Miller Junior High Program Draws International Attention
T.H.E. Journal is an international publication dedicated to publicizing the latest in educational technology, and each year they publish a special edition called T.H.E. Journals’ Innovators of the Year. For the second year in a row, San Marcos CISD’s Director of Instructional Technology, Ronda Stonecipher, has been featured as a one of the Journal’s Innovators of the Year for 2008. The magazine says that Stonecipher is the “only multiple honoree in the awards’ history.” Recognized along with Stonecipher are Miller Junior High educators: principal Susan Brown, campus technologist Lisa Jones, Math Department Head Amanda Voigt, and teachers Natalie Black and Monica Martin.
The story begins when, as part of a professional development program, SMCISD administrators read Stephen Peter’s book entitled Do You Know Enough About Me to Teach Me? wherein the author said that the number-one influence in the lives of today’s students is “media/technology.” Accepting that, educators should teach using technologies that most influence students. Getting to know the students well enough to recognize their needs is the teachers’ challenge. Stonecipher’s expertise is media and technology, so she looked for an area of need where technology and media could be best used. She noted first math scores at the junior high level.
She found a willing compatriot with Miller Junior High principal Susan Brown who had also been so impressed with Peter’s book that she had assigned it to her teachers to be read over the 2007 winter break. A few weeks into January 2008, Stonecipher and Brown selected a team of math teachers and the campus technologist from Miller: Jones, Voight, Martin, and Black. The team randomly chose 25 eighth-grade students to videotape their math learning. The specific task was to see why random students were not “getting it” in math. Brown observed that on a benchmark test, 80 percent of the students had missed the same question about ratio and proportion, even though they had covered the concepts in class. Both Brown and Stonecipher went to the teachers to ask them to participate in their video project and to have them formulate five questions regarding proportion and ratios. Then the students were videotaped answering the questions.
The project began as a reflection on Reality TV that is popular now in our country. “On television, contestants on reality shows will often tell-all, or confess, strategies or feelings,” Stonecipher said. “We formulated a plan to design iLearn booths or ‘Confessionals’ similar to those used on TV. The process is that the teacher teaches the lesson. Then, while the class is working on independent practice, the teacher selects 3-5 students to record themselves in the iLearn booth, answering questions about the lesson.”
What the Miller team found was that when the students answered the questions, their teachers could see the holes in their understanding and knowledge. The teachers also stated that they learned more from listening to their students than they did from traditional paper-pencil tests. The team of teachers discussed different methods of teaching the concepts and then went back and taught to meet the students’ needs. “Teachers were willing to go the extra mile to change their methods to meet their student’s needs,” said Principal Brown.
“Initially, the videos were somewhat painful to watch, but also some of the student’s answers made the teachers proud,” Stonecipher said. “On average, it took students about five minutes to answer the questions the first time around. After the re-teach, it took each student about thirty seconds to answer the same five questions.”
“This is not the typical raise-your-hand response where the majority of students are reluctant to answer,” adds Stonecipher. “These students beg to go to the iLearn booth. They like it and think it is fun.”
After the video activity with the students, the teachers were asked what it would take to replicate the experience on a daily basis. The teachers decided upon the equipment that was needed. Then the iLearn booths were built by the shop teacher for each of the school’s 8th grade math classrooms. Using an Apple MacBook (www.apple.com) with a built in web cam and video editing software, the booths offered a secure and private place for formative evaluation of student learning. After each teaching session, a few students are selected to record themselves answering questions. The teachers review the daily recordings to see if a re-teach is necessary to fill in the gaps. Teachers are not waiting for a unit test to make changes; they are making teaching adjustments on a daily basis.
Stonecipher said, “We have two goals: to improve student learning and to expand teacher skills. The teachers learn from each other in their Professional Learning Community.”
One of the Miller math teachers said, “If my students don’t ‘get it,’ and another teacher’s students ‘get it,’ then I want my students to ‘get it’ too.”
Since the iLearn booths were installed, math scores have risen at Miller Junior High, especially among at-risk 8th grade students, who went from a 35 percent pass rate in 2007 to a 71 percent pass rate in 2008. This school year, the iLearn booths were placed in all of the campus’s math classrooms, and Goodnight Junior High is also developing their own video-based formative assessment.
Stonecipher says that the district’s teachers are true professionals, interested in using the best teaching methods and achieving the highest student successes. “By using the video interviews, they can quickly determine the success of the classroom lesson and not have to wait for a paper and pencil assessment to find out that the students didn’t understand a concept,” she says. “It’s a win-win situation for both the student and the teacher.”
Using media and technology, SMCISD is capturing student learning and integrating technology into the curriculum. Educators are practicing the principles of learning enough about their students to effectively teach them.
by Iris Campbell
Public Information Officer – San Marcos ISD
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