OD.C Operation Digital.Chalkboard
by Carmelita Alicea Santiago Mathematics Teacher, Jean Childs Young Middle School, Atlanta Georgia
MultiMedia Schools January/February 2001

My Seventh Grade Math Class: Turning on the Lights
As I neared the close of the first semester with my seventh grade math classes at my new school assignment, I realized that it was time to plan some more innovative strategies for turning on the motivation and lights to learn with half the year gone. Every new school assignment and new school year comes with its own special population and their own special needs. I had to find out what turned on the lights for this very mixed socio-economic community in these fast-changing technological times. It was obvious my prior "bests" were not making the grade. I surveyed my available technology options: two computers, a networked printer, a TV, an Averkey (for projection), a scanner, and a World Wide Web full of options.

Operation Digital.Chalkboard
I looked at the choice between PowerPoint presentations versus an interactive integrated mathematics Web site tied to an educational network portal. It was the long shot that I decided to take. I found an educational network that offered a community publishing system and many varied teacher/student tools that would assist with plans, research, homework assignments, and the potential for student interaction across the country. I decided that the community publishing system had the potential of becoming what I called a digital chalkboard. I felt that I could use this multimedia tool to motivate the students to reach a higher level of success in their studies. I was also inspired by John Kuglin's research on "building learning communities."

I decided to promote publishing the mathematics concepts that were mastered on Web sites made first by tech teams (formally cooperative learning groups) and then by individual students for a final grade in technology. The mathematics published by students at their personal sites would be found in the themes that the student felt represented their personal interests. These mathematics concepts would meet my need to represent mathematics using real-life situations and could be evaluated and graded by me via the Internet and edited by the student writers for corrections. The final postings would mean that other students could use the sites to learn new concepts, develop mastery, and for remediation of skills. It was, needless to say, an incredible idea. Students would design the sites and present lessons from their themes using varied options for graphics, lettering, and the network's fun/safe options for kids. The fun options included chat rooms, calendars, albums, participation options, and message boards.

The students bought into the idea immediately and motivation soared to truly indescribable heights. The varied interests of students in a class represented enormous possibilities for the teaching and learning of mathematics, all within the curriculum for the grade level. Expanding the knowledge that the students brought with them and creating lessons from their personal themes became a very easy job for me.

OD.C, Teachers, and Kids: The Process
The top of the order in the process was my creation of a mathematics site from which I could train the students in what was achievable with this project. To understand in greater detail what I used for this training go to www.bigchalk.com/schools/CSM3 USE. This is the math site I created that was used in the technological training process. It also demonstrates what I wanted for the children to use as an example of how to prepare a math lesson, write a problem, and set up the option for e-mail for participants to send solutions and to exchange any other pertinent information.

The process for accomplishing our tasks came from the requirements of the educational network, Bigchalk.com, to create a Web site. First we created tech teams of three to four students. Each team received a name using the order of the Greek alphabet (i.e., Alpha Tech Team, Beta Tech Team, etc.). The educational network was aligned with a group that offered e-mail and was in my opinion a more secure site for children than those offered outside of the network portal. Each team secured team e-mail at that site. I created the idea of dot names that each child used in the string for the user ID. Students also included the team name and homeroom number, which helped me greatly when identifying students for grading purposes. The dot name was for additional security once Web sites were created and the students wanted to refer to themselves. The dot name was the first three letters of one's first and last name with a period between. Mine was Car.San. This was pronounced Car dot San. The children found humor in a lot of the names, for instance, Max.Moo.

The next step was for students to ask to participate at my training site, which the network identified as the parent site, and gave me absolute administration rights over all sites that were connected to my site. This safeguard is wonderful because it allows the teacher the option to delete or turn lights out on anything inappropriate that a child might venture to do. I must say that out of a team of nearly 90 students only four tried to create components that were unacceptable.

Next the students created names and descriptions for their team sites (these sites were training sites for each group). The students learned how to add sites, prepare components required by the network to administrate these sites, define URL links, create home pages, fun options, internal links for publishing work, find graphics, both shared JPEG and MPEG broadcast-quality video to depict the heart of their problems and themes, use search engines to find information relevant to their themes, create sound .wav files, and create forms for surveys.

On the Novice Webmaster
It should be without reservation that teachers and media specialists embark on such a project because I personally trained myself in how to create a Web site using the networks guidance. It took a lot of trial and error and self-motivation to learn how to use a community publishing system. I learned the process over the winter holidays, was completely functional when school began in January, and immediately began to train the students while the process was still very fresh in my mind.

My students were not any more knowledgeable about building Web sites using a CPS (community publishing system) than I was, and learned the process very quickly. Integrating it within my time allotment for my mathematics lessons took a total of about 10 90-minute blocks of time to teach and learn. After the fundamentals were taught the students used trial and error to explore some of the options that, with each other's help, I knew they could accomplish. Most of the students on my team had hardware and Internet access at home. As the tech teams were formed, students without hardware were placed on teams with students having hardware, and families came together to make sure that all of the children spent quality time and opportunities at each other's homes. Each day that I stayed after school and homeroom time were spent with our team using the computers that we had in our classrooms and the media center to accomplish tasks. Very liberal time was given to achieve the assignments. Once the team sites were approved by me, members of the team were given permission to add a personal site from their team site. This began the stage of an alternative evaluation option of personal technological skills and mathematical skills for a final grade on the project by building these theme-related sites. All questions that were not answered in class were answered by e-mail. We were novices growing towards mastery of a new, cutting-edge technological instructional tool.

SWAT (Students Working to Advance Technology) Across our Learning Community
The first group of my seventh graders have been promoted in three very significant ways. They are the eighth graders now, and 30 of the highest achievers are members of my SWAT Team. Thirdly, these students have shown achievement to the level of Student Trainer. In this leadership capacity, volunteer students will be training teachers and support staff across our school in how to use this new technological instructional strategy.

In Conclusion: Where We're Going Next
These students continue to add to and enhance the skills that they have learned on their personal Web sites. They have presented their skills at their first national technology conference and are excitedly preparing for two more in 2001. They prepare their own team PowerPoint presentations and handouts for these conferences and make sure that their personal sites exhibit the quality of skills in the components of using a community publishing system that our educational network portal offers. They also make sure that the mathematics work meets my standards of mastery. These upcoming activities will be my ultimate test of success and attainment of mastery.

Carmelita Santiago is a presenter at district, state, and national conferences on topics related to the effective use of mathematics with urban students and technology in the middle grades. Communications to the author should be addressed to Carmelita Santiago, Mathematics Teacher, Jean Childs Young Middle School, 3116 Benjamin E. Mayes Drive, S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30311, 404/696-4533. Digital alpha communications can be received via pager www.bellsouthpaging.com (send a message), pin 8889823645, or e-mail at csnahajp@bellsouth.net.

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