Seven-year-old Cassandra Harpster said she’s not very good at math.
On Wednesday afternoon the second-grader sat at her desk at Port Matilda Elementary School with a Chromebook and played a computerized baseball game that focused on multiplication.
Cassandra moved the mouse toward a cartoon pitcher on a baseball mound. When she clicked on it, the pitcher threw a baseball to home plate. Before the batter could hit the ball, a math problem was presented. If Cassandra answered it correctly, the batter would advance to the next base.
The Everyday Mathematics program allows students to choose dozens of math-based games to hone their skills based on individual needs. There is a similar program called ConnectED that teachers use with students to target language arts skills.
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But just a few weeks ago, students couldn’t play such games or complete online assignments.
Bald Eagle Area School District received a $244,847 grant through the state Department of Education that is going toward tech-based products to improve the district’s STEM program, said Tracy Boone, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
There is also a language arts component as part of the district’s Reading Wonders program developed this year to combine reading with writing instead of teaching the two separately, said James Orichosky, Wingate Elementary School principal and director of elementary education.
Earlier this school year, 12 carts of 30 Chromebooks each were approved for purchase with money from the grant.
Nine carts have already been purchased and were delivered to the schools about a week ago. The other three will be purchased when the next installment of the grant comes through, Boone said.
She expects that to be before the new year.
“We were looking at integrating more computers and Chromebooks to provide accessibility in the classroom and to do some of the work without always using the computer labs,” Boone said. “We looked at the district’s needs and determined these are the things we need to focus on. It gives them the access right at their fingertips.”
Calculators also were purchased for the math departments.
The state requires all money from the grant to be used for enhancements including for the use of Promethean Board — an interactive whiteboard and student response system — in science classes.
During the summer, teachers and staff were trained to use Google systems.
Port Matilda second-grade teacher Elaina Howell said her class has one hour of individualized instruction every day in which students split into five groups and rotate through tech-based reading, writing and math sessions at their own pace.
The results of the games and assignments are then saved for teachers, like Howell, to review and craft individual learning programs.
“I have 22 kids in different learning groups,” she said. “This targets the things they specifically need to work on and allows me to better tend to their needs and assign work based on their learning curve.”
When Cassandra signed in to her computer, it took her to a math lesson that helped build her multiplication skills.
“I’m not very good at math,” Cassandra said. “I want to answer them right so I get more points, and I can sometimes play against other kids.”
It was a similar process for Wyatt Spackman, 8, who completed a language arts assignment using ConnectED.
He used the program to write a letter to Howell about a trip he took to Alaska with his family in 2011.
“I guess I kind of wing it,” he said. “Sometimes I don’t know the spelling of things, but it helps us form sentences and spell correctly and tell a story, and if it’s wrong, Mrs. Howell works with us.”
And the learning curve was minimal for her students, Howell said.
“We taught them the basic functions of the computer, but to be honest, they’re better at this than we are,” she said with a laugh. “This is a generation of kids who don’t really know what it’s like to get a phone with a cord on it. They hardly do anything with pencil and paper anymore, and they really embrace the new technology.”
Because students have their own log-in names and passwords, their work is transferable from nearly anywhere so they can work on assignments remotely.