Placer High School gets high tech

By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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Someday soon Placer County high school students will be able to receive math tutoring, turn in homework or do a chemistry lab at anytime of day or night. Already, one Placer High School algebra-one class learns the math concepts in a combination computer-and-lecture setting with the help of a $5,000 digital white board. Beth Islip’s digital math class incorporates new technology to help 18 students tackle algebraic equations and concepts. Sophomore Georgie Godfrey said she was really struggling with math last year and failed her algebra-one class. “I felt like it wasn’t explained well enough and I didn’t understand the material,” Godfrey said. Now she’s pulling a C+ and working on getting her grade up to a B. She said using computers and doing group problems really helps her grasp the concepts. “We do a lot of group things,” Godfrey said. “Now that I’m doing better in math I’m getting more serious about college.” Godfrey said she hopes to go on to study theater and played a lead part in the school’s musical, 13. Islip said the students in her digital math class came in struggling with math and now really enjoy learning the concepts. “These kids know there are people who care about them, care if they learn algebra,” Islip said. Tuesday afternoon while the students tackled a linear equation, graphing the problem on the digital white board. Islip said almost every student in her class had failed algebra previously. Now, all but three are moving on to higher math. The class starts with group reviews on the digital white board. Islip said the board is like a six foot-tall computer. She stores all the problems for the day and pulls them up during class. The students come up to the board and use digital markers to solve problems on the screen. Islip used the digital white board in her instructions as well and then for the last 30 minutes of class the students work on computers. They take online quizzes and listen to online video tutorials. These programs are free and available at home or at school. Godfrey said the online quizzes are great because she receives instant feedback about what she might be doing wrong or right. Godfrey said in previous math classes she simply chose not to do the work because she didn’t understand the concepts, now she completes all her homework. As Islip moved into the instructional phase of the class, Junior Christian Chavez loudly asked for an exam. “Can we do another test today?” Chavez asked. “Because I’m psyched.” Islip smiled at this. “We have way too much fun in here,” Islip said. Jeff Tooker, assistant superintendent for Placer Union High School District, said integrating more technology and digital learning into the classroom will benefit the students and the district. Foresthill High School is looking into an online calculus class this summer. Chana and Maidu high schools are incorporating digital learning as well. “It’s growing from within. We have the infrastructure and expertise to do this the way we want to do this and make it work well for us,” Tooker said. “We’re looking for way to better serve all kids. This is one of the ways. This isn’t for everybody and it isn’t going to supplant good teaching and good teachers.” Tooker said digital learning can include individual work at home on a computer or a blended model, like Islip’s math class. “There’s a preconception out there that online learning is just you and your computer, and you’re isolated, but that’s not the case anymore,” Tooker said. “It’s not a replacement for that interaction with the teacher. It’s a new way to engage these digital natives.” Tooker said the students are already technology savvy and utilizing that skill in a learning environment is effective. “Teenagers today have a digital modality. As teachers we’re always trying to find new ways to keep our students engaged in the learning process,” Tooker said. “The new frontier is here.”