South Pointe Middle School math teacher Gary Dresser boots up his computer each day at 7 a.m. and connects with Google + Hangouts, the plug ins that allow real-time voice and video conversions directly from a computer.
A Suzanne Middle School 8th grade student, sitting in a classroom over three miles away, immediately pops up on his laptop screen.
“Good morning Eric. Do you have any questions for the test today?” Dresser asks. As the teacher begins to work virtually with the student on a few homework problems a small group of South Pointe students begin to trickle into his classroom.
Dresser is the instructor of the District’s pilot virtual Algebra II Honors course.
“We are so thankful to be working collaboratively with Suzanne Middle School. They have been wonderful in ensuring their student is ready to go each morning,” South Pointe Principal Susan Arzola said.
These high achievers have already completed Algebra I and Geometry. They didn't want to wait until high school for the next math course.
About ten students are enrolled in the advanced level course. Algebra II is a typically a high school sophomore-level class.
This is a determined group of middle school kids who don’t seem to mind arriving an hour before their regular school day begins. The class time is 7:10 a.m. – 7:55 a.m.
Using a high-resolution camera, doc camera, LCD projector and virtual classroom software, both the Suzanne student and South Pointe students can share and collaborate on assignments. This advanced technology allows the Suzanne student to see, hear and participate in everything that happens in the South Pointe classroom.
“This is a real-time online class,” Arzola explained.
“We have kept this pilot class small intentionally. And it is the perfect combination, because these students are brilliant,” she added.
“This course opens the door to a new era of learning and the way we deliver courses to our students,” said Board President Helen Hall.
“Streaming allows students who do not want to miss any instructional time at their home school to learn a curriculum that has not been offered at the middle school level until now,” said Suzanne Middle School Principal Les Ojeda.
Suzanne eighth grader Eric Wang is participating in the pilot program.
“What we are finding out is that it will take some time for our student to get used to being in an environment where he is by himself. Students are used to traditionally learning in classrooms with 30 other students working in teams and collaborating,” Ojeda added.
Technology and teamwork have made the first virtual class in the Walnut Valley Unified School District possible.
“Director Kenny Goodson and the entire Technology Department went above and beyond to help make this class work,” Dresser said.
“Adam Doty (network system specialist) and Debra Brady (South Pointe math teacher) have come in at 6:45 a.m. countless days to help fix and just check up on all the technology hardware and software being used,” he added.
Dresser is in contact with Diamond Bar High School (DBHS) and is mirroring their curriculum. Students are learning all of Algebra II, plus basic Trigonometry, Vectors and Polar Coordinates.
The veteran educator and math chairman with 26 years of experience taught the same course many years ago at Walnut High School and during summer school.
“All of our middle schools have had a handful of 8th graders needing Algebra II,” Dresser said.
Some parents took them to high school during Zero Period and then back to their home school, but that option ended a few years ago. The only other option is taking a Period 6 class at the high school, which means missing the end of the middle school day.
The virtual class gives another option for these students.Dresser is providing online lesson videos and blogs to help students while they do their homework in the evenings.
“Due to the nature of the class, I am ‘flip-teaching’ the class. I have updated my lesson plans and then create videos they watch at home. DBHS has been great giving me their scope, sequence and assessments, so the students will be prepared for Honors Math Analysis next year,” he said.
The next challenge will be having the South Pointe advanced math students take turns learning from home.“This will allow them to see how it feels to learn remotely and be able to provide input from a student’s perspective on how to make this new mode of instruction even more effective,” Arzola said.