Reaching Every Student: The Loudoun County Story
by Pat Herr
Fifth Grade Teacher • Ball’s Bluff School • Leesburg, Virginia
MultiMedia Schools • January/February 2000

Math has always been one of my favorite subjects to teach in the elementary classroom, and I always considered it to be one of my strong points. I have always used Math Team Tournament Learning, which is based on a multitude of theories. I give the instruction to the whole class, provide examples on the board, and answer questions asked by the class. Group instruction ends when most students seem to understand the concept being taught. Based on a pretest, I group one high, one low, and one or two middle students together. The students take turns showing the others in the group how to do the math problems assigned. Then, after going over the questions, the students participate in relays, where the students go up to the board one at a time and complete a similar problem. The table that gets the answer the fastest gets a point. Everyone gets multiple turns, so the teacher can instantly assess whether she needs to go back over the concept, or which students need additional help. Groups also get points for everyone at the table bringing in homework and for the total test scores at the end of the chapter. There is a “tournament” the day before the test, providing both a review for the students and an assessment of which skills the teacher needs to review again before the test. This has been a very effective teaching tool for the majority of students, and in the affluent school at which I taught, very well liked by the students. Test scores were good and everyone was happy.

The Challenge
Then I moved to the school in which I currently teach. The population the first year we opened was very different from my previous experience. I had a small class with fewer than 15 students. More than one-third of the class represented the population I had been looking forward to teaching—those who had not been successful in school in the past. I began implementing the math team tournament, and again the students liked it very well. However, it was not reaching all the students. Those who caught on quickly would go ahead of those who did not, and they were not too willing to help their fellow students. Test scores were not bad, but those who were slipping through the cracks definitely needed a different approach. I found myself extending the time I spent teaching math, since in many cases, the students did not have basic arithmetic skills—borrowing, carrying, and multiplication facts. I never made it through the book that first year, but I felt that the students knew a little more than they had at the beginning of the year and could tackle middle school math the following year.

Because our group was so needy, and because they fed into a large middle school, the other fifth grade teachers and I decided we would like to follow these kids to middle school. Through the middle school, we set up a homework club for our former students, and once a week we helped them with homework. It was amazing to see how hard they found middle school and how quickly their math teachers moved through the assignments, giving sometimes two pages of homework a night. We knew something had to change.

Introducing CCC
At the end of that first year at Ball’s Bluff, our principal introduced us to CCC (Computer Curriculum Corporation), a computerized system for teaching math skills. He seemed very excited about it. We were planning to pilot the program for the county and track test results. Technicians started to load the program that spring, causing all kinds of problems with the other computer programs we had all been using. Needless to say, we ended that year with low expectations for the fall.

When we started in the fall, CCC was ready to go, but still causing frequent computer operation problems. Teachers resented using the program. First of all, it required being in the computer lab three times a week for 20-minute sessions. We had a lot of students who needed to spend more instructional time for math, yet we were being asked to spend less math time in the classroom and more in the computer lab. Plus, scheduling the lab times to coincide with our math times did not seem possible. It did not seem that a computer program would or could give the kind of individualized instruction that we thought we could give. At first, students found much of CCC difficult and had so many questions that one teacher could not respond adequately to all their needs. We were not happy.

While students were getting correct answers on CCC problems, they did not seem to have a clue how to solve the same type of problem in the classroom. They also had mixed feelings about the program. They liked it and thought getting the gold ribbon for a correct answer was very rewarding. The students who did not have computers at home (the majority of my class) found it gave them a chance to learn more about using the computer and to become more comfortable with using a mouse, the keyboard, and selecting a program. Most of the students were used to going to the computer lab for either word processing or games, and CCC was neither. Some dreaded going to CCC because they were used to doing well in math, and they did not like the scores they were getting. They really wanted to get 100 percent all the time and felt they were not doing well if they scored less. The weekly reports could be very depressing. CCC was reporting the majority of my students to be functioning at below grade level, and to be honest, I had to wonder how “grade level” was determined. Was CCC really meeting the Standards of Learning set by the state of Virginia? There was no way the two coincided!

Then the standardized test scores came back. What a shock! The students scored so much higher than the previous year that something had to be happening, and the only change was CCC. About this time, we started to look at ways CCC could continue to help us reach our students, and we had almost given up our skepticism. So ended the first year of using CCC.

Evaluating the Second Year
The second year we had fewer problems. We began a homework club again with our former students only to find that they really didn’t need us. They handled the work easily. I don’t know if that had to do with CCC or if we just knew a little better how to prepare them for middle school. We disbanded the club by midyear.

Teaching math was a breeze. Most of the students in my class were at the fifth grade level in CCC or very close to it. CCC ran smoothly, with most of the kinks having been worked out. Most students had encountered the concepts introduced in CCC and were at least familiar with them. And now we now knew how to use worksheets. I found out how great it was to be able to tell the lab technician that the class was working on fractions and the students needed extra help. She would assign each student a number for extra fraction work. During their scheduled time in the CCC lab, students would be working on fractions instead of the regular CCC program.

It became easy to differentiate math instruction with CCC. All the students worked at the level at which they were comfortable but challenged. They could get extra practice in whatever we were working on without being “pulled out of the classroom” for extra help. By the end of the year, 10 students were working at the seventh grade level or above: Now I did believe that the grade levels assigned by CCC were comparable. I actually finished teaching all of the math Standards of Learning, and test scores in math were very good.

Yes, there were some students who did not finish the fifth grade math level, but they showed notable improvement. Would they have struggled more without CCC? That’s hard to say, but I know it helped. We have really moved away from drill and practice in the classroom; there is very little time for it. We administer SOL testing in April, and that means covering the entire year’s standards by then. When I could see we weren’t going to get to geometry in time, I had our assistant assign the class geometry numbers to work on during CCC for 2 weeks.

Is CCC a teacher planning period? Absolutely not. This is a great time to see how your students are doing and identify areas in which they need help. They do not hesitate to ask questions during CCC and to get help before missing a problem.

What motivates students? Seeing their scores every day helps, but we have also created a 90+ club. Each teacher has a sheet on the bulletin board in the lab. Each time students achieve 90 or above in CCC, they add their names to the sheet. At the end of each month, there is a drawing of those names for free ice cream. Bribery always works!

Using CCC with an “Early Back” program
Our school acquired grant money for an “Early Back” program this fall, along with about eight other schools in the county. We invited students who were considered to be at risk of not graduating from high school, who scored below the 25th percentile on standardized tests, or who were recommended by their teachers. Thirty-seven students participated in the free program. The three teachers who taught the program designed it to incorporate both reading and math CCC programs. We concentrated on improving reading and math skills and practiced writing as well. We adopted a Treasure Island theme and read the book during that 2-week “Early-Back” period.

The students used CCC twice during the morning in 20-minute blocks. We didn’t want to waste time walking to and from the lab, so we used that time for making estimations, such as how many steps to the lab, how many skips, how many students laying end to end. Then, about halfway through the 2 weeks, I decided to make the CCC scores the incentive. If students scored better than 90 percent they could roll down the hall to the classroom. Wow! The scores were great that day!

The Early Back program was wonderful. The students loved going to CCC and really worked to improve their scores. Because all the kids were at about the same level, they felt secure and became very involved in the book and the estimations, along with trying to learn or relearn their multiplication facts. I found the CCC reading program so beneficial to me as a diagnostic tool that I have asked to keep our Early Back students enrolled in it for the school year to see if this will help them both with taking tests and self-esteem. Since many of the fifth grade Early Back students are in my class, I intend to put them on the computer at least twice a week. If their improvement in math is any indication, we should see some great results!

Communications to the author may be addressed to Pat Herr, Balls Bluff Elementary School, 821 Battlefield Parkway, Leesburg, VA, 20176; phone: 703/779-8800; fax: 703/779-8804; e-mail:

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