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School board members go back to school for Algebra 2

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

School board curriculum committee members got a taste of the way Algebra 2 is taught when they visited Mike Whitehead's classroom at Marshall County High School Monday evening.

Each board member was handed a Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus graphing calculator, and assigned a student to help them.

"Six years ago I had never touched one of those," said Whitehead, remembering the start of his teaching career. Now the graphing calculators are an essential part of algebra lessons.

With Whitehead's enthusiastic guidance, school board members then worked out a linear regression. By plotting people's heights and lengths of their thigh bones on a graph, the calculator helped the temporary "students" arrive at an equation, and the conclusion that for every centimeter increase in femur length, a person's height would increase by 2.91 centimeters.

The real high school students were completely familiar with the graphing calculator, quickly and expertly pushing buttons to get the required results. The school board members marveled at its complexities and multiple capabilities.

Next they worked through a three-variable system, determining the prices of pears, pecans and nectarines that were included in varying quantities in three differently priced gift baskets. The calculators helped them figure out the price of each item, when all they knew at the start was the quantity of each fruit to be included and the total price of a basket.

"I'm trying to get them ready for their test," Whitehead said.

He explained that he uses quick, anonymous cell-phone polls to check whether his class understands a concept.

"If you ask them, they won't tell you," Whitehead said of his students, but they will respond to a poll, or even a "thumb check" where they just have to indicate by thumbs up or thumbs down whether something is understood.

"We need the cell phone policy tweaked?" asked Barbara Kennedy, as the lesson ended and the curriculum committee held a short meeting.

"Yes," Whitehead said.

"We'll also have to address students bringing their own technology to school," said Technology Supervisor Suzanne Ingram, who arranged the meeting at MCHS.

Ingram noted that, by law, children's access to the Internet at school has to be filtered.

"These are issues the Board will have to wrestle with," Ingram said. She added that if students were all going to be connecting to the Internet at the same time, she would need to quadruple the number of access points in the schools.

"We need the schools open at night and in the summer so kids and parents can use the computer facilities," Ingram suggested.

"It's nice to see the technology being used," Kennedy said.

"It's their world," Whitehead confirmed. "We can use it to reach them and engage them."