TAYLORSVILLE Jerry Mangus' textbook-less teaching has dazzled the U.S. Department of Education.
Mangus, who teaches fifth- and sixth-grade math at Plymouth Elementary, uses only computers to teach fractions and other numerical concepts to kids. He's built computer labs in his school, each of his students has his or her own machine, and their test scores have leaped.
For his efforts, the federal education department on Wednesday bestowed Mangus with its No Child Left Behind Act American Star of Teaching Award. The award, for which the department received some 2,000 applicants, goes to one teacher in every state and Washington, D.C.
"He's someone who has gone far and above," said Carolyn Snowbarger, director of the department's Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, who presented the award.
The award comes with a plaque signed by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.
"This is an amazing pat on the back," Mangus said.
Mangus, who teaches in the Granite School District, fell into bookless teaching a few years ago. He had been looking to the Internet for social-studies lessons. But when the sixth-grade teacher found a math Web site, a light bulb flickered.
"I thought, 'Wow!' " he said. "This is so much better than what I'm doing."
Mangus sought out computer donations, mainly from high schools getting technology upgrades. He secured a computer for every child in his class.
He pointed students to a Web site for math. He introduced the concept of the day, then asked the students to solve problems on their computers. As soon as they answered correctly, students were asked to stand. Those standing are dispatched to help peers, a practice Mangus found reinforces their knowledge while helping another child to gain it.
By the end of the school year, his students' test scores were 20 percent higher than those in any other sixth-grade class even gifted and talented students, Mangus said.
Since 2002-03, sixth-graders have leaped from 72 percent of students proficient on state math tests to 82 percent proficient, state Office of Education data show. Fifth-graders have gone from 52 percent proficient to 77 percent proficient in the same time frame.
The key is the immediate feedback computers provide, Mangus said. Kids don't waste time doing homework wrong, and then feel the frustration of bombing out when they get the answers the next day, Mangus said.
Mangus' assignments also are based on mastery, not number of problems. Kids might have to get 15 right to pass an assignment. It might take some kids 15 problems to get there; others, 100. But in the end, all can be successful.
"If they're willing to work, they can still get an A," he said.
All Plymouth fifth- and sixth-graders now learn math without books. Mangus also has helped secure donated computers for general computer labs for younger grades.
"I'm hoping people will see how valuable this is," Mangus said. "It's night and day to what those kids will learn using my method or using a textbook. . . . Textbooks only get in the way."
But books do come in handy occasionally, Mangus said.
That is, when the power's out. He says the books have been tapped once this year.
The American Star of Teaching Awards program is in its second year. It falls under the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, which includes workshops for teachers, teacher and principal roundtables, regular e-mail updates and free online professional development.Utah is the 49th state visited for this year's awards; Hawaii and Texas teachers will receive honors in the next two weeks.
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