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Mix of math and technology gets closer look
by LOUISE R. SHAW
Dec 22, 2016 | 5646 views | 0 0 comments | 413 413 recommendations | email to a friend | print
UTAH SEN. Todd Weiler talks with students at Centerville Junior High about the technology they are using to help in their study of math.
UTAH SEN. Todd Weiler talks with students at Centerville Junior High about the technology they are using to help in their study of math.
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CENTERVILLE— Utah legislators visited Centerville Junior High last week to see how their investment in technology and education was being implemented and learn whether it was paying off. 

Utah Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, were joined by Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, in visiting classrooms and talking with teachers and students about ALEKS (Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces), a math program the school has been using for several years.

The first year the adaptive computer program was funded entirely through funds committed by the legislature, said Spencer Hansen, principal. Last year it was partially funded through the legislature. 

“We’ve had great results,” said Hansen, who hopes the legislature will extend the funding. “Our scores have gone up 14 percent over two years. The kids love the program.”

Stephenson asked students in Elizabeth Hansen’s math class if they liked to use the math program on iPads or laptops, if they watched accompanying videos or excerpts by other creators like Khan Academy, and if they preferred the adoptive computer method or working with a teacher. 

Answers were mixed. Students said they couldn’t watch videos in class without earplugs, they preferred the larger screens of laptops, and while some prefer teacher instruction time all the time, others benefited from the individualized learning possible with the computer program. 

Students in her class spend one day a week with ALEKS, the other days she is conducting the lessons, said Hansen. 

The computer program “allows kids to work at their own pace,” she said. “They become problem solvers.”

Ally Seelos, student body president at Centerville Junior High, is enthusiastic about ALEKS.

“It’s helped me a ton,” she said. “It’s very individualized. It helps me understand the problem and there’s an explanation box that helps you see what you did wrong.”

It can also give examples of correct problem-solving using different numbers and examples, she said.

“My grades have definitely gone up,” said Ally.

Digital learning programs available through the Utah STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Action Center grants have helped students score higher on 2016 SAGE assessments, according to information from the center.

Nine different software programs have been used in the state, according to a press release from the center, and third-party evaluations indicate students that used three of the products were “1.2 to 3.1 times more likely to reach grade level proficiency.”

“The success of this grant program is due to the hard work and commitment of Utah teachers and administrators,” said Tamara Goetz, executive director of the center. “They are committed to integrating these supplemental programs into their classrooms to help students greater success in math, which is a fundamental skill.”

The program is able to identify what students already know by their answers to questions, according to Connie Roubinet, ALEKS representative for the state of Utah. 

It then directs them to what they might be ready to learn.

“It’s not a test,” she said, “it’s a cycle of assessment and learning.”

Bill McKay, head of the math department at Centerville Junior High, said ninth-grade math scores went from 52 to 73 percent in one year. Scores across the entire department went from 55 to 63 percent that same year.

“We attribute a large part of this increase to students’ ability to receive immediate feedback and have additional attempts to work through problems,” McKay said, as quoted in a release. “In addition, as educators we are able to quickly pull reports with a few mouse clicks and identify areas students are having difficulty with for additional instruction in order for them to become proficient.”

In touting the program’s success, Goetz complimented legislators.

“The Utah Legislature had a clear vision when they created our center in 2013,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see that vision come to fruition.”

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