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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Video games help teach students math skills

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It might seem hard to fit a quartet of jet skis and the ocean to run them on into the average elementary classroom.

Still, believe it or not, the aquatic rides -- and other, similar games -- are a key component in helping students master mathematics.

Logging into the online game at the request of their teacher Danielle Goodman, four elementary school students -- Erin Elliot, Kylie Cooksey, Karly Smock and Neely Brown -- raced their virtual jet skis.

The trick to speeding up was simple: Answer questions to prove they'd mastered addition and multiplication facts. Wrong answers slowed the skis down, and the girls played enthusiastically, answering questions at a lightning pace.

When it was over, most scored above 90 percent on the average test results.

Moreover, they were enthused about learning, with teachers such as Lori Markle, whose classroom Linton-Stockton School Corp. trustees used to view the demonstration, lauding their effectiveness.

The games come from a free public website, www.arcademics.com.

The website and others like it, which are used increasingly in Linton-Stockton's courses, are also accessible from home.

"I enjoyed watching the girls have their race," said Trustee Frank Gennicks. "But I was glad I didn't have to participate."

The methods of modern learning in a multi-media age have long since gone past the days of simple flash cards, suggested third grade teacher Bart Wade.

"We've got a good strong foundation," Wade said. "But part of the problem with things like flash cards is that you have the undivided attention of the two kids up front, but not so much everyone else in the classroom. We're looking at ways to keep everyone involved and help everyone to learn."

The competitive nature of the games, coupled with teams often playing against each other, helps keeps students active and engaged in the discussion, Wade suggested.

"They're excited about it, and about learning," he said. "They want to see how well their friends can do."

Music, too, plays a part in helping students memorize important mathematics tricks. For example, the days of simply recollecting "Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally" are too old school.

The acronym, to remember one should figure the questions within the Parentheses first, then attack the Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add and Subtract, is a time-honored teaching tool.

These days, however, it's matched with music, a slow rhythm-and-blues jam which is not so different from the kind junior high students hear on their iPods.

The song, called "Order of Operation," has a good beat and you can learn from it, teacher Sara Correll suggested.

"Maybe you could see some middle school students getting down to this," Correll said. "Feel free to sing along."

Even high schoolers are experiencing some innovative new ways to learn -- sometimes by heading back to their roots.

For example, teacher Jesse Stanton said some freshmen are utilizing color-by-number drawings where the correct hues are determined by solving an algebraic equation properly.

"When you think about 14-year-old boys coloring by numbers, it might seem like a crazy thought," said Stanton. "But they really can get into it."

However, that's not to say the mathematics program doesn't continue to teach time-honored academic skills. Indeed, Markle suggested strong efforts are being undertaken to incorporate more reading via story problems and more cross-curriculum teachable moments.

"There is a lot more problem solving," Markle said. "They need to be good readers to do well at mathematics, and you'd be surprised at how much they do as third graders."

Trustees generally were impressed by the variety of methods educators used to help students learn more skills faster.

"It's exciting that you are encouraging kids like this," said Trustee John D. Preble. "I applaud you for going out there and finding these things."

Learning third graders are already mastering some basic algebra -- once begun only when students reached junior high school -- left a few trustees amazed.

"I was wondering what grade I should start back in to try to catch up," Trustee Ralph Witty kidded. "I guess probably back in third grade."

Trustee Bob Good concurred, adding "I'll be right there beside you."

That suited Markle fine.

"I've got an extra desk right now," she said, laughing.

School officials haven't yet seen the full effects of programs like Envision schoolwide. That will take a few more years, with students who are becoming increasingly computer-savvy and used to smart boards and Internet learning moving up through the grades.

In December, the school's technology committee will begin reviewing equipment requests, with administrators urging educators to ask for what they need to teach.

"This is a list of what you need, not so much what you want," Superintendent Nick Karazsia emphasized.

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