It was midday, gloomy outside and students filed in for a 90-minute geometry class. at St. John Vianney High School.
Time for a nap at your desk, you might say?
Not for St. John Vianney High School's 360 Math program, where all students worked through math problems on quarter-inch-thick glass writing boards attached to every wall in the classroom.
The students followed geometry teacher Bob Prost, who used a smart board projector to display the problem and work through it. He stood in the middle of the room, interacting with students who struggled. Sometimes students helped one another. In this case, using the substitution leads to an equation and then to linear algebra and an answer. Voila!
All five math classrooms were retrofitted with the panels, big enough for 30 students to stand around, write and erase.
Prost said that instead of just getting three or four students up at the board to work problems in front of 25 other students, which can be awkward, "we have enough room, the flexibility, to get every student to the board."
He used a laser pointer to highlight individual student's work. "Almost instantly I can access and discern if they understand the homework, if they even did the homework. It gets clarity and almost immediate feedback," the teacher said.
He encourages students to collaborate, discuss the lesson, get tips from each other. "They're almost teaching each other," he said. "It removes the teacher from being the center of attention to the students being the center of attention."
The new program has boosted his students' grades by about 10 to 15 percent. "Everybody's shifted up a little, more As and Bs and fewer Ds and Fs," Prost said.
He usually starts the class with work at the board, then gives a mini-lesson and asks students to return to the board to reinforce what they've learned. Vianney follows a brain-based educational philosophy that suggests boys learn differently than girls. The math program gets students on their feet, their blood moving. The students don't want to sit down, with some taking notes standing up.
Eric Ohlendorf easily worked through a math problem on the board, then explained it to the student next to him. He's a proponent of the program. "It's better than just sitting here taking notes," Ohlendorf said. "You can see where we make our mistakes, all the steps in doing it. It's better for (the teacher) to teach us how to do it than us making a mistake in our notebook and never getting it corrected."
Another student, Jake Ryan, likes when students use the board to review homework from the previous night and to refresh right before quizzes. The class advances through the lessons quicker, with all students able to keep pace, Ryan said. "When we get stuck, (the teacher) answers any questions we have before we go on to the next problem."
Kevin Walsh, interim principal, said the program takes the fear out of going up to the board in class. The teachers see students as they're making errors rather than waiting until later. "It's very interactive, with a lot of exchange between the students and teacher," Walsh said.
He's a booster of collaborative learning, with students helping one another. Teachers were trained last spring and over the summer on the technique and technology, and the program began this fall.