Katie Wooge curled up on the end of a suede-colored couch with her legs folded under her. Jotting notes on a pad, Wooge watched a YouTube video on an iPad propped on the arm of the couch.
She stretched at the end of a long day, reaching toward the nearby mini-fridge plastered with a black bumper sticker: “We All Use Math Every Day.”
The Ottawa High School sophomore was one of 14 students scattered about Kristi Miller’s Algebra 2 class Thursday afternoon, crafting their answers to lessons described in detail on YouTube videos the 13-year teacher has self-produced as part of the school’s new iPad course initiative.
“I like that we can do everything on the iPad — there’s no textbook to carry around,” Wooge said.
While she scribbled a few notes the old-fashioned way with pen and notebook, Wooge said she takes most of her notes on the school-furnished iPad and her personal iPad — sometimes using both of the mobile tablets at the same time.
“Katie’s about the closest thing to a paperless student we have,” a lighthearted Miller said as she walked around the classroom, answering students questions and looking over the summaries she requires students to write about each Algebra lesson.
OHS is serving as the pilot school for Kansas City, Mo.-based Lumen Touch’s Students Achievement Management Curriculum software, which provides a platform for a paperless, one-student-to-one-mobile-learning-device experience — often referred to in education circles as a one-to-one learning solution. The SAM software can be used on iPads, laptops and other mobile devices, according to Lumen Touch representatives.
SAM is a centralized software product that organizes, manages and maintains curriculum in one integrated solution, Mark Brigman, executive vice president of partner development for Lumen Touch, said. Lumen Touch has been providing software to school districts for more than a decade, he added.
“Last summer, Dr. [Ryan] Cobbs came to me and asked if I would be interested in serving as the pilot class for a new iPad initiative,” Miller said of her conversation with the OHS principal. “I’m always interested in trying something new, so I said, ‘Sure. Why not?’”
While Lumen Touch provides the proprietary platform to play host to the class, it was up to Miller to input the curriculum.
The educator, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kansas framed in plaques on the wall behind her classroom desk, said she has enjoyed the challenge.
Miller said she and Beth Black, who also teaches Algebra 2 at OHS, decided last year to shun the textbook and align their algebra classes with the common core math standards already adopted in 46 states — instituting problem sets that reflected these nationally accepted common core educational values.
“Since we had already moved away from the textbook last year, it wasn’t that much of a stretch to come up with my own curriculum for this [pilot] class,” Miller said.
The most difficult part, Miller said, has been typing in the assignments and producing the YouTube videos. Students watch her right hand, brandishing an ink pen, flittering over a sheet of ruled notebook paper in the videos as she works through each problem, describing the lesson as she goes along.
Miller even sings the “quadratic formula song” to her students on one YouTube video lesson titled: “Miller Quadratic Formula 1.”
The educator said it takes her about one hour to produce each video.
And the first couple of videos came with a technical glitch, she confessed.
“The first two, I didn’t realize the iPad screen had turned [vertical], so the lessons were sideways,” Miller laughs. “But I got that straightened out.”
Since the pilot program kicked off July 31, Miller said she has produced 47 lesson videos for her Algebra 2 class.
“I try to produce as many as I can [in one session],” she said. “I try to do it when it’s quiet, because I don’t want any background noise on the videos that might distract the students.”
But Miller said even the best laid plans don’t always materialize.
“I thought it was pretty safe to make one at 6:30 on a Saturday morning.” Miller said. She smiled and shrugged. “Who is going to be up at that hour, right? But then my 5-year-old daughter [Kaydin] comes in. You can hear her in the background, ‘Good morning, Mommy.’”
The production process is becoming easier, Miller said.
“I have a wonderful student aide, Meghan Hinman, who is really fast at typing in the assignments, so that has helped cut down the time,” Miller said. And the educator said Lumen Touch has worked to refine its one-to-one software as the semester has progressed.
“When we first started, a student had to complete the assignment straight through, from start to finish,” Miller said. “I didn’t like that, and Lumen worked on it. Now it has a ‘save and continue’ feature, so the student can complete part of the assignment and come back to it later. The program automatically saves the student’s work every 10 seconds.”
Another feature Miller said she likes about the SAM software is that it will tell students if their answer to a problem is correct.
Sam Carver, a sophomore in the class, said he likes that instant feedback.
“You know right away if you made a mistake, and you can rework it,” Carver said. “Before, you had to turn in your paper and wait for the teacher to grade it before you knew if you had gotten the problems right.”
Carver said he also prefers the video instruction to a class lecture.
“If I have a visual of the problem, I can usually figure it out,” he said.
Carver and the other students in the class were not hand-picked for the pilot program, Miller said.
“The class is made up of sophomores, juniors and one senior — that’s a pretty typical Algebra 2 class,” Miller said. “I picked this class because it was the last hour of the day, and I thought this format would make it easier for students to make up if they had to be excused early for a sporting event or another activity like FFA.”
Aaron Miller, a junior, said he has had to miss the class because of an FFA event. The online course made it easy for him to catch up, he said.
“Basically, if you have wifi [Internet access], you can work on the assignment anywhere,” Miller said.
Another nice thing about the assignment, Miller said, is that you can stop and start the video and replay it as many times as needed — a luxury students do not have if they are taking notes during a lecture.
Being able to work on the iPad saved Skylar Rinehart from having to make up course work on a day when the sophomore said she was ill and couldn’t attend class.
“I was able to keep up, because I could work on my assignment even when I was sick and at home,” Rinehart said.
Keith Lane, the other OHS math teacher involved in the pilot program, said Thursday the iPad geometry course helped him stay on track Monday while he had to be out of town for a family emergency.
“They [students] were still sending me their assignments and notes Monday, and I could grade them and respond to their questions [via email] while I was sitting in a hotel room in Nebraska,” Lane said. “The class continued on like normal.”
Lane pointed to a stack of papers on a shelf.
“That’s my other geometry class,” he said.
Another nice feature of the iPad initiative, Lane said, is that it provides more time to answer students’ questions during the class period, because they’ve already watched his instructional videos on each lesson — requiring little or no lecture time when the class of 17 students meets during the first hour of the school day.
“I have 24 students in my other geometry class,” Lane said. “If I spend the first 20 minutes or so lecturing, that’s only enough class time for me to spend approximately one minute with each student — that’s not realistic.”
The additional face time with students, Miller said, is one of her favorite aspects of the iPad initiative.
“This [pilot course] has allowed me to spend more time getting to know my students on a one-to-one basis,” Miller said. “And when we have to watch a [lesson] video as a group in class, I’ve found the students are quiet and more attentive. They will even shush each other if someone is talking so they can hear the video.”
On Thursday afternoon, students were huddled in groups around tables or sitting off on their own at desks. Franklin Windler, a junior, was sharing the couch at the back of the room with Wooge.
“The only thing I don’t like about the class is that my fingers are too big for the tiny keys [on the iPad],” Windler, who waved a large paw in the air, said. “But I really like this class — it’s much better than having to carry around a book. And the [video] lessons give you the chance to work ahead.”
Miller and Lane said they like the pilot program. Like any new system, some bugs had to be worked out, they said.
“I wanted my students to be able to take notes on their iPads and send them to me by email,” Lane said. “We found an app called Educreations, which has white board that allows students to write or type their notes. It’s worked out really well.”
Each video lesson Lane produces includes the lesson, a link to an online “homework help” tool and a second example of how the problem can be worked.
“If I find music or a rap [about geometry] that I think will help students with the lesson, I’ll link that to the lesson, too,” Lane said.
Once students complete an assignment, Miller said, they hit the submit button and the software instantly sends their work to her iPad already graded.
But she and Lane both said some answers the computer counts wrong might technically be correct, so they recheck the work and will give students credit for problems that might have been counted wrong because of a typo or writing out a fraction in a different way.
Miller said she understood Lumen Touch was talking with the University of Kansas about developing a feature that would offer a suggestion to a student about why they might have missed a problem, based on the answer given. As is, the program lets the student know in real time that an answer is incorrect, but doesn’t offer a suggestion about why it was wrong.
“I hope we can add that feature,” Miller said. “I think that would be beneficial.”
OHS principal Cobbs said he’s pleased with how the pilot program is going.
“Feedback from students and teachers has been phenomenal,” Cobbs said. “The level of engagement is very impressive to see, and with this one-to-one system, students are allowed to work at their own pace, which improves their learning.”
Cobbs said about 10 other OHS teachers have said they are eager to use the iPad program in their classes, once the district gives the go-ahead.
Dean Katt, superintendent of Ottawa schools, said he is equally impressed with the program.
“I know it is a challenge for teachers to put together the curriculum, but they have said they are up for that challenge,” Katt said.
Ottawa school board members said Monday night they think the program is great, too, but whether the district can afford it in the future might be another matter.
“I know this first year is free because we are a pilot school,” Dennis George, school board member, said. “But no company stays in business doing anything for free. We need to know what this is going to cost us [in subsequent years].”
David White, school board member, said he also is concerned about Lumen Touch sharing the videos Miller and Lane have produced with other schools and wants assurance the district has a copyright on their curriculum.
White said he also doesn’t want to see the teachers expend a lot of time and energy on the program if the district cannot afford to continue it in the future.
Katt said he thought the program would be affordable, based on preliminary discussions with Lumen Touch, and he said he will look at attracting some corporate sponsors to help pay for an expansion of the program.
Lumen Touch’s Brigman said the exact price for Ottawa had not been worked out yet, but he said the company charges $4 to $6 per student on an annual basis for this particular software product. Brigman said Ottawa’s price would fall somewhere in the $4 to $6 per student range.
Miller and Lane said the effort they have put into the curriculum would be easy to tweak for future classes. Miller said she would like to see the program expanded to other classes.
Lane, an educator with 11 years of experience, agreed with his colleague.
“This is the technology this generation of students has grown up with,” Lane said. “I think it’s important that we adapt our teaching methods to fit the learning environment they are comfortable with, rather than making them adapt to us. Otherwise, we are going to lose them.”
Doug Carder is senior writer for The Herald. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org