As a new teacher 10 years ago, Iremember feeling the enormity of the job I had undertaken. My first class wasthe only fifth grade class in the school, and it consisted of 31 students ofvarying abilities. The school looked exactly like the elementary school Iattended when I was a child, except now there was a computer in my classroom.
I began that year as I have ever since, with a sense ofexcitement and expectation. I knew that my job was to impart knowledge to mystudents and have them leave fifth grade prepared for the rigors of middleschool. I was fresh out of graduate school and full of ideas about how I wouldaccomplish this task. I had the student textbooks and teacher manuals, and wasarmed and ready to go.
I spent a lot of time that year teaching from manuals andusing them like “bibles of teaching.” The students learned to take notes andwere ready for that aspect of middle school. I certainly did give them a lot ofinformation, but how much of it they retained, I wasn’t sure.
Use of the computer was very limited that first year. Iremember putting a student in the hall with the computer to play games becauseshe was unable to participate in the family life program. Other than wordprocessing, that was about the only use it had in the classroom.
Beginning to Use Technology
The school closed after that year and we moved to a brandnew facility the following fall. The new school was quite a change. Not onlydid we have two computers in each classroom, but we also now had an entire labfull of brand new computers that were networked and, by the end of the year,connected to the Internet.
We could sign our class up to use the computer lab two orthree times a week. Although I concentrated on word processing and keyboardingskills at first, eventually I grew a little braver and ventured out onto theWeb. We participated in such projects as a year-round scientific expeditioncalled the JASON Project, as well as in National Geographic projects, such ascommunicating with the Iditarod in Alaska.
Despite the school’s infusion of technology, my teaching hadnot changed much. Staff development sessions focused more on familiarizing uswith the different types of technology available, rather than on how tointegrate that technology in our instruction.
I still taught my students as if they were all on the samelevel, even though there was as much as a two- to three-year gap in abilities.I fully expected that my students who were behind in math would catch up. Afterall, they needed to know this material next year. There was no time to go back,review and still cover the fifth grade curriculum.
Unfortunately, the gap just grew wider. The students whowere behind become more so. And although those who were ahead were doing verywell, they were probably not as far ahead as they could be, because I waslimiting their exposure to more advanced math concepts and skills. But I wasimparting information and covering the curriculum, so I still felt like I wasdoing my job.
We did go to the computer lab to play math games, which wasmore fun than drill and practice, but still did not meet students’ individualneeds. This continued for the next four years, until I decided to transfer to anewly opened school.
What a difference three years makes in the world oftechnology in education. This school not only had a networked, 30-stationcomputer lab with access to the Internet, but four computers in each classroomas well. Three of the classroom computers were networked and one was connectedto the Internet.
With the spending of so much taxpayer money on technology,teachers were expected to start integrating technology into the curriculum.During the year, we attended seven full-day in-services at the county’scomputer training center. We learned to use a wide array of technology toolsand resources and, more importantly, began to learn how to integrate them intoour teaching.
The county spent a great deal of money on the technologytraining, and the way teachers saw their role in the classroom began to change.No longer was the classroom confined to four walls, one school, one county orone state. Now we had the ability to tap the Web.
Technology integration began to become an everydayoccurrence in my classroom. Projects included using the computer to teachstudents how to organize information using a database, researching a project onthe Internet, and using electronic encyclopedias. I saw my students becomingmore excited about learning. My teaching style also took a drastic change, asmy role became more of a facilitator and less of a dispenser of knowledge.
Piloting a New Solution
The role of technology was about to change even moredramatically in my classroom. At the end of the 1995-96 school year, ourprincipal announced that our school had been chosen to pilot SuccessMaker, acomputer-based curriculum solution from Computer Curriculum Corp. (CCC), forthe county. He was very excited about it.
Our population of students was very diverse. One third ofour population was on free or reduced lunch, and we had a very high specialeducation population. Our standardized test scores were not impressive. He sawthis curriculum courseware and management system as a way to teach to thestudents and their individual needs, thus bringing up test scores.
Work began almost immediately to get the system up andgoing. During the summer, the third, fourth and fifth grade teachers attendedan all-day training session to learn how to use the curriculum managementsystem that is integrated in the courseware. We began using SuccessMaker formath instruction that fall. We went to the computer lab three times a week. Atfirst, it seemed like it was just an additional 20 minutes of math to add tothe day. The benefits and advantages were not clear to us until the standardizedtest scores came back. We were shocked to see that there was a huge improvementin our test scores.
The comparison between our Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS)results from 1996 (pre-CCC) and Stanford 9 results from 1997 (post-CCC)demonstrated the gains as students in grades three, four, and five showed anincrease in their national percentile ranks in math. As a result of oursuccessful pilot program, the county adopted the math courseware county-wide.
Instituting Standards ofLearning
At about the same time, our state instituted Standards ofLearning (SOL), which held students and teachers accountable for studentlearning. Tests would no longer be used just as a class placement tool. The SOLtests would determine whether a student went on to high school, and whetherthey earned a high school diploma or a certificate of attendance. If studentsdid not pass the SOL tests at the high school level, they would only earn acertificate of attendance.
The stakes were getting higher. Teaching the same way to awhole class of students with varying abilities was no longer possible. I had tomake some drastic changes in my classroom. The following year I began usingSuccessMaker more as an instructional tool. During that time, I saw my role asa teacher evolve as the management system helped me better address eachstudent’s individual needs, and helped students assume more responsibility fortheir own learning.
Each student received individualized mathematics instructionwhile working at his or her own pace in the computer lab. The courseware’smanagement system worked almost like a tutor for each child. It located theappropriate level for each student and selected individualized strategies forlearning. As students progressed, the system adjusted the level and content toaddress their individual strengths and weaknesses, and to foster steadyprogress.
As questions came up in the lab, I could help each student.I became more aware of the individual levels my students were working at, whatthey were good at, and what they needed help with.
Using Assessment Tools andOn-Demand Reports
With the management system, I gained instant access to awide range of assessment tools. These tools helped me better assess studentprogress toward learning objectives in the computer lab and helped mefacilitate individualized learning in my classroom.
In the lab, the management system provided embedded, continuousassessment that yielded a criterion-referenced view of each student’sperformance and growth across a broad spectrum of objectives. These objectivessupported our county SOLs, as well as the National Council of Teachers ofMathematics (NCTM) standards. In our county, we have found that we can oftenpredict whether a student will pass our SOLs by their scores in the courseware.
I reviewed daily performance reports generated by themanagement system to see the time, gain and level attained in the coursewarefor each student. With the system’s weekly reports, which were published by ourcomputer lab assistant, I could see a global view of group and class progressacross course learning areas.
Using the reports, I could easily group students accordingto weaknesses and strengths for further instruction in my classroom. When somestudents were struggling with multiplication, for example, I placed them in asmall group and conducted hands-on lessons to help them master that area.
Providing Extra Help
I ran worksheets to give students extra help or to extend alesson they began in SuccessMaker. I also printed out individual homeworksheets of 10 problems a night, based on what they were working on in the lab.As students began working on homework in class, I worked with individualstudents, checking to be sure they understood their work, and helping them withareas of difficulty before they took it home.
Homework became more meaningful to the students as theyworked on an area of weakness, rather than on the next page in the math book.In class, I was still covering the curriculum, but as I came to the nextconcept, most students had already been introduced to it in SuccessMaker. Aftera short explanation, examples and practice, we were able to move on to the nextconcept.
Math time in the classroom was not astruggle, but more of a rewarding experience for myself and my students. Thosewho were behind slowly caught up and excelled in classroom math. Those whoworked above grade level in SuccessMaker often pre-tested out of the chapter wewere working on in class and could work independently.
I researched and bookmarked Web sites so the advancedstudents could go on the classroom computer and begin working on pre-algebraskills, for example. No longer did they have to sit through a math class theyreally didn’t need. Instead, they could log on to such sites as www.brainquest.com or www.allmath.com to move ahead and enrichthe concepts and skills they learned in the lab.
with Students and Parents
The electronic assessment tools and reports helped mecommunicate better with each child about their individual progress and needs.With the weekly report in hand, I met with each student every Friday to discusstheir progress. We discussed what their gains were, where they were in thelesson, what areas they struggled with, and what we needed to do to improvethose areas.
My students really appreciated the meetings and theone-on-one time with me. They got excited about the meetings every week,asking, “What did I gain this week? Where do I need more help?” The reports, inaddition to helping me improve students’ learning, helped students take moreresponsibility for their own learning.
I began to share students’ reports with parents duringparent-teacher conferences and meetings. Although many parents knew theirchildren were struggling in math, they did not always know how to help them.With the reports, I could pinpoint exactly what the problem was. The reportsalso showed parents where their children were compared to other children in theclass, which is something parents always want to know. Outside of school, Isent the reports home with students’ report cards to provide parents with moredetailed information about their children’sperformance across course learning areas.
With the CCC management system, I couldtailor content to education plans, and plan units by theme or specific strategyto support my class goals and my own teaching style. I began to createinterdisciplinary lessons, integrating the math concepts and skills thatstudents learned in the computer lab with reading, social studies and sciencelessons in my classroom.
For example, when studentscovered measurement in the lab, we read picture books to illustrate howmeasurements were used. When students worked on multiplication, we read “Anno’sMysterious Multiplying Jar.” To integrate reading and mathematics problem solvingacross a variety of areas, we read “Journey to the Other Side.”
We also integrated math with social studies and science in avariety of ways. In social studies, we used math in mapping, Webquests,databases, spreadsheets, and in studying miles and time zones. In science, weintegrated math with measurement, temperature, and graphing. In addition tomaking learning fun, the interdisciplinary lessons helped students reinforcetheir math skills and see real world applications for what they were learning.
Expanding the Role of theTeacher
Thanks to the management system, I clearly became more of afacilitator of learning, rather than the “sage on the stage.” It did notreplace my role as a teacher; it simply made my job easier and expanded my rolein ways I never thought possible.
Today, more than three years after we first received those amazing test results, our students havemaintained their remarkable gains. The percentage of fifth gradestudents scoring in the third and fourth quartiles (average to above average)on the math portion of the 1999 Stanford 9 test was still 10 percent higherthan fifth grade performance in 1996. Accordingly, the percentage of studentsin the first and second quartiles dropped 10 percent as a result of students’improved performance in math.
I think back to that first year, and the one computer in myclassroom, and look at how I use technology now. As test scores become moreimportant to students and teachers are held accountable for the learning thatg'es on in the classroom, the role of the teacher has had to change to meet theneeds of all students. Computer-basedmanagement systems are one way of meeting those needs. Technology has changedthe role of the teacher in the classroom. I’m sure that as technology continuesto improve, that role will continue to change.
Pat Herr is a fifth grade teacherat Ball’s Bluff Elementary School in Leesburg, Va. She has been teaching fifthgrade for 10 years. She has a Master’s of Education degree from MarymountUniversity and a Certificate in Instructional Technology from George Mason University.
Email: [email protected]