Online learning in action: Accelerated math program links students

Online learning in action: Accelerated math program links students

Four 5th graders— Leayes, Cy, Annie, and Sabarish— are gazing intently at their laptop screens, tuned into their Elluminate-powered virtual classroom.

Within their Gwin Oaks Elementary classroom, occasional taps on a keyboard here and there, joined by a chorus of sporadic mouse-clicks, are the only sounds to be heard.

“I converted both fractions to 100, and then multiplied them both by the rate of erosion,” explains Sabarish, speaking into the microphone attached to his headset.

A voice responds to the students, all wired and listening on their own headsets, “Very good, Sabarish. Did everyone understand that?”

A Gwin Oaks Elementary 5th grader views an exercise on his laptop.
Julie Shively, the students’ teacher at Five Forks Middle, begins to explain the steps to solving the equation as numbers appear like magic on the white board, which is projected on the main screen in the students’ Gwin Oaks classroom and also to four students in a classroom at Head Elementary.

On the left side of the screen, a steady stream of comments marches along, with some students commenting on the equation, one or two asking for more clarification, and a few typing in reminders to their virtual teacher about upcoming absences from the class.

“I just love this interaction with the kids,” Ms. Shively says. “Since I’m not physically with them, I have to navigate the same audio and technical situation as they do. When the class begins at 7:50 a.m., I have to trust that these students will do their work and have it in front of them. They have to learn how to communicate virtually, and that takes thinking critically. This class is one way to do it on a small scale.”

Welcome to the virtual classroom, and a unique opportunity to engage accelerated math students at both Gwin Oaks and Head Elementary schools in the gifted 6th and 7th grade math curriculum at Five Forks Middle.

Kim Hennessey, a Gwin Oaks paraprofessional, supports the students during the class. She listens in with her own headset and checks on each student, adjusting the volume on Cy’s laptop and holding up Annie’s dry-erase board to the web cam during a momentary loss of Internet access.

“One of the biggest challenges is working out the technological kinks,” she says. “It’s been running pretty smoothly. It’s just been little things and we’ve figured out a system when there’s a problem.”

Tom Combs, Gwin Oaks Elementary’s technology support technician (TST), sits at the back of the room and monitors the Internet connections between the three physical locations— Gwin Oaks, Head, and Five Forks. When Annie’s laptop loses its Internet access, he moves swiftly to establish the reconnection… all while Ms. Shively reviews Annie’s work on the dry-erase board with the rest of the class.

“Both the students and Ms. Shively really took off with using the technology,” he says. “They’ve all done an exceptional job.”

Mr. Combs worked closely with the TSTs at Head Elementary and Five Forks Middle to set up the technology tools. “We provided the headphones and web cams, and everyone worked together to set things up,” he says. “Head Elementary has changed over to using workstations in a computer lab and we’re in a classroom with laptops in a portable lab. Ms. Shively sits in her classroom with a web cam and a laptop, equipped with a set of wireless headphones.”

“I really think this is the next wave of classroom instruction,” says Ricardo Quinn, a resident with the Quality-Plus Leader Academy (QPLA) Aspiring Principal Program and assistant principal at Hopkins Elementary. Mr. Quinn monitors the students’ progress as a part of his residency at the school.

Ms. Shively displays the homework assignment on the white board and the students write down the details.

“You’ll need to go to the online pre-Algebra book to complete the assignment,” she says. Her directions are met by a spirited flurry of messages from Cy, asking about what he should do with the pre-Algebra book he always carries around. Two Head Elementary students chime in, and a little virtual socializing streams down the side the screen.

“I’ve learned their personalities,” Ms. Shively says. “The response depends on the kid. Some will type something they like in all caps, others will write on the white board in color, and a few will send the flashing icons. I enjoy the ‘aha’ moments, and I can still get them virtually.”
This projection of Ms. Shively's class, powered by Elluminate, shows student participants and white board notes.

As the class comes to a close and the Gwin Oaks students pack their back packs, Principal Peggy Goodman commends each student on the day’s effort.

“This opportunity has provided us with another layer of support for those children who desperately need to be accelerated in their area of instruction,” she says. “This is the result of a phenomenal coordinated effort, especially from Leigh Westcott, principal of Head Elementary, as it was her brainchild and she got us all excited about it. Dr. Mary Hensien, principal of Five Forks Middle, provided us with Julie Shively, and she is such an excellent instructor. This effort also allowed us that vertical communication with Debbie Dees, principal of Brookwood High, and we’ve benefited from her foresight and insight. When these children reach Brookwood High, they will have the level of instruction that they need and deserve.”