CCA teacher works to open communication channels with math and technology

CCA math teacher Anna Bridgens uses technology to open communications channels with her students.

​High school math teacher Anna Bridgens looks for new techniques to help students get the most out of their learning​.

To Anna Bridgens, the trend in education that’s replacing rote learning with full comprehension of lessons isn’t just a mandate. It’s a passion.

“We’re better preparing students to become functional adults in society, instead of just passing tests and getting through high school,” Bridgens said. “We’re teaching them how to use what they learn.”

Bridgens is a high school math teacher and department chairwoman for Commonwealth Charter Academy. She teaches in the Pittsburgh region, but she serves students across Pennsylvania. With each school year since she joined CCA in 2011-12, she has looked for new techniques to help students get the most out of their learning. For instance, instead of simply asking students to calculate the slope of a line, she will direct them to explore how different slopes relate to shifts on a graph.

“They are learning the content on their own and using it more, along with the teacher,” Bridgens said. “We’re leading more in-depth activities in class, instead of me just telling them the phrases they should know. They’re doing more of that on their own, so we can spend time in the classroom getting adept, and it’s helping students with their understanding.”

Bridgens sees the difference in the ease with which her students use increasingly sophisticated math terms. In a recent virtual lesson, students were challenged to convert miles per hour to feet per second and asked where the person doing the calculating — in this case, a fictional track coach — made errors. One student pinned the mistake on the coach’s incorrect ratio of time.

“What student uses the word ratio?” Bridgens said. “That shows progress. They weren’t just saying, ‘Oh, 15 minutes is wrong.’”

Bridgens strives to make the most of new and existing technology to keep students engaged. She and many other CCA teachers use “breakout rooms,” where small groups of students convene to work on problems and then return to share conclusions with the whole class.

“My [virtual] classroom is as much like a ‘real’ brick-and-mortar classroom as it can be,” Bridgens said. “We’re just not in the same place. I try to make it as active a learning environment as it would be in a brick-and-mortar school.”

Bridgens created a Google Voice number with the last four digits spelling M-A-T-H. It’s an app on her phone allowing learners to text each other. She’ll even answer evening texts, accommodating students who enrolled in CCA for that very reason – to make education fit their schedules.

Bridgens said she sees wondrous uses for technology in teaching and hopes she can soon use Twitter to issue class announcements, discuss assignments and have learners share success stories. She has posted pictures of herself wearing a funny hat to intrigue students about an upcoming lesson, and she sees endless possibilities in the technology that young people take for granted.

“I want them to know that I’m there, and I want to try to keep them engaged,” she said. “I want them to feel comfortable coming to me for help with math. Kids are embarrassed to ask for help. If I can open up as many communications channels as possible to reach them however I can, then bring it on.”