Teacher Feature: Experience Personalized Math

This month, we’re featuring Mr. Brad Bahns, a fourth grade teacher at Edy Ridge Elementary in Sherwood, Oregon. Mr. Bahns is in his 30th year of teaching and believes student engagement and flexible instruction is the key to success in the classroom.

Mr. Bahns faces an issue familiar to most teachers—his classroom is made up of students with varying skills and abilities when it comes to math. On average, his classroom size is around 30 students each year which makes it difficult to meet each student’s individual needs. However, with Wowzers he’s now able to personalize the curriculum and provide each student with exactly what they need. In this way, Mr. Bahns provides a much wider range of curriculum for his class by assigning more advanced curriculum for his gifted students and introductory lessons and reviews for others.

As Mr. Bahns explains, “I like being able to differentiate instruction for my students–especially for my advanced students. In our district, fifth graders can move to sixth grade math. Wowzers has helped several students accomplish  this and more.”

The students in Mr. Bahns classroom have been in a 1:1 classroom for the past four years. Currently, his students have access to Google Chromebooks. Wowzers is used alongside traditional instruction through textbooks, and he has also allocated 30 minutes of Wowzers curriculum each day to ensure mastery of math concepts. If students are unable to complete their Wowzers assignment in the classroom, the students also access the program at home.

Mr. Bahns also takes advantage of the power behind having real-time reports at his fingertips. Using the information in the reports, he’s easily able to identify students who need immediate 1:1 support, as well as those who need more rigorous curriculum. He regularly prints student activity and progress reports to share with parents during conferences, reinforcing the importance of math and their scores. He also uses the test prep features in Wowzers to prepare students for SBACC. By practicing similar questions ahead of time in Wowzers, students recognize the format and content of the questions in state assessments.

As a tenured teacher, Mr. Bahns recommends incorporating a personalized math program in the classroom. As he explains, “It actually teaches students rather than just doing problems.” Wowzers’ customer support feature is another boon to his teaching method. By using the built-in chat feature, he’s able to quickly and easily get support while still running his classroom. His advice to other teachers using Wowzers is to provide students with notepads or booklets to work out difficult problems on paper, rather than trying to do them on-screen or in their heads.

Perhaps the best supporters of Wowzers are Mr. Bahns’ students. He reports that he often hears, “I have learned a lot from doing Wowzers,” and, “Wowzers is fun!” while they work on the curriculum.

Teacher Feature: Kristin Aguilar

Recently, we interviewed Kristin Aguilar, an innovative fifth grade teacher at STEAM Academy at Stribling Elementary, located in Burleson, Texas. Ms. Aguilar is implementing a “flipped classroom.” Because Wowzers is hosted in the cloud, her students are able to use classroom Chromebooks to access the program, which, according to Ms. Aguilar, are often a more affordable option than other laptops.

In this creative solution, students do much of their learning at home and often use their classroom time to ask questions and get clarification. Because students learn both at home and at school, it’s essential that any program she implements be available 24/7 and allow students to pick up where they left off from any computer. Wowzers fits perfectly into this model. In fact, Ms. Aguilar sent parents information on Wowzers over spring break so students could continue to learn and master standards.

We asked Ms. Aguilar if she has any tips for other Wowzers users and she recommended that all teachers create their own personal passwords and usernames for students in the Class Roster tab. She also suspects the NWEA feature that automatically creates personalized paths for students from their MAP Growth scores would save a lot of time. Currently, she manually creates paths for each student using RIT scores and in-class performance.

Ms. Aguila’s students continually provide feedback about using Wowzers. “I love the quests and games,” is often heard, and one student even reported, “It feels like we are a part of the story and get coins as we go along.” Engagement at all levels is precisely why Ms. Aguilar chose Wowzers as a math program for her students. When she tried other programs, she found Wowzers the most engaging and easiest to use. This is evidenced by her students, who love Wowzers no matter the level of their mathematics ability. The program provides something for every student as it adapts to their particular needs.

Teacher Feature: Gladys Sanchez

Wowzers is used around the country in a variety of different types of teaching strategies. In this teacher feature, we chatted with Gladys Sanchez, a bilingual 3rd grade teacher at Long Elementary in Harlingen, Texas, who uses Wowzers for an intervention tool. Ms. Sanchez has been a teacher for 13 years and a digital leader in her school for the past 2 years. She takes advantage of the cloud-based nature of Wowzers and has her students access the curriculum through the Wowzers iPad app, the browser-based desktop, and the laptop version of Wowzers. Students also use Wowzers at home on their own computers or tablets.

Ms. Sanchez says that the data and reports she receives from Wowzers allow her to see how her students are progressing through the curriculum. By reviewing and grading their extended response answers alongside the Wowzers rubric, she’s able to quickly assess their skill level. As an experienced teacher, Ms. Sanchez understands that her students all work at different levels, at a different pace, but loves that Wowzers allows her to differentiate their learning by discovering their strengths and weaknesses. Using the data and the information the curriculum provides gives her the ability to override the students’ learning paths at any time when she sees evidence that a student is struggling.

“I am the only bilingual teacher in my grade level and I have seen so much growth in my students.”

Ms. Sanchez says she has seen impressive results as her students progress through Wowzers, and she’s also noticed more engagement. Her students enjoy the interactive games, which, in turn, creates a positive and rewarding learning environment. “You learn while you have fun,” one student said. “In order to get coins to be able to buy things, you have to get the problems correct.” The students also appreciate the help Wowzers gives them. As one student explained, “Number lines using addition and subtraction gives me trouble. Wowzers tells me how many steps I move up or back.” As we often say at Wowzers, engagement is key, and it seems that’s as true as ever in Ms. Sanchez’s class.

Wowzers Superstar Teacher Feature: Kelly Rust

Situation: Imagine a classroom of 30 students with an overwhelmingly diverse knowledge of foundational math skills? On top of that already difficult situation, the students have vastly different confidence levels as it pertains to math. This situation happens in schools all over the country from New York to California to Texas. In one such classroom, you’ll find Ms. Kelly Rust, a seasoned educator who has been teaching for 18 years and has specialized in math and science for the last six years.

This month’s Superstar Teacher, Ms. Rust, understands the struggle of engaging her students in math. She has students at all levels in her classroom and creating a personalized learning plan for each individual can be challenging and time-consuming. Her goal is focused on closing the learning gaps in her classroom and getting her students excited about math.

Ms. Rust found a solution with Wowzers when one of her students was struggling in math and experiencing extreme anxiety. Due to these feelings, the student didn’t like to participate in Ms. Rust’s traditional math lessons. As an experiment, Ms. Rust started her on Wowzers, and witnessed a drastic shift in the student’s attitude towards math. Now, this student asks to log on to Wowzers anytime she has a free moment and is finally excited about learning math.

Ms. Rust loves the structure and versatility of the Wowzers program so much that now all of her students use the program to enrich their math skills. “I love being able to customize the curriculum for every student or groups of students,” she explains. “Using the reports, I can see very specifically where a student is struggling, and from there I provide remediation or change the student’s pathway to close those gaps.”

Ms. Rust recommends that if other educators are curating a personalized and engaging learning path for each student, they should complete the online professional development course to take advantage of all that Wowzers has to offer. Ms. Rust loves what Wowzers has been able to give to her students, which is a compelling and comprehensive approach to math.

Finding an engaging approach to math was an important element for Ms. Rust when she was considering a personalized math program for her students. Now all of her students, no matter what level of learning, beg for Wowzers time. Her students love the storylines  and how the math is embedded in games. “My favorite part about Wowzers is the quests because it has math and adventure!” one student added. Another chimed in, “I like practicing my math skills during the games and I like talking to the different people during the quests.”

Joe Perez: Wowzers Superstar Teacher Feature

Today we’re featuring Joe Perez, a fifth-grade teacher from El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mr. Perez has been teaching for 18 years and, like many teachers, values the importance of technology. When one of his former colleagues recommended Wowzers, he decided to check it out by loading the Wowzers app on iPads in his classroom. He uses Wowzers’ new partnership with NWEA to create personalized learning paths for his students based on their MAP Growth test scores. He reports that this has helped fill in the gaps that students have in their mathematical foundation and allows students that are exceeding expectations to be challenged at their level.

Student Engagement
It seems Mr. Perez’s strategy is working. “The best part of Wowzers is that it knows your math level and how you get coins to buy things at the mall and things for your Pod. The reason why I like this is that it gets you better at your math skills,” one student reports. Another explained, “My favorite part of Wowzers is the practice problems because they help me a lot with the subject I am working on. Also, it kind of makes it fun because they either put you shooting a goal or you are slicing fruit.”

Instant Feedback
For Mr. Perez, he enjoys using Wowzers because it provides instant feedback for his students and gives immediate follow–up questions to test their understanding. Because he has 27 students in his class, being able to individually provide feedback to all of them is challenging. Wowzers automatically provides this feedback as students progress through the curriculum. Illustrations and models are a big part of Mr. Perez’s math curriculum, which Wowzers supports as well. Finally, he appreciates that the format of Wowzers is similar to the PARCC format. That provides experience for the students, which in turn, helps them become more successful when taking the PARCC assessments.

Tips and Recommendations
For other teachers using Wowzers, Mr. Perez recommends creating structured times for the students to use Wowzers and then sticking to that schedule. He also mentions that he purchased his classroom’s Wowzers subscriptions through a local organization called Dollars4Schools. However, even if that funding ceased to exist, he is determined to find ways to pay for the services Wowzers provides. The program has become an essential part of his teaching strategy.

Homework Tips for Parents

As the new school year is fully underway, most students are returning home with daily homework assignments. To avoid a fight over this work, we’ve compiled the following tips:

How much homework is too much?

The National Education Association recommends that students in first grade receive around 10-20 minutes of homework per night. This amount should grow by 10 minutes per year, which means that students in fifth grade should expect to receive around 50-60 minutes of homework per night. This estimate can vary more widely in middle school and high school as students take on different coursework, but if your child is taking on significantly more than is recommended or is having trouble completing it all, talk to other parents in the school. Are they encountering the same issue? If so, consider talking to your child’s teacher to see if he or she is aware of the issue. If your child is the exception, he or she may benefit from extra tutoring or an extra study period where your child can receive additional assistance through the school.

Organization is key

Leaving large projects for the last minute or forgetting about them entirely can be a huge issue for some students. Encourage your child to use an assignment book to track the due dates of projects and check in on a regular basis to see what progress they’re making. Free online tools, such as Asana can be used to break down larger projects into smaller tasks and assign due dates to each piece. It can even be used to coordinate group projects, where students each have their own account and individual tasks assigned to them. It also includes a conversation feature where students can brainstorm, upload files, and communicate with each other.

Create an environment conducive to getting homework done

One of the problems many students report that prevents them completing homework is a distracting environment. To help students focus on their homework, create a well-lit, quiet space away from distractions such as talking, TV, or cellphones. If students must use a computer for their work, consider limiting their access to the internet or certain websites so they aren’t tempted to spend their time chatting with their friends or checking social media. Programs such as Cold Turkey easily and temporarily limit these distractions by blocking specific websites, the internet in general, or even the entire computer.

Keep in contact with your child’s teacher

By regularly communicating with your child’s teacher, it’s much easier to find out if your child is missing assignments or struggling with particular concepts. Plus, if your child needs assistance, it’s helpful to teach it in the same way it’s taught in the classroom. Parents often report that they don’t understand their child’s homework or that concepts are being taught in unfamiliar ways. Avoid re-teaching concepts in a different way, even if it seems like a shortcut (particularly for math). Your child’s teacher is likely trying to teach the underlying concept before introducing shortcuts or different strategies.

Exploring Webb’s Depth of Knowledge

In order to more accurately analyze the types of questions offered in standardized assessments, Norman L. Webb developed a system called Depth of Knowledge. Rather than categorize questions by difficulty, this system categorizes them by complexity. In other words, questions are categorized by the type of thinking that is required to adequately answer them. This method allows assessments to be aligned more accurately with the standards they represent. The four categories are as follows:

The verbs shown in Webb’s image above are examples of words frequently found within each type of question. However, there are many exceptions and more information on how to identify and categorize assessment questions into the correct level of complexity is explored in this blog post, along with examples of each type of question.

Recall and Reproduction

The Wowzers curriculum embraces Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, and includes assessment questions from all four levels. The first category is “recall and reproduction.” Questions from this level require students to recall a fact, term, or procedure. When answering these types of questions, students are not required to do anything beyond remember a particular definition, type of computation, or formula. These questions often ask them to “define” or “compute” a basic fact or one-step calculation.

In this question, students are asked to recall a series of facts and procedures regarding integers. At this level, students must understand the information (they are not simply reciting information verbatim), but they are not yet using this information in a complex manner.

Skills and Concepts

At this second, more complex level, students are asked to use information or conceptual knowledge. These questions often have two or three steps. To answer the question, students must make a decision about how to approach the problem. It often requires them to organize, summarize, predict, or estimate.

In this question, students are asked to estimate the value of a series of square roots. This is a multi-step process that requires the student to analyze each number and go through a series of steps to correctly categorize it.

Strategic Thinking

In the next step of complexity, students must develop a plan to solve non-routine problems using multiple steps. There is sometimes more than one correct answer, and thinking is more abstract. Questions often ask students to justify their choices or support their ideas with details and examples.

In this question, students are asked to analyze a graph, consider how someone might find it misleading, and then describe their reasoning. This level of abstract thinking requires a higher depth of knowledge.

Extended Thinking

In this more complex type of question, questions require students to investigate and process multiple conditions or sources. These questions often take a much longer time to answer. Most assessments do not include questions of this complexity, and they are often instead included in projects and longer-term activities. To address these extended thinking questions, Wowzers includes offline activities that teachers can print out at any time.

In this assignment, students are asked to consider multiple conditions and go through a series of steps in order to solve a probability question. Because questions like this require a longer amount of time and text to thoroughly answer, Wowzers includes a similar assignment for each section of work, in addition to the daily and weekly assessments.

What are the Standards for Mathematical Practice?

The Standards for Mathematical Practice contain eight types of expertise that students should strive for. These standards stress the importance of understanding what a problem is asking, creating a solution using tools and models, and communicating this solution with peers. Skills such as problem-solving, reasoning, and using tools and models appropriately are important at all grade levels.

1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

Students must understand how to break apart problems into simpler pieces, plan how they intend to solve the problem, and continuously monitor their solution and ask themselves if it makes sense. After providing students with the basic skills to solve a problem, it’s important to build on this knowledge by asking questions that combine integral concepts in a word problem. Students also must learn how to compare ideas written in different ways. By fluidly moving between different forms of the same equation, students can make comparisons and decisions in real-world scenarios.

2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

Students must learn how to represent a situation symbolically with numbers and symbols, but they also must understand what that equation or process means in context. They should be able to translate a word problem into a mathematical process, then relate their answer back to the original context and include the correct units. By giving students problems in the context of a real-world scenario, they can learn to solve these problems using the math skills they are working on, then relate it back to the original problem.

 

 3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

Students must learn how to formulate a conjecture and build a series of logical statements to support it. Arguments should be constructed logically, using definitions, rules, models, drawings, and diagrams. By comparing their reasoning and proof with peers, and evaluating each others’ arguments, students can decide which methods and solutions make sense, identify flawed logic, and improve their own skills.

4. Model with mathematics.

Incorporating a wide variety of models, such as tables, graphs, and diagrams, allows students to learn how to represent and visualize complicated situations. Students create and analyze these models to understand relationships and draw conclusions. It’s also important for students to understand when to use each type of model, and how to apply them to real situations. Students should learn how to choose an appropriate model and when one may be more useful than another.

5. Use appropriate tools strategically.

Students must learn how to choose an appropriate tool, how to read the tools with precision, and what the tools represent. By using tools to solve problems, students gain a deeper understanding of concepts, such as how to convert units from one system of measurement to another. Students must also make decisions on the best tool to use in different situations.

6. Attend to precision.

Students should understand and be able to use precise definitions when describing mathematical concepts and symbols. By carefully specifying unit of measure and labeling graphs appropriately, students are able to give a more accurate answer to problems, with less chance of misunderstanding. These terms and definitions should be used in students’ own writing as well.

7. Look for and make use of structure.

Recognizing patterns or structures is an important step in understanding many mathematical concepts. For example, by understanding multiplication as repeated addition, or the fact that 7 × 3 and 3 × 7 is the same answer, students begin to recognize rules and definitions. By showing ideas visually and allowing the students to interact with manipulatives, students often have an easier time seeing patterns.

 

8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

Students who notice when they are performing a calculation repeatedly have an easier time recognizing general methods and shortcuts. For example, recognizing a repeated calculation is essential when determining whether a decimal is repeated or not. Identifying a function or pattern also relies on students recognizing repeated reasoning.

The Science of Learning

A lot of research has been done into the science of how we learn, but how does it relate to online, game-based learning?

Brain-based research emphasizes the fact that engagement must be the goal of all educators. When students are not engaged, their minds wander and learning isn’t effective. When engaged, students are excited to learn. Higher levels of engagement are associated with students who want to learn more and apply what they have learned in the real world.

Every brain is unique, which means strategies need to include a variety of activities that build not only declarative knowledge but also underlying cognitive skills. A great way to accomplish this is by including online activities that motivate this new generation of digital natives. Game-based learning improves knowledge along with a variety of cognitive skills, including memory, thinking, processing, sequencing, and attention.

Because people absorb information differently, generally through some combination of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning, blended learning programs should include activities that call for movement and a hands-on approach to learning that addresses the physical learning system of the brain.

Most students today have grown up with technology and, in a sense, demand the engaging content that they have grown accustomed to through online gaming. Students expect to receive immediate feedback and move at their own pace, which frees them from the fear of failing and satisfies both the cognitive and the emotional centers of the brain. The core online skills that students develop can then be applied to offline and online activities that focus on problem solving, communication, and creativity. 

Assessing student knowledge is the key to success. Today’s assessments typically include a variety of interactive manipulatives and tools.  Through practice, students can concentrate on answering the content questions without having to figure out how to manipulate the technology, giving us a clearer picture of what they know and don’t know.

These new types of questions can actually stand alone as learning tools for students. Different question types (such as extended response, sorting information, placing numbers on a number line, etc.) give us a much more accurate picture of what a student truly understands versus the old method of filling in a bubble.

Not only is digital, game-based learning fun for students, it’s also supported by research and provides endless opportunities for educators.

Reward Systems that Work

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Reward systems in the classroom are a valuable way for students to feel empowered in their progress and behavior. When implemented correctly, these rewards create a tangible way for students to see their progress and involves them as participants. However, reward systems that are too loose or inconsistent can encourage entitlement or resentment between students. Today, we explore what a successful reward system looks like.

Creating a Plan

The first step in implementing a reward system is deciding what behavior or milestones should be rewarded. They should be something achievable, but at a frequency that boosts motivation. For example, in Wowzers, students receive a small number of virtual coins for completing activities. A few coins are given just for their progress, but additional coins are rewarded if they answer questions correctly. This encourages students to continue working on the curriculum in order to make progress, but also to slow down and ensure they are truly understanding the material and answering questions correctly.

Frequency of Rewards

The frequency at which students should receive rewards often varies with age. While younger students need more frequent reminders and encouragement, older students can go longer between rewards. One common suggestion is that toddlers should be rewarded every hour, preschoolers should be rewarded every day, and school-age students should be rewarded every week. To support this theory, Wowzers allows teachers to manually reward students with extra coins whenever they wish. These larger rewards can be linked to things such as classroom behavior, timeliness, and remembering to bring supplies or homework to class.

Immediate Feedback

The most powerful reward systems give students immediate feedback. While an immediate reward is not necessary at most ages, as discussed above, students should know that their positive progress or behavior was recognized. In Wowzers, students receive a virtual coin immediately, but they are not able to spend it until they’re in the free time portion of the program. By immediately recognizing students, it creates a much stronger link between the desired behavior or progress and the reward. Students feel motivated and empowered and are more likely to continue the activity.

Variety of Rewards

Different students desire different types of rewards. Wowzers solves this problem with our virtual mall, which allows students to spend their coins on a huge variety of in-game goods. When creating your own reward system, you may want to allow students to choose their own reward. Some students might value being allowed to sit next to a friend while others want a sticker or a positive call home to their parents. Whatever the reward, being able to physically see their progress has been shown to work best. This can take the form of an invented currency or a positive behavior chart on the wall.

To learn more how the Wowzers K-8 online math program rewards students for learning, contact our team or try a free trial.

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