As Albany High School math teacher Jessica Chewning dims the lights, students hurriedly start the laptops they have retrieved from a large docking cart in the front of the algebra I honors classroom.
Soon, a series of colorful, interactive math questions appear on a large screen that has replaced the traditional chalk board. Each question is timed, and the students rush to calculate the correct answers before the clock hits zero.
At the end of each timed question, results are displayed and openly discussed, and game points are awarded.
“Learning has become a fun competition, and feedback is immediate, so in between each math problem the students openly discuss the formulas and steps they used, and what they had to consider to ensure the correct answer,” Chewning said. “I always stand ready to prompt them with questions if maybe they have skipped a step or are incomplete in their explanations, but all in all, the discussion among the students is very robust. It’s a tremendous change from what we had before we adopted this teaching strategy.”
The teaching strategy Chewning is using is part of iCLASS — Livingston Parish’s newest technology-enriched curriculum for algebra I and English I classes across the parish.
The acronym stands for Collaboration, Literacy and Assessment for Student Success, and it incorporates digital texts, learning software applications and web-accessed sites into traditional teaching strategies. Interactive learning games are a small part of what the technology offers. The selected Springboard text for the classes is available in a digital format, allowing students to interact with the words on the page to create individualized study guides and references. Teachers can access each student’s file to see their work and provide comments and assign individualized instruction.
Jody Purvis, supervisor of high school curriculum for Livingston Parish public schools, said school officials targeted algebra I classes across the parish with the technology-rich curriculum because scores in freshman-level math units have been traditionally lower than in other areas. At the same time, they targeted English I classes in hopes of being able to progressively expand iCLASS strategies to English II classes next year and continue the progression to English IV and other courses over time.
“We wanted to ease teachers and students into this effort,” Purvis said. “We certainly have not gone paperless, but it’s allowing teachers the opportunity to pair technology with traditional text-based learning. It’s a blended learning effort that allows the teacher to use the best of all strategies.”
He said the school system recently invested nearly $2.5 million to purchase 1,700 new Dell Latitude 3105 laptop devices, equipped with standard Microsoft applications and technical support to saturate the high school campuses with the wireless capacity to manage the workload and train and equip 50 math and English teachers with the resources they need to successfully integrate the new strategies in their day-to-day lesson plans.
He said the decision to implement iCLASS districtwide was approved in January. The wireless upgrades to the campuses were made over the summer, and the devices were ordered. He said the 1,700 devices allow for 36 per classroom, which, even with maximum classroom enrollment, allows for a couple extra devices per room. Most of the upgrades were made to high school campuses and the parish’s two freshman high schools. Improvements were also extended to junior high and middle school campuses that offer the algebra I class to eighth graders.
To prepare for the iCLASS, teachers were given an introductory training session in May and another training session last month once the devices arrived. Additional staff development sessions are scheduled this fall and next semester.
“This first year of implementation is voluntary for our teachers, but with that said, we have nearly 100 percent buy in,” Purvis said. “That’s because our teachers see firsthand the advantages this effort is giving their students, and secondly, they know that their students must be familiarized with technological learning because it’s the real world they will encounter.”
Purvis said most college-level instruction is computer-based, as is much of today’s workforce. He also noted that tests administered to high school students are now computer-based. In fact, he said all the mandatory, high-stakes End of Course tests are administered online, as are most dual credit tests.
Chewning said all her iCLASS students are assigned a unique email with Livingston Parish schools that they will maintain through their high school years, and the students’ notes and work are stored on a cloud server to allow student and teacher access on campus and off and during anytime of the day. The material will also be stored for the duration of the students’ high school years, giving them access to work for study reference.
“The technology and blended learning strategies give our students access to learning at home, on vacation, on the road — at any time — not just during the 54 minutes they are in the classroom,” Chewning said.
“I am hopeful that this effort can allow us to do a ‘flipped classroom,’ where the students review the text and references on their own and then come back to class to do their assignments, allowing us to go over the answers and application of what’s learned.
“I’m so excited about what we’re doing and the potential for our kids,” she said. “Already I’m seeing students who did not engage in class activities before who are now getting involved in discussion and activities.”