Education Inspiration: Farrington math students see massive leaps in skills and grades

Farrington High School is using a new approach to learning and is empowering students who were once failing in math to excel and become role models.
Updated: Jun. 4, 2019 at 9:24 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Codi Malalis is a sophomore at Farrington High School and is one of the stars in Sean Witwer’s math class.

When she came to Farrington last year, she was struggling.

“I think I was at fourth-grade level of math and I’m at grade level now,” Malalis said. "I was really slow in elementary. "

That’s a huge jump from grade school equations to sophomore geometry in about two years.

And that’s not unusual in this classroom.

Christian Mendez said, “Middle school and freshman year, I’ve always sucked at math. Always. I think I was at 3rd or 2nd grade level.”

And now Christian is on par with where he’s supposed to be in math. And that success has given him confidence in other classes.

He’s gone from Ds and Fs to all As and one B last semester.

Witwer says he’s seen many of his students jump four, five, even up to seven grade levels in a year.

“And so that kind of growth, you only see about 1 to 2 percent of students nationwide that typically show that kind of growth," Witwer said. “And we’re able to get that kind of growth in our classroom.”

The secret according to Mr. Witwer is computer-blended learning.

Every student in his class has access to tablet. And using computer programs, they have specific lessons customized for their own level of comprehension.

“Some people might be doing arithmetic,” Witwer said. "Some might be doing pre-algebra, algebra and so we take them where they’re at to assess their knowledge and skill level.

Witwer is there to facilitate and answer questions, rather than trying to reach all students with one general curriculum.

He says freedom of learning is a complete shift in his educational philosophy.

“So instead of that ‘Sage on the Stage,’ I’m now the guide on the side,” Witwer said, with a smile.

Witwer said he discovered this concept while at an education conference. He applied for a grant to buy the technology, and he got it.

The kids love it.

Junior Shannon Johnson has also made great strides.

He said, “One day I could be working on graphing. The next I could be working on radius on top of a graph. So it’s like increasing more by the day goes along and the more lessons we do.”

Malalis loves the fact that she’s not constantly compared to other students. She said, “I think it’s sort of the independence. You kind of work at your own pace. You don’t really feel the pressure of trying to be with everyone else.”

And then to take things a step further, every semester Witwer chooses a select group to create these online tutorials which are available on YouTube under Govs Math Lab.

They shoot, edit and put the lesson together all on their own.

Now they’re able to share their knowledge with other students who may be struggling.

Mendez thinks this could help everyone.

“If I can go from a D, F average student to an honor roll student, anyone can do it,” he said.

And that’s exactly what Witwer is hoping to accomplish.

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