Signing on to academic success Computer lab aids pupils in math, reading

February 29, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

After second-grader David Foley pumped his fist, flashed a winning smile across the room and loudly whispered, "I've got it," Judy Bailey, a full-time instructional assistant at the Taneytown Elementary School computer lab, grinned broadly.

The excitement in the boy's voice was evidence that the school's computer lab goals for each student -- achieve, go as far as possible and bring test scores up to grade level plus one -- were within reach.

Mrs. Bailey oversees the school's pilot program, which enables teachers to track the weekly progress of each of 552 elementary students who work on math and reading at 28 Macintosh computers for at least 15 minutes a day.

The second- and fourth-graders are allotted 30 minutes a day in the lab; first-, third- and fifth-graders come in for half that time, Mrs. Bailey said.

The program, designed by Computer Curriculum Corp., uses a digital card management software system that lets students sign on at a computer station with their own identification numbers, work on their skills and sign off, Mrs. Bailey said.

"When they come back tomorrow, they can pick up where they left off," she said.

Teachers of the second- and fourth-graders receive weekly computer printouts indicating the progress of each student. Teachers of grades one, three and five receive reports biweekly.

"These reports help us evaluate strengths and weaknesses,'' said Kitty Frederick, a second-grade teacher at the school. "If I see a student, or a group of students, are not understanding a certain concept, I can pull them aside and reteach the concept.''

Teachers accompany their classes to the computer lab for each 15- or 30-minute session and join Mrs. Bailey in constant monitoring. Each student receives instructions through headphones, and raises a hand for assistance.

"We're right there to see the problem areas firsthand," Mrs. Frederick said. "The computer asks questions and tabulates the answers. If a particular student is answering every question correctly, we can see that quickly and move them on to a new lesson."

Mrs. Bailey said, "We have some fourth-graders who were reading at a 4.5 [fourth-grade, fifth-month] level in October and are almost up to a 7.0 level."

Principal Larry McKinney is not surprised by the rapid improvement.

Math scores on the California Test of Basic Skills for Taneytown's third-graders in 1994 were at the 49th percentile. With a rudimentary version of the current computer lab program in use last year, those scores jumped to the 81.6th percentile, he said.

In the same period, the fifth-grade scores improved from the 55.5th percentile to the 73.4th percentile, he said.

Mr. McKinney and his teachers agreed that the computer lab and the pilot program have been successful mainly because of the dedication and expertise of Mrs. Bailey, who began as a parent volunteer at the school eight years ago after working for about 20 years in computer programming and technical support.

Now, since the lab is in constant use from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day, she seldom takes a break, providing technical support to the staff and instructional assistance to the students. She Even makes minor repairs to the hardware.

The most fun, she said, is working with the first-graders. Most begin with no computer skills and have to be taught how to maneuver a mouse.

"They show so much expression when they master even the simple skills," she said.

One lesson, she said, was teaching them to count.

"With headphones, they don't always realize they are speaking out loud," she said. "Here they were, almost in unison, singing along, 'Hickory, dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.' "

Mrs. Bailey said she would like the pilot program to be extended to middle school.

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