Monday, Dec. 15, 2008 | Sixth-grader Serena Lease used to get bored in math classes waiting for other kids to catch up at Dana, a middle school for 5th and 6th graders in Point Loma.
“If you’re learning in a group and one person doesn’t get it, you have to wait, like, 15 minutes,” said Lease. “It’s like, ‘What do we do now?'”
Now Lease has plenty to do. Instead of sitting in a class with one teacher lecturing to everyone from the same page in the same textbook, she learns online at her own pace in a computer lab alongside classmates. She breezes through easier lessons and lingers on tougher ones, studying animations that explain ratios and fractions with cartoons of cats and forks. The computer serves up study sheets and quizzes and tracks her progress through the curriculum. A green light means she is on track, yellow means she is at risk, and red means she is slipping behind.
There is no homework, no mass lecture, and chatting with classmates is common. If Lease is stumped by an online quiz, she gets up to ask her teacher Susan Naujokaitis for help, or writes her own name and the unit that baffles her on the board. When the same unit shows up over and over on the board, Naujokaitis teaches a lesson for kids who want it in the corner, allowing their classmates to keep working at their computers.
“They get tired of listening to teachers talk,” Naujokaitis said. “I don’t blame them!”
Her middle school class is one of four in Point Loma where students now take math classes online, and it is dramatically different than a traditional class with lectures and textbooks. Similar technology is now being used in many San Diego Unified high schools to help struggling students make up classes, a reform touted by Superintendent Terry Grier. But such methods are rarer for middle and elementary schools, and they are especially rare in California, which lags behind other states in classroom technology.