Students show they have strength in numbers

Students show they have strength in numbers

CHAMPAIGN – Last fall, Centennial High School math teacher Jason Franklin warned his students to stay focused during the last three weeks of class before Christmas break.

He told them stories about past students who slacked off and saw their semester grades drop. He nagged parents via progress reports and parent-teacher conferences to stay on top of their children.

Franklin spent more time than he ever had trying to keep his students motivated in December.

The result? Ten of his 63 Algebra II students dropped at least one letter grade because of poor performance at the end of the semester. One student on the brink of having a B ended up with a D.

Franklin believes moving exams from January to before Christmas break would encourage students to stay focused and improve their grades. Some of his students have found that many teachers and students would welcome such a change.

Five students in his statistics class, all seniors, surveyed teachers and students in the Mahomet-Seymour and St. Joseph-Ogden school districts. Both districts moved their high school exams before Christmas break this year. They also surveyed those at Centennial and Central high schools in Champaign as to their preferences, and they did in-person interviews.

Most students and teachers say they would like to have exams before their break. The statistics students presented their findings to the Champaign school board earlier this month.

While Franklin would like to see the school district consider the change, his main goal for the project was to teach his students how to use statistics to make a point, how to make a professional presentation and how to work in teams.

"Working in teams is so important in the business world," he said. "Rarely do you do a major project by yourself."

The students developed a plan to tackle the project, set up a timeline, divided the work and then summarized their findings. They said the hardest part was tracking down information from school districts throughout the state and building a database. They ended up with information from 441 out of 752 high schools in the state.

Speaking to the school board was a little nerve-wracking as well.

"It was good once we saw how much they were listening and paying attention," said student Rebecca Fink. "The school board seemed to really appreciate the time we put into it, and the effort."

The students put a lot of time into polishing their presentations, and they all dressed in suits.

"We talk a lot in class about being professional in the business world," Franklin said.

He said the project was a "very hot topic" with teachers at the high school, many of whom e-mailed Franklin after the group's presentation. One teacher told him the students' research changed his mind on the matter.

"You couldn't ask for a bigger compliment," Franklin said. "I shared that with the kids. It's why it's so important to do the statistical analysis ... and allow others to decide based on the facts.

"It confirmed that, regardless of the decision the board makes, we did a project that really affects people," he continued. "It's not just doing a project to get a grade."

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