For Troy Norman, the destination is all that matters.
“If (students) are learning, and getting where they need to go, who cares how they got there?” Norman said.
The fourth-year math teacher at Lapeer Community High School wants to reach his students more directly, at the individual level. To do this requires investments in technology, innovative thinking and a few, it turns out, broken molds.
Norman, a self-proclaimed “techie” who began his career in the minutiae-rich realm of municipal insurance, is excited about new teaching strategies aimed at greater student achievement. Technology, it seems, has flipped some of our conventional teaching methods on their heads.
In education circles, one of Norman’s methods is properly called Flipping — an educational strategy in which students receive guided, digital lessons at home; this frees up school time for students to complete their homework. The strategy gives Norman the opportunity to work on a one-to-one basis, and students the ability to work at their own pace.
Norman believes this new model will yield more time on task and positive results for students.
“This year, I don’t do any lectures in class,” he said. “If students don’t get it in the classroom, they won’t get it at home and their parents may not be able to help them.”
Norman actually teaches several courses in math, yearbook and the E 20-20 program at Community. Because he has multiple classes in same room, he has created a bank of lectures on a wide-range of concepts for students to watch on their own time. Soon, Norman will make all the lectures available to students online. Then, Norman points out, students can stop, start, rewind and fast forward; in short, it’s educational efficiency. Students then come to class prepared to do practice assignments; and when questions arise (they always do), Norman is there to provide direction.
This school year, Norman is aided in the classroom by a Livescribe Smartpen, a state-of-the-art device that records a written lesson into video form for easy access. He is the first teacher in the district to use the technology, but anticipates many more will give it a try soon.
“I’m just interested to see how creative people get with it,” Norman said. “I’m sure someone else is going to do something and I’ll say, ‘why didn’t I think of that?’”
As more teachers across subject areas take advantage of the technology, students will reap the benefits of having multiple presentations of often tricky topics.
“It would be ludicrous to assume that every lesson I give, I’m the best at giving it,” Norman said. “I may be the best at this one or that one, but someone else may be better at another. The way I say something may click with one student and not another.”
Norman is going to parlay the district’s $150 Livescribe investment into an online resource for students that can be accessed on smartphones, tablets and home computers from anywhere in the world.
LCS Superintendent Matt Wandrie has witnessed Norman at work, and notes that new techniques aimed at student achievement can achieve a positive return on a modest investment.
“As a district, we want to be innovative,” Wandrie said. “We must constantly take a fresh look at how we take on the task of teaching every child, and technology in the classroom is a big part of that.”