantage.

After first-semester final exams, thescience and math students scored anaverage of four to six percentage pointshigher on test scores. The teachers attributethat increase, in part, to CPS. Otherwise,the evidence is mostly anecdotal butcompelling. When visiting a class wherethe CPS is being used, there’s no questionthat it helps the teacher engage students.Students clearly have fun answering questions;in the process, they test their knowledgeand see which areas they understandand those that they have yet to grasp.

The interactivity of the CPS also encouragesall students to participate, because onlythe teacher knows who is controlling whichanswer pad. This high level of involvementcreates teachable moments. The students’answers instantly alert the teacher if the classor individuals are having trouble with aconcept. When students are punching thebuttons, the instructor can see who is hesitatingand who is changing his response.Teachers can even see when students don’tget the concept, and can stop and explain itto them. In addition, teachers can measurecomprehension at any given moment, andeither move on or spend a little more timeon a lesson, which helps improve teachingand student performance.

When it comes to testing, CPS has reallychanged our methodology. Teachers canmake a PowerPoint presentation and pauseto ask questions along the way, or they canuse paper tests and have students answerusing their remotes. Either way, the resultsautomatically store in the CPS gradebook.

Investing in Student Learning

I’m passionate about developing the lifeskills our students will need on a daily basisand in their future. In their careers, they willwork in teams, do problem solving, interpretresults, and use technology. We havealso been teaching teachers to integratetechnology into the classroom to get themaway from stereotypical chairs-in-a-row,rote memorization, and hand raising. We’restriving to make technology seamless inthe teaching process so that it’s just asnatural for students to interact with technologyas it is for them to use a pen or pencil.

Next year, we’ll buy about 20 moresystems for eighth-grade science andmath, and we’ll probably expand usethroughout the school. This technologyhas made testing exciting for students andteachers. With the CPS in the classroom,students actually come into class eagerlyasking, “Are we having a quiz today?” Andteachers say their colleagues are begging touse CPS. Ask any one of our teachers andthey’ll tell you that CPS was the best investmentwe could have made in technologyfor junior high math and science.

Larry Hines is director of instructionaltechnology for the Modesto City Schools.E-mail: Hines.l@monet.k12.ca.us.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.

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