I stand behind the technology I recommend. Anything I recommend must:
- Support and Encourage Learning - No technology for technology's sake. Nor it can it simply be a flashy electronic version of older technology (e.g. smart boards instead of overhead projectors). If it does not help or make life easier then it isn't going to be on my list.
- Affordable to as many as possible - There might be wonderful technology out there but if it can only be used by 1% of schools, I will hesitate to post about it. I know there are grants and resources available to purchase these things but there are often much better ways to spend that money.
That is how software makes it onto my list for classroom technology or if necessary a longer post. I wish to follow up with a previous post I made about ALEKS, software which differentiates and helps support the learning of math skills.
I want to reiterate, that ALEKS is not intended to replace math teachers and in fact will make them all the more necessary. It allows you to have one-on-one time with your students and help them each out where they need it. It has allowed me to teach the way I always wanted to. ALEKS teaches math "skills" and not necessarily the broader definition of math that many believe is necessary to create a love and/or appreciation for it. However, as you will see, this program has made it possible to accomplish my goals as a math teacher this year.
First some data:
Pre-Assessment: ALEKS' CA Algebra 1 class has 257 "Objectives" based upon the 25 or so California State Standards. It gives an initial assessment at the beginning of the year. My class average at the beginning of the year was 29% mastery of the objectives.
To give a more accurate description of my class, I teach a untracked class referred to as Math 1. This means we learn Algebra, Geometry, Statistics, and Number Theory in increasing complexity each year. Which means that some students enter my class having already studied Algebra. However, all of my students take the Algebra 1 State Standardized Test (CST/STAR).
The breakdown of my students initial scores were as follows:
21% of students - 0-10% of objectives
24% of students - 11-20% of objectives
31% of students - 30-40% of objectives
2% of students - 60-70% of objectives
I should also mention that this data is only for the students taking Algebra in ALEKS, so the students I have taking Geometry are not included as they would skew the data. I wanted to show as clearly as possible what has happened as a direct result of ALEKS.
After using ALEKS in my class for 20% of our total time and maintaining an at home requirement for the entire year, the class average is 61%. This would be higher but I would switch the student into Geometry once they showed they had all of the major objectives and those necessary to do well in Algebra and Geometry.
The largest individual gain by a student still in Algebra was 55% with the smallest being 9%. If you knew the specific students with 9% gains and their struggles and math history you would celebrate it as a triumph as well. I wish ALEKS allowed one to track a student from one class to another so I could share with you the gains by my 9th graders studying Geometry in ALEKS. I can share with you that one of my students in the Geometry class has essentially taught herself 80% of the Geometry curriculum. Think of the possibilities of what people can do with resources and motivation.
With a year of ALEKS for one student costing about the same as a family of four going out to eat, this is a great deal. I think it would be wonderful if parents could support their schools and purchase this for their students or at least help. While Public school is free, it is certainly easier to justify one family spending this for their own student than to have the school spend thousands when that money could be used elsewhere. The schools that could use this most need support from their communities.
My other point, is if skills could be learned primarily at home or for 20% of the class time think of what this would allow teachers to do with their time! I know it has made an incredible impact on my class both in esteem, readiness, and ability. Flipping my classroom has freed us up to do great projects and activities which could not be done in a standard classroom time frame.
Finally, I wanted to share what my students are saying now, because at the end of the day, that is what matters. Last semester, there were students who enjoyed it and were able to learn from it, but many still were frustrated at the new learning situation. I learned from discussions and feedback with the students that it was taking them time to get used to having freedom and choice in their learning and the opportunity to learn at a pace that was right for them. Many of them had never spoke up in a math class and asking questions was anathema to them.
Overwhelmingly they said in a recent survey that they feel more confident asking for help and support. Two-thirds of them said they felt confident about taking Geometry next year, and the a little more than that said they would definitely use ALEKS again. What more can you ask for? A great example of technology support learning in a way that could not be accomplished otherwise.
Has ALEKS worked for you? Have you found something else that worked equally well if not better? Let us know in the comments.
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