Education online: Websites offer learning opportunities

Starting this school year, education-based websites are replacing textbooks for the sixth-grade math students at Edinburgh Community Middle School.

Sixth-grade math teacher Jaicee Blais is able to use websites to show students step-by-step instructions to solve math problems. The main site she uses is called Khan Academy, which has detailed videos of math skills and practice problems for students to work on, she said.

“This has videos that kind of explains it a little bit more in-depth than probably I ever could to them,” Blais said. “It’s just something more visual to them, and they really seem to like the videos.”

Blais will start her class with a video, then work through problems as a class. Once students are done with their homework, they can do additional work on Khan Academy as a treat, she said. Students enjoy the website because they can earn badges and shields for different accomplishments. After students watch a video or score well on practice problems, they can earn points to get a new avatar for their account, which students love, Blais said.

“They don’t see this as a punishment,” Blais said. “They beg for it.”

Khan Academy replaces a textbook for the class, she said. Since students can get to the site anywhere they have Internet access, students can watch instructional videos again to better understand the concepts, Blais said.

“If they don’t get a concept, before we found this, they would be emailing me, saying, ‘I don’t get it,’ and then they’d come in the next morning and we’d work on it. So this allows them to type in the subject of the homework, and then there’s six or seven videos that show them how to do it,” Blais said. “A lot of this is new math, so it’s a lot of stuff that I didn’t learn, as well as their parents didn’t learn, so they don’t know how to help them.”

In addition to going over the math problems from that day’s class assignment, students can also work ahead in other areas of the coursework, such as fractions or dividing decimal points, Blais said. Then Blais can see what all of her students have learned, what they need additional help on, what concepts they aren’t understanding or what sections can be skipped since students have already learned them, she said.

“(This is) an engaging way that their accustomed to by living the digital life we do today. So the teachers teach the way the students learn,” Edinburgh technology director Bob Straugh said. “They adapt to the environment — the student environment. It is truly remarkable to watch it evolve.”