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Enhanced Math

Problem: Middle school math students in Canton City (Ohio) School District were performing below ave

Problem: Middle school math students in Canton City (Ohio) School District were performing below average on state assessment exams and not making AYP.

Solution: The district integrated Texas Instruments' Navigator Classroom Learning System and graphing calculators into math classes. The technology encouraged student engagement, which led to enhanced understanding.

Ohio has five levels of school achievement: academic emergency, academic watch, continuous improvement, effective, and excellent. The state requires that 75 percent of students at each grade level achieve a passing grade on the state exam. During the 2004-05 school year, CCS was on academic watch, and had been for several years, with math scores of 41.9 percent passing in seventh grade, 38.4 percent in eighth, and 61.4 percent in tenth.

District Math Coach Pamela Bernabei-Rorrer explains when the district looked into revamping its math program, the two goals were to make AYP and get students more engaged in math class. "Drill-and-kill worksheets don't work for all students," Bernabei-Rorrer says. The district wanted something more interactive and investigative.

Old Curriculum, New Tricks

The district kept the curriculum it had developed based on state standards and used the technology to explore concepts and create better conceptual understanding. It used lessons developed by Texas Instruments for areas where the district curriculum was weak and supplemented with other lessons and activities. During the 2004-05 school year, the program was piloted in three of the four middle schools, with the fourth acting as a control. "We were blown away by the results," Bernabei-Rorrer says. "Students using the system achieved at a level three times greater than students who did not." On the 2005-06 math tests, 51 percent of seventh grade students passed, 54 percent of eighth grade, and 61 percent of tenth grade. The district has moved up to continuous improvement status and made AYP. Currently, every high school math teacher has a Navigator system, and so do 90 percent of seventh and eighth grade classes, for a total of 18 classes. Lack of funding is preventing a full rollout as the grants the district received are ending.

Each student receives a graphing calculator, which is connected to a Navigator System that is connected to the teacher's computer. The system allows teachers to conduct instant polls to gauge students' engagement and understanding; send quizzes and assignments directly to student units; and includes an "activity center" of extra exercises. Now, rather than being tied to a textbook, the driving force for instruction is the instant feedback of student understanding. And student engagement is no longer in doubt, with some students responding to a survey that math was tied with lunch as their favorite subject. Teachers are also able to do more differential instruction, allowing advanced students to use the activity center to apply a learned concept to a new situation while the teacher works with other students. Teachers are also able to use the feedback to target students who need extra help outside the classroom.

Professional Learning Community

An unexpected benefit was the increased collaboration the system encouraged. The extensive training program preceding the rollout of the technology laid the groundwork. Now when grade level teachers gather to analyze student quarterly tests, they share tips and lesson plans among schools so every class can succeed. Communication has also improved between the middle school and high school teachers, so the math curriculum now flows smoothly from sixth to twelfth grade.

Bernabei-Rorrer is excited by the changes in her schools and students. "It's a domino effect," she says. "When you increase student confidence you increase the likelihood they will take higher level math in high school and be better prepared for college."

Ann McClure is associate editor.