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Computers are the teachers at Pasco County summer school

NEW PORT RICHEY — Marcus Shoopman could have spent Thursday morning shooting hoops with his buddies at the community rec center.

Instead, he headed to Room 242 of Gulf High School about 7:30 a.m. for a sixth consecutive day of geometry lessons.

"The reason I came here is because I wanted to make up my credits," explained the rising senior, who failed geometry and didn't want to fall behind schedule for graduation. "I want to graduate with all my friends in my class."

Each summer, the Pasco County School District offers two-week courses for students to make up lost credits from the school year. What makes Shoopman's lessons different this year is the introduction of Nova Net, a computer program that allows participating students to work at an independent pace on the topics that vex them most.

The system debuted at Irvin and Schwettman education centers in January, and then expanded to Ridgewood and Anclote high schools in the spring, as a way to keep students on track. Gulf and Pasco high schools joined Ridgewood and Anclote in offering it for 10 days this summer.

"I think it's actually cool," Shoopman said, while working on lessons about special right triangles. "If you fail, you can make it up really quick. I honestly think it is easier to learn. I know a lot more than I did in class."

Many of the Gulf students in the program agreed. They said they failed because they skipped class, were bored with their teacher's instruction style or struggled in the traditional classroom setting. The computerized lessons, with help from an instructor and three student tutors from the International Baccalaureate program, made the material more accessible, they said.

"You actually have to read all the stuff," said sophomore Reyna Bates, who was working through a poetry chapter for English II. "I think I learn more."

Each course is divided into modules of eight chapters, all aligned to state standards. Students begin the modules by taking a pretest that identifies which skills they already have mastered and which require more attention. Then the computer directs the students to the topics they need to focus on, allowing them to pass over the material they already know.

They can't move ahead to the next chapter until they score at least 80 percent. To pass the overall module, they have to make at least 70 percent, or a C, teacher Karol MacQuarrie said.

The work proved daunting at first, said freshman Uriel Villeda, who was working on functions in Algebra I. But the lessons went more quickly as he progressed, he said.

"You get the hang of it and you go faster every time," Villeda said, as he marked his progress in a log.

If you doubt that a 10-day course can possibly make up for a semester, ask the students whether the Nova Net class is a joke. As they struggle with multiple variable algebraic equations, they'll tell you the program is far from easy.

The lessons are as hard or harder than the regular class, said sophomore Tiffany Floyd. The difference, she said, is that the computerized program gives details that she needs without having to wait for others in the class.

Floyd, like others, said she preferred to learn this way.

"I just understand it more than the teachers," she said.

Yet this type of learning might not be for everyone, MacQuarrie observed. Shoopman agreed.

"If you're not motivated to come here and do your work," he said, "you might as well not come."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Computers are the teachers at Pasco County summer school 06/24/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 24, 2010 8:47pm]
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