Beloit Turner students were able to improve their math and reading skills this year thanks to their participation in some unique online math classes offered through Northwestern University. The classes also involved a strong reading component within the math curriculum.
“The goal of the district is to make sure all students are being challenged,” Sue Brandenburg said.
Beloit Turner received a grant through the Department of Public Instruction to cover online math courses for fifth through eighth graders in the gifted and talented program for the 2013-2014 school year, said Sue Brandenburg, the program coordinator for the Literacy, Gifted and Talented programs.
Beloit Turner along with Oregon and Horicon school districts partnered with the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) to apply for the grant. The three school districts received a total of $29,930. Beloit Turner received $10,625, which was used for students who wanted to take online math classes through Northwestern University's WCATY program.
Brandenburg said students who were gifted and whose parents approved were able to enroll in a nine-week online courses as opposed to their traditional math classes. The students went to the library to take the classes which included an online teacher. The classes also included three visits to meet the online teacher as well as fellow online students at the University of Wisconsin Madison.
A total of 43 Beloit Turner students took the online classes free of charge thanks to the grant. The program typically costs the district $195 per student. There were also an additional 11 students not in the program who took online classes.
One example of the classes was “Fortune-Tellers: Describing the Future through Math and Creative Writing” for seventh and eight graders which taught about the probability behind predictions. In the class students also read The Ender’s Game, a science fiction book.
Another class “Measuring Up: Seeing your World Through Math” for fifth and sixth graders put together a research question, performed surveys of people and analyzed their data.
The classes, Brandenburg said, were challenging and involved research, reading articles and finding evidence to support a thought process. Students had to do a final presentation with their online group on the results they found through their data.
“It’s similar to a college course,” Brandenburg said. “It’s teaching the kids how to think like a mathematician, and it’s more advanced.”
In another online English class called Building Character, for example, a sixth grader wrote a story with her online group which was more than 22 pages long.
Brandenburg said the math classes contained a strong component of reading and writing which improved overall writing abilities in the classroom.
Brandenburg said the online classes taught the students to work independently, and acknowledged they aren’t for everyone. Those who sign up had communicate questions to an online teacher via chats although Brandenburg is available if students need assistance. Brandenburg then checked with teachers to make sure students were keeping up and had conferences with students.
Brandenburg said the students have grown up with technology so finding information online has become part of their life. The key is for students to learn the correct sources and how to use to find answers to their own questions.
Although the online classes can be a struggle, Brandenburg said that’s what true learning is.
“It’s not just what you already know, it’s something you have to reach for. I think it’s another way for to students use their abilities,” she said.