(Crystal A. Proxmire, 1/16/2011)
What I saw when I stopped in for a visit to Kennedy School last week shocked me. The fifth and sixth grade students of Mr. Greg Williamson’s class were up out of their seats, darting about the room, calling out and giggling during a math lesson. And the thing is, that’s the point.
The 23 youngsters in Williamson’s mixed classroom have been devouring math the way other kids might gobble up candy, thanks to involved parents, a creative teacher, and interactive online math games.
A Smart Board, which circulates among all classrooms, works as both a dry erase board to write on, and as a touchpad for games and other online activities. Students can use the board alone or in groups, where they can compete to test their math skills. I watched as John Stellard, Tim Castleman and Ricky Wade went head-to-head in a quick-speed game of matching where they had to look for equivalent fractions and quickly tap the correct pairs. The board communicates with the computer, tracking where the students touch and keeping track of their scores.
The class has a Math Games challenge, which is a list of websites students can go to and practice on. Each level of the challenge has a game or task they must accomplish before being able to move on to the next one. Once a student has passed level thirty, they start playing levels named after other kids, and finally they can create one of their own. They can play in the classroom by using the Smart Board, or they can access the games from their computers at home.
Owen Zabor was the first to pass all thirty levels. “Level Owen” is a game selected by the student that requires the player to click on monkeys holding primary numbers. A score of 19 or better is required to move on to level John. http://www.xpmath.com/forums/arcade.php?do=play&gameid=60
Level John, named after student John Stellard, takes students to a shooting game sponsored by the US Marines called Call of Geometry Quadrilateral Warfare. Armed with a Barrett .50cal sniper rifle students are “transported to a treacherous hot spot to take on a rogue quadrilateral group threatening the world.” Students must shoot sufficient numbers of squares, rectangles and parallelograms before heading on to Level Emily. http://www.xpmath.com/forums/arcade.php?do=play&gameid=84.com
Emily Bly created Level Emily, which leads to a game called Weigh the Wangdoodles. “Your job is to find the weight of each Wangdoodle using the information provided by the scales,” says the site’s introduction. “To be successful, you will have to make sure that the weight you assign to each Wangdoodle works on each scale. This activity is a fun but challenging introduction to multiple algebraic equations.” http://www.mathplayground.com/wangdoodles.html Students must beat 5 puzzles before they move to Level Tim.
Level Tim brings the students to a fun-filled game of probability called Deal or No Deal. http://www.xpmath.com/forums/arcade.php?do=play&gameid=70 Much like the popular television game show, Deal or No Deal has students take chances over the amount of money inside mysterious briefcases.
Other than playing new games there is no external reward for the Math Games Challenge, yet they continue to play – sometimes as much as a couple hours a day after school. Williamson said it seemed like Kennedy kids seem to come to him pre-programmed to learn. “I teach fifth and sixth grade, so I get the benefit of the teachers who have had the students before me. These kids have come to me already doing math at a sixth grade level or beyond. They’re already looking ahead to algebra.”
The students are also using the Smart Board and the internet to learn about other subjects. Most every text book now comes with online resources to enhance what the students read. “The science book goes along with a website where they can read about topics and do simulations of experiments,” he said. On the social studies websites there are videos on different subjects.
Williamson grew up here in Ferndale, and graduated from Ferndale High in 1989. As a youngster he sat in the very same room he now teaches in. And although he has taught in several schools, including Henry Ford College, Williamson is most happy in the Ferndale School District. “The parents have set these guys up with intrinsic motivation to learn that I can’t even really explain. They are eager to learn. I’ve never had students like this elsewhere.”
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