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Newer technology adds up for students in Berkeley Springs

May 07, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Move over chalk and board. New technology is providing a more productive way to teach, and Berkeley Springs High School is getting good results.

For more than two years now, mathematics teacher Pete Gordon has been using 21st-century technology teaching tools to help his students learn better.

"These new tools allow students to learn quicker, (and) test results show they are improving," Gordon said.

One is the Smart Board, a large touch-screen computerized white board used with a special pen.

It has the same capabilities as a computer, with software programs for saving, printing, image drawing and font changes, and is connected to the Internet.

Problems can be saved and accessed quickly for future use, and the Smart Board has "attention-getting" features, he said.

"It allows the students to see the problem in different ways. In order to succeed in math, students have to be able to visualize it," Gordon said.

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The graphing calculator is another tool used for problem solving.

It calculates problems visually, and is used in math class in preparation for the West Virginia University Advanced Placement examination, where a portion of mathematical computations require the use of the calculator, Gordon said.

Teachers have moved beyond the age of lectures and worksheets, and the new teaching tools have "transformed my class," he said.

Gordon is helping students become better thinkers. Math has more to do with patterns and shapes than numbers, and learning math visually helps students grasp it.

"It should be called critical thinking, not mathematics," he said.

Lauren Beichner, one of the six math teachers at Berkeley Springs High School, said she uses the new tool "Qwizdom" in her Algebra classes.

Beichner said the hand-held computerized device allows students to answer questions, and the teachers get instant results.

"It's good for final exams," she said.

It is an instant analysis of where students are in grasping the material, Gordon said.

Curt Heldreth, coordinator of 21st-century tools for Morgan County, said the Qwizdom is similar to text messaging on a cell phone.

He said the Qwizdom is in use in all seven Morgan County schools.

"These (new tools) are very innovative teaching techniques, and I've been seeing the students take to this new technology," Heldreth said.

Gordon believes there has to be a balance with the new technological tools.

"We have to be able to communicate what we know," he said.

Gordon's classes are relaxed. No traditional desks are used, and round tables that seat as many as five students are placed throughout the classroom.

"Students can talk the problems out with each other, and it helps them to communicate, which encourages learning," he said.

These new tools can help overcome math anxiety, which comes from discouragement, he said, and students can develop a fear of math as early as the third grade.

One way to overcome the problem is for math teachers to teach only three or four objectives, such as multiplication, division and fractions from elementary classes through eighth grade.

"They need to have the basics in place," Gordon said.

By the time they reach ninth grade, students are prepared to learn more complicated math. Some states already have adopted this, he said.

Gordon, who is the team leader of the high school's department, helped conduct a Math Academy two years ago for teachers from fourth to eighth grade, and they brainstormed on how to better teach students.

It helped the teachers just by talking about their own anxiety, and a network was set up to help solve problems, he said.

"The Math Academy's goal was to get better communication between the classes," Gordon said.

George Ward, principal of Berkeley Springs High School, is excited about the new technology that is used in most of the school's departments.

He said Steven L. Paine, the state Department of Education superintendent, said the goal is to use Smart Boards in all classrooms.

"We're living in a technological society, and we need to prepare kids for the career opportunities that society will provide. We also need to prepare our teachers. This is not a traditional teacher or traditional student or a traditional world," Ward said.

Gordon is a graduate of Princeton University with a bachelor's degree in philosophy. He returned to Shepherd University to become a math teacher, and has been teaching for 16 years.

"This is a fascinating profession because I'm trying to teach students to be lifelong learners," Gordon said.

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