"The first time I took my students who were struggling with math to the computer lab, the group also included a number of ADD and ADHD students. My expectation was that I could expect 10- or 15-minutes of on-task activity at most," recalls Jerry Mangus. "After 30 minutes, I called for the principal. He couldn't believe it either. If those students could stay on-task and seem excited and into the work, I knew the program would work."
In Mangus's math classroom, computers take center stage. His fifth and sixth graders at Plymouth Elementary in Taylorsville, Utah, participate in a "bookless" approach to math instruction. Although Mangus presents his lessons in much the way he has throughout his teaching career, his students use the Internet, not worksheets and assignments from a text, to practice the concepts they have learned. He uses Mangus Math Links, a Web page of his own design, as an index to find the material needed for each activity. As they work, students record on task cards the problems they answer correctly.
"The students love it," Mangus told Education World. "If students aren't staying on task, I tell them I will move them back to a text, and they say, 'I'll do better. Don't make me use the book!'"
When he did use books, Mangus gave assignments, and discipline problems quickly arose. Students required prompting to remain focused. Now that they use computers, students concentrate well on their work for longer periods of time.
Despite the results, Mangus recognizes that for educators to make the type of transformation in their teaching that he has made, they really must want it and believe in it.
"In education, it's hard to make changes -- so often you have to do it on your own," he explained. "It has taken me years to get the program to the point where it is now. I invite others to use my Web page; having an in-service from someone involved in this type of teaching also is helpful."
Another resource for teachers interested in pursuing a paperless approach to instruction is district technology staff. Mangus began by using the school lab, but he quickly realized that -- because it was a shared resource -- not enough lab time was available. He obtained older, slower computers through donations and eventually had enough for every student in his class. Other schools, a military base, and city offices have contributed their used computers, and upgrading those machines is an ongoing process. According to Mangus, computers don't need to be brand new to do the job.
"One of the main differences I noticed when I started using computers was the ability to ask for the number of questions correct, rather than the number finished," he said. "With a book or worksheet, you only can ask for students to finish a certain number of problems. I don't know how many times I heard students say 'I'm finished,' when I knew they didn't know how many correct answers they had! I wouldn't find out until the next day when we corrected the assignment."
When most students didn't understand a concept, as evidenced by the scores on their assignments, Mangus would reteach it -- but an entire day was lost. With the help of computers, he can find out in five or ten minutes which students don't understand, because their computers check their answers as they go.
"I can reteach sooner, and less time is wasted," Mangus reports. "The students also like to know how they're doing. And they're much more inclined to ask for help when having correct answers -- not being finished -- is the goal."
Article by Cara Bafile
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