Want to learn math?
There’s an app for that.
Edgewood ISD students prepare for college through a
pilot dual-credit program that arms them with iPads
As Esther Burton listened to her
college algebra instructor explain how to
graph rational functions one morning this fall,
her high school math teacher watched from
the back of the classroom.
"I assigned the bare minimum you need to do,"
Zachery Sharon reminded the 17 high school juniors
seated before him. "That means you need to do more if
you are having trouble with it."
Taking the initiative to stretch academically
is a huge part of the lesson Sharon and
his team-teaching counterpart, Memorial High
School math teacher Michael Hughes, hope
to impart to Burton and her classmates. The
students are participating in iCLASS, a two-year
program designed to take strong math
students and prepare them to succeed in
college—armed with their very own iPads.
iCLASS stands for Innovative Communities
of Learning Advancing Student
Success and is a collaboration between
the Academy for Teacher Excellence in
UTSA’s College of Education and Human
Development and the Office of P-20
Initiatives, which works to increase
the college-going rate of Texans. The
program’s investigators already have
begun gathering data that will allow
them to assess what is working, how
to improve and how best to apply
this model on a larger scale, said
Belinda Bustos Flores, professor of
interdisciplinary learning and teaching and co-principal
investigator. The iPads are an important tool
to engage students and foster good habits such as persistence
and self-motivation as they learn the math and
science they need to be competitive, she said.
"We know that the jobs of the future require a population
that is well versed and comfortable in math and science,"
Flores said. "By taking more math and more science
[classes] sooner, it gives students a greater choice
in terms of the field of study. For example, if a student
has the goal of becoming an engineer and they realize,
‘I have to start off at math 101 and then I have to take college
algebra,’ already they are deterred from their path."
Funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department
of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary
Education, iCLASS bundles into a comprehensive program
all aspects of college preparedness, from technology to
counseling to parental leadership and involvement. If this
year’s students complete all their courses, they will graduate
from high school next year with 12 hours of college credit,
a big boost in their quest to earn a degree from a four-year
university. A new group of juniors and seniors will join the
program next fall and will be able to earn up to six hours of
college credit before funding ends in December 2013.
The program’s first dual-credit course, college algebra,
began this fall. Students will study pre-calculus this spring,
calculus next fall and a science course—likely chemistry—in the final spring semester.
"A good [predictor] of a student succeeding in college
is if they have earned college credit hours as a high school
student," said Rachel Ruiz, assistant vice president of P-20
and co-principal investigator of iCLASS.
What makes iCLASS different is its comprehensive scope
and its overarching goal of creating a college-going culture
on a campus with predominantly low-income Latino
students, many of whom would be the first in their families
to attend college. iCLASS brings together the successful elements
of a professional development community for teachers
run by the Academy for Teacher Excellence and a dual-credit
and parental leadership project out of P-20, Ruiz said.
As part of the project, 23 teachers at Memorial also received
iPads and training on how to use the technology in
their classrooms to ensure the continuation of lessons and
techniques beyond the initial program’s lifespan. Flores
said the iPads will give students and teachers access to online
resources around the clock, eliminating study barriers
such as distance and work schedules. It helps that iPads appeal
to trend-conscious teens, she added.
"Sometimes bright kids choose to underachieve because
it is not cool to be into school. We want the students
to remain highly motivated," she said.
If students have trouble remembering how to solve a
tough problem, help is just an app away. Burton’s favorite is
the one that downloads her textbook to her iPad, but UPAD,
a note-taking app, is a close second.
"It has really helped us to see what it’s like when we go
to college," said Burton, who plans to be an architect. "High
school is really different than college. We know it’s a select
group. We’re working hard at it."
They had to work hard to get into the program, too. To
qualify, students had to have taken Algebra II and the ACT,
pass UTSA’s math entrance exam, attend an iCLASS math
boot camp over the summer and acquire parental permission.
Their college tuition and fees will be waived as part of
Memorial, in San Antonio’s Edgewood school district,
was selected for the program because of its student demographics
and an existing relationship between the Academy
for Teacher Excellence and the school district. Of 80
Edgewood ISD graduates accepted at UTSA in 2009, just
20—one-quarter—enrolled, said Lorena Claeys, executive
director of the academy.
"We found that there was a great need," she said. "A lot of
times students don’t see UTSA as a choice."
For his part, Sharon finds the high school students eager.
"They are probably one of the most engaged group of
students I’ve taught," Sharon said. "It’s nice teaching students
who want to learn."
Melissa Zepeda, a staff member from UTSA’s Office of
P-20 Initiatives and program manager for iCLASS, attends every
class and serves as a mentor to the students, monitoring
their progress, suggesting useful apps to bolster their learning,
working with parents and arranging tutoring if necessary.
"I know what they need to succeed at UTSA," said
Zepeda, a former freshman academic adviser.
Just as important as mastering the subject matter is
learning how to be resourceful and learn proactively, said
Hughes, the Memorial math teacher who observes the lectures
three days a week. He uses the other two days to review
or expand on the material with the students.
"These kids are being forced to work independently on
a level they never had to before," he said.
The chance for the students to get a solid start on college
is an opportunity not lost on Burton’s grandmother, Esther
"I think it’s a great thing," she said, adding that she
makes no secret of her enthusiasm for a program she sees
as a boon to Memorial.
"‘You have this advantage, mija,’" she recalled telling her
granddaughter. "‘Take advantage.’"