TKIS The Kooralbyn International School

The school's Digital Learning Initiative

In 2011 the school's Principal, Mr Geoff Mills announced the launch of the school's Maths/English/Language Labs in line with the school's 'Integrated Technology Strategy'.

Supported in part by funding received from the Federal Government's DER (Digital Education Revolution) program, the school provided TWO specialised computer labs for numeracy, literacy and language learning for Primary School and THREE labs for Maths and LOTE for Secondary School.

What are the purposes and benefits of the school's Digital Learning initiatives?

Nothing beats 'traditional teacher-led learning'. So to explain WHY the school has introduced this new Digital Learning option, let's first explain a couple of problems that existed PRIOR to this initiative being introduced...

  • Example Problem 1: A teacher introduces a new concept in their maths class. Even in a small class of say 18 students, the teacher might find that 6 students get the concept straight away and the other 12 are stumped. So the teacher gives the six students who understood the concept some example exercises to go ahead with, and the teacher re-explains the concept to the remainder of the class, revising the previous step that was taught last lesson. With the second explanation another six students have 'got it' and go on to the example exercises.

    The teacher then spends a little more time on the six remaining students who don't get it. He/she goes back to the previous concept and revises it. Two more students 'get it' but there are still four in the class who don't understand how even the earlier concepts work. Meanwhile, the group of students who picked up the concept straight away are getting bored and understandably becoming restless.

    At this point, even the most well-meaning teacher in the world, will have to move on leaving four of his/her class to hopefully work it out in homework. These four students are at risk of dropping off the 'learning escalator' especially in a subject like maths, which is extremely sequential and requires a student to fully understand one concept in the sequence before being able to build on it.

    The result is that other than those students 'in the middle', the students who are on top of their maths are not being adequately challenged and those with lower abilities are at severe risk of being left behind, giving up on maths and minimising their chances of ever feeling good about school and themselves while at school.

  • Example Problem 2: The students (from the example above) who were being left behind in their Maths class, decide to invest a lot of time in study and homework so that they can 'catch up'. So before their next Maths test, they start studying three hours a night.

    Unfortunately, they have been 'out of the loop' for so long, they find that every hour of study just makes them more frustrated because they don't understand ANY of it. It's just words and equations that they try to memorise without really comprehending the concepts. The reason for this is that they don't realise the scope of the problem they have. They may have started to have problems several months or several years ago but they're now trying to learn concepts that were introduced this term and that rely on lots of concepts that they don't understand.

    What they REALLY need to do is go back to the previous level maths that they never quite mastered and build on that missing structure. Their teacher usually can't help them, because it is often impossible for their teacher to identify exactly WHERE the students' individual problems initiated from.

    The end result is that the student sits for the next maths test, obtains very little improvement in their result and then decides (as any rationale person would) that there is nothing they can do about it ... they decide that they just don't 'get' maths, they believe they never will 'get it' and they will probably NEVER attempt to catch up again. The student suddenly doesn't like school and has to find other (non-academic) ways to feel good about themselves (like being the class clowns, the disruptive students, etc)... all because a student has gaps in their learning, that are virtually impossible for the student to identify.

  • The solution (to BOTH problems):

    The teacher now schedules his/her class into a Maths Lab session in one of the school's new Digital Learning Labs. Each student is allocated a computer, logs on to the Maths Program and is presented with a Maths question. This maths question has been selected from the 50,000 questions in the program and is based on the student's grade level and the topic and level assigned by the teacher. If the student gets the question correct, they will be given another problem of similar level and on the same topic. If they get that one right as well, they will be given a new problem going up one level. On and on they go, and as long as they keep getting the questions right, the student will quickly advance in levels until they have reached the end of their current year level for that topic.

    IF however, they get a question wrong, they will be given a short explanation of how to get the correct answer (much like how their teacher would explain it) and then be given a similar question again. If they get this new question right they will proceed forward. IF however they get this question wrong, THEY WILL BE TAKEN BACK in the sequence and be given a problem from a lower level. If they get that one wrong, again they will be given a short explanation of how to get the right answer.

    In this way, a student can be taken right back, further and further until they start getting all the questions right.

    What has happened, is that the technology has identified WHERE the student's problems are and is now giving the student the opportunity to START GETTING MATHS QUESTIONS RIGHT and because it builds on previous correct answers it allows the student to advance through the levels and CONTINUE TO GET MATHS QUESTIONS RIGHT. Not only has this computer program (through its personalised trial and error process) been able to identify exactly where the students problems are, it has also been giving explanations along the way so that the student can advance back up the sequence of problems AND it has recorded everything... every incorrect answer, every correct answer, the time the student has taken to calculate an answer, etc, so that the teacher can get individualised print-outs of each students' performance.

    Within these Maths Lab sessions, teachers are free to roam about the class WORKING INDIVIDUALLY WITH EACH STUDENT on what they are having problems with and no student is being held back, no student is locked into a downward cycle of no-return and the teacher is still able to function as a teacher.... explaining individual problems to individual students better than any computer program is able to.

Frequently Asked Questions:

• How will the student be assessed, by the teacher or by the Maths/English Lab computer program?

Students still have to have assessment based on teacher-set questions of year-level standards. The difference is, that particularly in Maths, students and teachers will now be able to identify exactly where a student has problems and be able to work together to improve the results and advance productively.

• Can we access this software from home?

Unfortunately no. The type of software we have licensed is quite expensive and built around internal school management systems, etc. However, the good news is that there are cheaper versions of the software that are available online including some that are actually free. Maths Power is a low cost version for all grade levels (and actually includes EnglishPower and SciencePower) and MathsOnline is a free version that is available for secondary school level maths.

• How does it work with English?

With literacy, the program focuses on aspects of the curriculum that are easily computer based, like spelling, reading and comprehension, etc. Most aspects of the English curriculum must obviously remain teacher-led.

• Why did the school only add TWO Labs for the Primary School?

We hope to add more labs each year, but we are not suggesting that the labs will replace teacher-led learning. The labs will simply support the teachers. Nothing can replace a teacher getting in front of a class and communicating and empathising with his or her students.

• Can a student advance further than their chronological age level in the system?

Absolutely. A student who is in Grade 4 for example, but who is capable of successfully completing maths questions (or English questions) from Grade 7 or Grade 9 or 10, etc) will be challenged to do so.


Ph +61 7 5544 5500 Fax: +61 7 5544 6108 ADDRESS: TKIS, Ogilvie Place, Kooralbyn, QLD 4285, AUSTRALIA
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