St. Joe’s Teacher Seizes Technology Opportunity (KTVB Video)

By Doug Petcash, KTVB

BOISE– Julianne Russell saw an opportunity and went for it. Now the benefits are adding up for her students.

Russell teaches 6th, 7th and 8th grade math at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Boise. She loves teaching.

“It’s so rewarding to have a student who needs you,” said Russell.

And she loves math.

“I want them to love it as much as I do.”

For her, passing on that love means incorporating new ways to teach.

“I haven’t wanted to be an old dog that couldn’t learn new tricks,” said Russell.

So when Sal Khan came to Boise in 2012 to speak about his Khan Academy free online learning system Russell was in the audience at the Egyptian Theater.

With her leading the way, St. Joe’s then got grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation for two years. Russell says they totaled about $125,000. That money paid for new Chromebook computers and charging stations for all of St. Joe’s 3rd through 8th grade math classes.

“We’ve been focused on math,” said Russell. “Because of the Common Core changes for math we’ve been really worried, and there were dramatic differences.”

Russell teaches her lesson to the whole class, then works one on one with the students. The students use the computers during class to go to the Khan Academy website to practice problems. Russell encourages the kids to practice on Khan at home and even through the summer.

That’s what 7th graders Brand Lindsey and Isana Howard did.

“This year I wanted to get in and succeed right away and wanted to get off to a good start,” said Lindsey. “And that really helped me.”

“I think it just really helps me understand things a lot better,” said Howard.

“It’s amazing the results that we’ve seen when they come back from summer break,” said Russell.

Through Khan Academy Russell can keep track of her students’ progress in areas such as skills learned and minutes spent on the site practicing. Then she writes the names of the highest performers on poster boards hanging in the hallway outside her classroom, and calls it a ‘Khan’ test.

“It feels pretty good. I think it motivates us,” said Lindsey.

“It’s actually surprising,” said Russell. “Throughout the course of a couple of months everybody will get their name out there.”

A positive teacher, plus the Khan Academy, plus the new computers equals success, so far.

“When I was sitting in the Egyptian Theater I had a dream of what I thought it might look like, and it has gone so far beyond my expectations.”

The grants have run out, so Russell says St. Joseph’s is going to try to make the Chromebooks last as long as they can.

She adds, as a school, they are talking about how to make this continue beyond that.

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