Distance learning

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It’s second period at Milwaukee’s Washington High School, and Dennis Rashka is teaching Advanced Placement calculus. The lesson is on derivatives, the slope of a curve at a particular point on that curve. “Are you with me?” Rashka asks the six students sitting in front of him in the classroom as well as the two additional students whose images appear on an oversized television screen set up at the back of the room.

The two girls are students at Marshall High School, located about 3.5 miles northwest of Washington. Because Marshall doesn’t have enough students to warrant its own AP calculus class, and traveling to Washington is too cumbersome, the girls are taking the course via distance learning.

Rashka teaches the class in Washington’s full-motion, two-way interactive video studio, one of seven in the Milwaukee Public Schools. The Marshall students hear and see everything Rashka says and does, thanks to the two cameras and microphone set up in the room. One camera is focused on Rashka; the other is a document camera focused on the long, complex equations the teacher writes out to illustrate the lesson.

“It’s important that all the students at all the sites be able to see the lesson in the same way,” explains Joe Kmoch, Washington’s technology coordinator.

Rashka and the Washington students see and hear everything that goes on in the Marshall classroom, too. This morning, that includes listening in on Marshall’s morning announcements, which are being piped out over that school’s public address system. Rashka also occasionally visits the students at Marshall and works closely with a math teacher at Marshall who helps run the course.

Interactive video technology is also being used to connect students and teachers at the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison with MPS classrooms. UW students, for example, have been able to observe an experienced teacher at Hi-Mount Elementary School working with her class of first-graders. Following the demonstration, the college students and the teacher talk about what they observed.

Such interactions, say district officials, could encourage more teachers-in-training to consider working in urban schools.