Digits helps middle school students conquer math concepts

FLINT TWP. — Since Rachel Baldwin began teaching the digits online math program to sixth-graders at Carman-Ainsworth Middle School, she has seen one of her student’s grades rise from C- and D+ to 90s and 100s.

“I have been so proud of him. He has made such gains,’’ she said. “It’s really wonderful for a teacher to see all that growth.’’ digits is an interactive math curriculum that is all done with computers online and does not have a textbook.

Baldwin and fellow CAMS math teachers Jerry Parker, seventh grade, and Jan Johnson, eighth grade presented the pros and cons of teaching digits at a recent CA school board meeting.

Digits was introduced to a pilot group of CAMS students this year as part of a two-year efficacy study by Pearson Education Inc., a global provider of print and digital educational materials and services.

CA is one of seven school districts in the country and the only one in Michigan participating in the study, said Steve Tunnicliff, assistant superintendent for instruction. It is provided at no cost and the district can choose to continue using it after the study, saving thousands of dollars in cost of revamping the traditional math program, he said.

CAMS principal Kevin Sumney praised the teachers for their quick turnaround in getting up to speed on teaching digits over the summer.

“This is true 21st century learning,’’ he said of the state-of-the-art curriculum.

Each teacher’s classroom has been equipped with speakers, an interactive whiteboard and projector and 30 student laptop computers. Student workbooks also are provided but digits is otherwise a completely online curriculum.

Students can access the mymathuniverse website to use features such The Rappin’ Mathematician who sings cool rap songs about core math concepts. There are many tools to help them review lessons and practice examples.

Parents can also access the site to review the same lessons their children are learning in schools and work with them if need be.

The teachers said some of the challenges they have faced include that lessons take longer than prescribed, digits fonts are hard to see for students at the back of the class, slow Internet connectivity and lack of Internet access at home.

Parker said he was surprised to learn that half of his 150 students did not have home Internet access and were unable to do homework. But that problem is being remedied with in-school access and by many parents signing up for a new low-cost Comcast service that includes an affordable laptop computer. digits also is not MAC compatible which disappoints Apple iPod and iPad users, teachers said. digits lessons are personalized so that each student gets different homework questions and immediate feedback on right and wrong answers. Johnson noted that the individualized questions prevents students from copying off each other.

Teachers can keep track of homework online, immediately create a grading spreadsheet and contact students via e-mail, Johnson said.

She said she did not expect to get technology in her classroom so soon and is very happy to be part of the digits pilot.

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