In an effort to improve math and science scores, the Mountain View Whisman School District has begun contracting with an education research company to teach teachers how to teach better and more efficiently.
With the help of a $1 million grant from Google, the district has hired DataWORKS to train teachers on Explicit Direct Instruction, a methodical teaching system designed to engage students while at the same time allowing teachers to quickly identify those students who are having trouble with the material. The idea is to address confusion the moment it arises.
"Instead of waiting for the quiz on Friday, we're finding out right then and there," said Cynthia Kampf, a consultant for DataWORKS.
Kampf, a former teacher who holds a doctorate in education, recently supervised 16 days of EDI training held at Castro Elementary. During the training, Kampf showed teachers how to use Explicit Direct Instruction method for Mountain View Whisman students who had fallen behind in their studies.
All too often, teachers don't realize which of their students are falling behind until it's too late, Kampf said.
"We used to say, 'Practice makes perfect,'" Kampf said. "Now, we say, 'Practice makes permanent.'"
When a teacher fails to recognize that a student doesn't understand a concept early on, that student will either give up on trying or else will continue practicing the wrong way. And "if they practice it wrong, it's going to be in their brains wrong."
The new system uses carrots and sticks almost literally -- to ensure student participation.
The carrots come in the form of whiteboards. In EDI, every student has a whiteboard that they use to answer questions in class. Kampf said that the whiteboards serves as an incentive for the students, who enjoy showing others that they know the answer to the question.
"Kids love to use their hands, too," she said of the whiteboards. "A lot of kids are tactile learners -- they have to use their hands to learn."
The also allow teachers to quickly assess who understands the material and who might need individualized help. This more personalized help can be given one-on-one, or in a smaller group. Once the instructor has determined which students can handle doing a set of practice problems on their own, he or she can hand out a worksheet and pull those students aside who have been having trouble and help them.
The sticks in EDI are actual sticks. Teachers write students names on tongue depressors and draw names at random during class. This ensures that every student is accountable for knowing the material.
"One eighth-grade boy told me that the stick system keeps him on his toes," Kampf said, noting that the boy seemed to like knowing he could be called on any minute. "I think people are happier when their brains are engaged. When they have to be ready for every question they are engaged."
The program cost the school district about $350,000 according to Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of Mountain View Whisman. Although Lairon was hesitant to make any definitive statement about the program until more data is available, she said she has been "very impressed" with the DataWORKS system so far.
"This program really holds kids accountable," Lairon said. Furthermore, EDI "holds us more accountable to make sure the kids understand the lesson."
Lairon said that the EDI method reminded her of the training she received when going to school to be a teacher. "It's sort of like the five-step lesson plan, but on steroids," she said. "It's much more systematic."
Kampf agreed with Lairon about the systematic nature of the DataWORKS program, but was also quick to say that EDI is not meant to stifle creativity in the classroom.
"These are resources for teachers to use," she said. "This isn't a script. There is an art to teaching."