For some Rim Country Middle School students, the ACE lab is an oasis. Students excelling and struggling arrive in the computer-laden room to move at their own pace.
Others choose the lab as an elective, instead of activities like band or chorus.
“Isn’t it amazing?” asks ACE lab teacher Deb Jones. “They actually are choosing it for their elective.”
ACE, which stands for Academic Center for Enrichment, provides individualized, computer-based instruction. Students take pre-tests, which then prescribe lessons. Then they take post-tests to confirm comprehension.
Through individualized instruction, in which the philosophy of being everything to everyone actually works, students eagerly toil on computers or with the old-fashioned pencil and paper, working on lessons tailored to strengthen their weaknesses.
As a result, students learn what they need to learn, and how they need to learn it.
Math students sit on one side of the room, and students studying “everything else” — social studies, language arts and science — sit on the other side of the room.
“In a regular class, there’s lots of talking and lots of people don’t like to do their work,” said seventh-grader Kayla Percell. “You kind of learn more where you don’t have so many disruptions.” Percell is Jones’ teaching assistant this year, but took the ACE lab last year.
Percell, along with sixth-graders Derek Oakley and Zoe Wright, eagerly discussed their affinities for ACE lab.
“It’s somewhat easier than working on paper,” Wright said about the computer-based instruction.
Oakley is studying pre-algebra — two grade levels ahead of where his class is. His teacher passes tests to Jones to ensure Oakley knows grade-level topics.
Teachers said the gratification of immediately knowing if an answer is correct helps the students learn.
Instead of a student going home, completing homework, and then returning the next day to realize the whole sheet is wrong, students immediately know if they understand, said Kristi Ford.
Ford is the middle school’s new academic counselor, and she says programs like ACE are vital to teaching. See the Roundup’s article next week on Ford for more information on her mission and the GEAR UP grant that funds it.
“Academic delivery has become so rigid,” Ford said, “that teachers are not given the option to slow down.” They must cover all the topics that appear on the annual standardized tests.
Tools like the ACE lab help abate that problem.
Grade-level or advanced students studying pre-algebra, which the state says is for eighth-grade, come to the class instead of their regular math class.
About five students travel to Payson High School in the morning to take geometry, and then they study algebra in the ACE lab so their skills stay crisp for Algebra II. Geometry comes between the two algebra levels.
Students falling behind stay in their regular math classes, but then come to the ACE lab to fill in the holes. If a student does poorly on an assignment, he can study the material in the lab, re-test, and then replace his grade or use an average of the two grades, depending on the teacher.
Math teacher Nicole Ward said one student rose from an F to a C in one semester. “She loves math now and she used to dread going,” Ward said.
Children in the ACE lab for social studies, language arts or science have chosen the class as an elective.
The classroom can hold 12 math students and 12 science, social studies or language arts students in each of eight periods. Many periods are full. Jones said that roughly 20 percent of the students enter the lab for enrichment, though she added the percentage changes constantly.
The lab also offers students who frequently miss eighth hour for sports games a relatively easy opportunity to make up missed lessons.
The program, which started five years ago, is modeled off the Payson Center for Success. The alternative school mostly teaches students at-risk of failing, and uses a computer-based model to individualize instruction. Students move through lessons at their own pace at PCS and then take tests upon completion.
Jones, who used to teach regular classroom math, said, “there were always two or three kids in the class you could tell were bored.” She and Gail Hodge, who this year started a similar program at the high school, developed the lab.
Ward said the lab could help a below-grade-level student become an advanced student. “The biggest thing I see here is you know they’re lost, but you can’t always find out what’s wrong.” However, the computerized assessments target the problem and then recommend steps to fix it.
“It doesn’t just teach them to memorize it. It teaches them why,” Ward said.