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Breaking down math barriers

Mathematics can be a daunting subject for many students. The amount of numbers and sequences floating around students heads could give anyone a headache.

Woodbury High School now offers students some extra help when it comes to mastering math skills with the seven-week long PLATO Math after school program.

PLATO is an Internet-based math tutorial that offers students courses in both credit recovery, for those courses that students were unable to succeed in, and a ramp up course for Special Education and ELL students in order to help prepare them for the required MCA test.

For math teachers, Mike Pahl and Andi Silvi, the decision to bring the PLATO program to WHS came about because of the need to cater to all types of learners at the school, not just the high level students.

"We need to educate all learners, and that's one thing I saw missing," Pahl said. "We do a great job of educating the top kids, we really do, but we're missing out on that lower quartile; what are we doing for them to forward their learning?"

Pahl said PLATO is a great program for these students because it breaks down the problems and walks the students through them step-by-step.

"If a kid gets a problem wrong, it routs them through tutorials that really breaks it down into small little baby steps -- we can't do that with paper and pencil," he said. "Kids don't really feel like they're learning, but they are."

In only its third week, PLATO has already improved the attitudes and confidence in its 38 students, Pahl said.

"Before, they didn't have fun in math, they're tired of getting beat up -- obviously hitting them with the book isn't working," he said. "But with PLATO, the kids walk in with a positive attitude, they're smiling, they're having fun doing this."

In addition to breaking down the math skills, Pahl said PLATO also is a huge benefit to students because it allows the students to move along at their own pace and not move on until they are comfortable.

"One of the biggest benefits for kids like this who struggle, is that they're setting their own pace," he said. "They're not stuck with the pace of the teacher or with the pace of the classroom."

In addition to the PLATO computer program, WHS offers peer mentors through the program who are on hand to give advice.

"It's great to hear from an adult, but it's even better to hear from a peer," he said, "Kids get excited about math, they get excited about learning and they can continue that excitement until they hit a brick wall, and then we can help them though that brick wall."

PLATO Math will continue to be offered in the third and fourth quarters. Registration for the third quarter program will be the first week of February and classes will begin the following Tuesday.

"There's missing pieces in their foundation, just like building a home, if you have so many bricks missing, you're basement is leaking," Pahl said. "It allows these kids to move forward and fill in those holes and gaps -- I guarantee them success with this."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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