Erie math teachers get iPads to track lessons

Feb. 18–Erie teachers now have a new tool to let them know if what they teach matches an upcoming change in math curriculum standards.

A total of 375 elementary, middle and high school teachers in the Erie School District were given Apple iPads and are training in a new system where they will track what math lessons they give on a day-to-day basis. An online program created by Michigan State University researchers will automatically compare teachers’ instruction to the Common Core State Standards in math, giving educators a window in how they might need to change their approach.

“It will show them just how in line or out of line their teaching is with the Common Core,” said Kate Jacobson, the community relations and employee engagement manager for GE Transportation who oversees the $23.6 million investment in the Erie School District.

The Common Core State Standards are part of a nationwide initiative, adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, that seek to cover fewer topics in math and reading but study those topics in greater depth. The new standards go into effect in 2014.

Marcia Lillis-Tome, the GE Foundation grant program manager for the district, said that shift is exactly what this new initiative will address.

“There are many aspects in all the grade levels that are being taught before they should be,” Lillis-Tome said. “The common core curriculum is based on mastery. Our curriculum we teach now is not.”

The Erie School District is one of 11 districts participating in the tracking program, which started as a research project through Michigan State University’s Center for the Study of Curriculum.

William Schmidt, co-director of that center and a Michigan State University distinguished professor of both education and statistics, said the original goal was just to see what areas caused the greatest struggles for teachers as they transitioned to the new standards.

“Some of the things we’ve learned are that some teachers don’t have the right knowledge to teach the new standards,” Schmidt said. “And some teachers are still touching on more subjects than required.”

But he said teachers quickly saw using the program helped them move to the new standards more efficiently.

“It was forcing teachers to engage the common core,” Schmidt said. “I like to compare it to a mirror. They were constantly being reminded of what they were teaching and that reflection helps guide them.”

Teachers log their lessons every day based on grade level and subject area and how much time was spent on each lesson that day. Over days and weeks that data is transformed into charts and graphs that tell teachers what they’ve been focusing on, for how long, and how it aligns with the new standards.

Teachers also can make comments on individual lessons and answer questions each day rating how lessons went, their background knowledge of subjects, how lessons relate to the standards and if their students mastered the material.

The Michigan State University research is funded through a grant from the GE Foundation. Schmidt said the Erie School District’s relationship with the GE Foundation helped them become one of the schools in the iPad project along with the Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Ky. — another GE Foundation-affiliated school.

Over the past few weeks, the district has hosted training sessions on using the iPads and the journaling software.

Michael Turner, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at Diehl Elementary School, has taught in the district for seven years and said the move to the Common Core is going to be challenging for teachers. But he said the iPad journaling project can only help.

“I think it’s a start,” Turner said. “It gives us a step in the right direction.”

The journaling program doesn’t just benefit teachers though. It has the ability to send school and district administrators information on how much time their student body is spending on particular subjects and how comfortable their staff is with particular lessons.

Schmidt said the software was designed to make sure that administrators don’t get reports on individual teachers, just on collective results of schools or grade levels.

Lillis-Tome said that data gives the district a leg up on the transition.

“We still have a lot of work to do, there’s no doubt about it,” Lillis-Tome said. “But I’m completely confident that with the work that we’re doing and the help from GE our academic achievement will go up.”

Erie Times-News

(c)2013 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)

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