Teacher Feature: Julie Nicholson

For our latest teacher feature, we connected with Julie Nicholson, a sixth-grade teacher in Texas. Ms. Nicholson just discovered Wowzers this year, but already the program has made a huge impact on her classroom. Because she works in a 1:1 school, she incorporates Wowzers whenever possible. Every day, she uses Wowzers after the students answer their bell ringer question of the day. As soon as she verifies each student’s correct answer, her students immediately log in to Wowzers to pick up where they left off in the curriculum. When she pulls out small groups of students, the rest of the students continue working on Wowzers. She finds that when students use Wowzers, they stay engaged longer so she’s able to concentrate on each small group.

Mrs. Nicholson’s favorite feature is how she’s able to import her students’ NWEA MAP Growth scores to create a personalized curriculum for each student. She toggles her students between these personalized curriculum paths and a general classroom path as needed. She explains, “I love the differentiation of it reaching my students right where they are as individuals. I have students below grade level, on grade level, and I have students a couple of grade levels above. This program allows my students to get that individualized instruction without me feeling bad that there is not enough of me to go around or enough time in one class period to work with ALL of my students. It is very important to me that the lower, middle and upper performing students grow.”

The reports built into Wowzers have also been a lifesaver for Ms. Nicholson since they save her time and energy. By quickly looking over the real-time reports, she sees which students are struggling, and who’s receiving remediation. Because she doesn’t need to spend hours grading papers, she’s able to give her best to her students and spend more time with her family. She describes the reports as a “make or break” feature for her as a teacher.

Ms. Nicholson’s students seem to be enjoying Wowzers as well. As one student explained, “It gives you lots of things to do and keeps you hooked. I have never been attached to a math program, and when Mrs. Nicholson said we were getting a new one, I thought, ‘Oh great, another boring program.’ But I love Wowzers!”

When we asked Ms. Nicholson what else she’d like to see in Wowzers, she said, “One idea could be to set up a way for my students to compete against each other and in teams. They like the competition. It would also be great if they could compete against my other classes or classes within my school for points, or coins. It’s great motivation and creates excitement and teamwork.” What a great idea!

Teacher Feature: Katherine Bueler

We are happy to introduce you to one of our Superuser Teachers from Santa Fe, NM, Katherine Bueler. She started her career as a mechanical engineer but changed occupations to become a math & science teacher. She loves math and knew that with a career teaching science and mathematics she could make a difference in the lives of the students in her community.

Katherine earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering, Magna Cum Laude, California State University-Chico in 1983.

She also acquired a teaching license in secondary math & science-bilingual and is currently a Nationally Board Certified Mathematics Instructor in Santa Fe, NM where she has been a science and math teacher for  20+ years. She is very dedicated to making sure that her students understand math and knows that it requires her to personalize learning for her diverse group of students. She has been using the Wowzers personalized math program in her classroom for a few years and recently “connected the dots” with a revelation. “As a child, I attended 12 schools between kindergarten and 12th grade. In 6th grade, we moved to Minnesota and the school said I was at a 3rd-grade math level. All students in the class were on individualized math programs: we’d do a paper lesson, wait two weeks while our bubble sheets were sent to a computer in Iowa for scanning (my first interaction with a computer!), and move on to the next. I went through three years of math that year, and have gotten high-percentage A’s in all math since, including magna cum laude in mechanical engineering. So, my revelation was that one factor in my advocacy for the Wowzers program is that it reminds me of something that worked extremely well for me. “

Katherine has developed routines for her classroom that are set up to best benefit her students using the Wowzers program. She is able to hold students accountable through monitoring student progress on the Wowzers Teacher Dashboard.  Her room is enveloped with quiet concentration and students are on target during Wowzers time. She asked one of her once challenged & unmotivated students, who are seeing growth in his understanding of math concepts, why he used the Wowzers program beyond the required class time. He responded, “ Wowzers is helpful and fun!”. She thought, “that should be the goal for all teachers– provide instruction and materials that are helpful and fun! 

She also says, “I believe in this Wowzers program and I’ve developed a workflow that fits nicely into my grading. In terms of the program itself, there is no other instructive math program that truly teaches & uses effective pedagogy like Wowzers. I’ve waited for a program like this for years!”

Teacher Feature: Christine Elliott

We recently talked to Christine Elliott, a fourth-grade teacher at Swanton Elementary School in Northwest Ohio. As a teacher of 28 years, Ms. Elliott understands the importance of individualization. To meet this need, her students use Wowzers on their Chromebooks in her classroom. She explains, “I use Wowzers to individualize learning. It is an excellent way to reteach or allow more advanced students to forge ahead. I use the pre-assessment to determine if the lesson and practice are needed; otherwise, students can skip to the game and quiz.”

Ms. Elliott’s students find the program engaging as well. By earning coins in-game, they’re able to decorate their characters and BuzzPods. To motivate them even further, Ms. Elliott provides incentives, such as a pancake breakfast, pizza lunch, and end-of-the-year cookout for students who complete a curriculum path with at least 80% accuracy for the quarter.

It seems the individualization and motivation are working, as Ms. Elliott has seen increased performance since her class started using Wowzers. Last year, fourth-grade math was the only indicator her district met on the state report card. Her class’s rate of passage for this indicator was higher than the state average. She believes the assessments particularly help prepare her students for high-stakes achievement tests. She explains, “Wowzers asks a wide variety of question types including short answer and extended response. It also models our state testing and the way students are required to answer on the computer. Students feel comfortable after using Wowzers throughout the year. Wowzers helps prepare for state tests in an entertaining and engaging way.”

When asked why she chose Wowzers over other programs she says, “I use Wowzers because it requires students to read, examine, and explain their thinking. Many programs do not incorporate the explanation component as part of their program.” Of course, any teacher will have questions when they pick up a completely new curriculum program, but Ms. Elliott has had all her questions promptly answered. “Customer support is amazing! I can email and receive an answer in a few minutes. Many of my questions have been answered with a video that was made specifically to answer my question.”


Filling in the Gaps and Mastering Basic Skills – Wowzers Can Help

Things are looking grim for many students in the United States. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) revealed that more than 60% of American students graduate below proficiency in all academic areas. The number grows to more than 80% when you look at minority and underprivileged students. Researchers around the country believe this is primarily due to one major reason: Students are missing the basics. When students don’t possess the basic building blocks, understanding and mastering complex concepts is impossible. To overhaul the system and fix these underlying issues, three complementary teaching skills are required:

  • Strategic Inquiry
  • Direct Instruction
  • Precision Teaching

Let’s take a look at what these skills are, and how they can be implemented.

Strategic Inquiry

Nell Scharff Panero, a professor and author, invented what she called “Strategic Inquiry” over 15 years ago. In her research, she’s seen it transform schools and teachers. The basic premise is that teachers need to pinpoint exactly what skills their students are missing. Like many other methods, teachers form groups, discuss and study student work, and design interventions to target the gaps. However, Strategic Inquiry has two important distinctions: the detailed size of the missing skills, and studying student work before and after the intervention to see what worked. There is no attempt to figure out why students are missing these skills, only what they are. Studying assessment data is also encouraged. Scharff Panero coaches teachers to look at the results, identify where students struggle the most and then look for patterns.

In one low-performing school, students struggled with language arts, particularly writing complex, rich sentences. With the help of a facilitator, teachers dug in and eventually realized most of the students were missing one particular skill: the ability to use coordinating conjunctions such as “but,” “because,” and “so.” Subsequent reports found that students at high schools that adopted Strategic Inquiry were almost 2½ times more likely to be on track to graduate than students at comparable schools without Strategic Inquiry.

By putting the work in to identify these learning gaps, Strategic Inquiry allows students to pick up missing skills and gain the skills necessary for more complex concepts.

Direct Instruction

Direct Instruction is the process of identifying essential foundational skills that students must understand before they’re able to move up a curriculum ladder. When students truly understand these more basic skills, complex understanding comes naturally as they put ideas together. Unfortunately, many teachers and teaching methods focus on complex understanding from the beginning and try to get students to work backward. Many standards and philosophies describe these high-tier, complex skills that students should understand and be able to put into practice, but not enough attention has been put into how to get there.

Precision Teaching

Similarly, Precision Teaching is the idea that students must become truly fluent in basic skills before they can be built upon. This means that not only should basic skills be taught, but practiced. Fluency is possible only after repeated, the reinforced practice of skills over time. Teachers need to measure this fluency over time (and continue to revisit basic skills) to figure out when they’ve become reliably understood and remembered. Only then can they build upon those skills to teach something more complex.

What’s Next?

Although all three of these practices seem fairly obvious, research shows they’re being overlooked in many classrooms. Two of the problems may be when students are all missing different core skills, and a classroom is made up of students who learn at vastly different rates. It’s immensely difficult for teachers to give students the time and attention they need on particular core skills when others are ready to move on.

This problem is one of the reasons we created Wowzers. By using the individualized, adaptive curriculum, students can focus on those core skills they lack. Using our partnership with NWEA, teachers can import their students’ MAP Growth scores to automatically create a personalized curriculum that crosses grade levels to tackle exactly the right content for each student. The program automatically slows down and reinforces skills when students begin to struggle, and the adaptive nature of Wowzers keeps students engaged and ready to practice skills until they’re mastered. The real-time reports in Wowzers allow teachers to quickly identify where students are at and what they need to work on. In classrooms that use Wowzers, teachers finally have the time and power to implement Strategic Inquiry, Direct Instruction, and Precision Teaching.

Teacher Feature: Raquel Lopez

We are so excited about the upcoming school year and getting more students and teachers using Wowzers! We love getting feedback from educators and hearing about our teachers’ experiences.  We recently spoke with Raquel Lopez, a first grade teacher at El Camino Real Academy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She uses Wowzers as a classroom tool and as extra support for her students. Each day, her students use iPads to work independently on their individualized curriculum in Wowzers. During this time, she’s able to pull aside struggling students for a personalized intervention. Using the reports built into Wowzers, she’s able to quickly identify what students need assistance and exactly which concepts they need to work on. To further reinforce concepts, she uses manipulatives with her students to help them better understand the concepts covered in Wowzers. This helps them understand the virtual manipulatives in Wowzers even better.

“I have witnessed how students that were struggling with simple number concepts were able to be successful as Wowzers presents concepts using visuals that students can move and understand what that number means.”

Because Ms. Lopez is very invested in her students progress, she tracks their progress using the Wowzers Teacher Dashboard and adjusts their curriculum path as needed. As she explains, “I really enjoy the use of Individual Paths as I can provide what students need in every level they are trying to reach.” To supplement the rewards and engagement built into Wowzers, she also created a visual board to show students’ progress through the curriculum. She believes in the power of gamification to display students’ “levels” in the program and encourage them to continue to progress.

Ms. Lopez’s students are also proud of their own progress. She reports that they excitedly call her over every time they get every question correct in an activity to show off their accomplishments. This also gives her an easy way to see if students are struggling on a particular concept or not, and immediately step in if needed. Her students are enjoying Wowzers so much that many who have internet access are using the program in their spare time at home.

“I really think Wowzers is a good program to help students understand mathematical skills  without the assumption that the teacher always has the knowledge. It helps us to be seen as facilitators of support instead of providers of the knowledge.”

Looking for a replacement to TenMarks?

Surprising teachers around the country, Amazon recently announced that their TenMarks learning apps will become unavailable at the end of June 2019. The unexpected announcement has left many teachers wondering how they will fill the gap left by TenMarks’ departure. Fortunately, Wowzers can easily be used in place of the TenMarks math program for grades K-8. Like TenMarks, Wowzers is a customizable standards-based program that can be used as a supplement to any other math program. We provide guides to adjust Wowzers’ curriculum to match other popular textbooks, and the curriculum automatically adapts to focus on each student’s challenges. If your school uses the NWEA MAP Growth assessment, Wowzers can even automatically create a customized curriculum for each student based on their MAP Growth scores.

Just as TenMarks focuses on keeping students engaged and enjoying learning, Wowzers teaches math with colorful visuals, interactive manipulatives, games, instructional videos, and storytelling that links math to the real world. Wowzers will seem familiar to TenMarks students as well. They will still receive immediate feedback, adaptive hints, and 3-5 minute videos when they struggle. They will even continue to earn rewards for completing the curriculum. In Wowzers, students earn coins as they complete activities, which they can then use to decorate their avatar in our virtual mall.

Teachers who make the switch to Wowzers will continue to receive helpful reports about their students’ performance and progress. Easy-to-read at a glance and available in a variety of formats, Wowzers’ reports provide all the information teachers and administrators need to track their students. As one of our customers explains, “I love being able to customize the curriculum for every student or groups of students. 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.”

To learn more about exactly how Wowzers can replace TenMarks, request a free demo or sign up for a free trial. Our team is dedicated to making this transition as seamless and pain-free as possible.

Teacher Feature: Donna Bolstad

Donna Bolstad, from Medary Elementary School in Brookings School District 05-1 has been teaching for 32 years. She is currently a third-grade teacher who has implemented education technology in her classroom.

Since Ms. Bolstad’s school district uses NWEA as their assessment. She selected the Wowzers Math Program for her students because student NWEA data is synced with the Wowzers standards-based math content and she is able to easily auto-generated personalized learning paths for her students. She says that the individualized prescription from NWEA/Wowzers automatic path generator is precise and helps fill in gaps in her students’ learning. Additionally, she uses the ability to create her own group paths with specific content standards that she is working on in class to “ensure that her students are mastering their enduring set of standards and concepts.”

Ms. Bolstad says that her students love all of the activities in the Wowzers program that keep them engaged and ready to learn. Many students come to school early and work on their Wowzers program in her classroom first thing in the morning. “They know they can just knock on my back door and I let them in to work on Wowzers !” She says, “ the students  know that their assessment and what they work on are connected and that they are motivated by the fun of the program and also by the way they are held accountable.”


Teacher Feature: Patricia Manns

Patricia Manns, from Knox Middle School in the San Diego Public School District, has been using Wowzers in her classes for three years. She has been teaching K-8 math for twenty years and is an Education Specialist in Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development.

Pat uses Wowzers in her support classes as a means to close the gap in conceptual understanding and to develop personalized learning plans for her students. She integrates Wowzers using a blended learning approach with a rotation schedule. The data Wowzers provides helps her to develop Individual Learning Plans (IEPs) for students who are 3-4 years below grade level.

When Pat was asked what she likes most about Wowzers, she responded:

I like that I can meet my students where they are. Students can work at their own pace and the program adapts and gives them hints, not just answers. The format of Wowzers is ideal for students to take ownership of their learning. I set aside time to meet with students individually to review their personalized learning plan and in groups where I teach growth mindset ideas to strengthen their problem solving skills. The extended response questions built into Wowzers offer students the opportunity to practice writing in mathematics, showing their knowledge of the content. At conferences this year, the parents raved about the successes their students were having and love it! It’s easy for teachers to use, and the Wowzers support team is excellent. They give real-time responses to questions that teachers have. The students in our school are all at different levels: low, medium, high. Wowzers reaches all levels of students. That’s what teachers can’t do. I love it, and I wish my whole district would purchase and use Wowzers.

Pat’s tips for teachers include:

Using a blended learning format is best. I conference with students and we work on the areas in the curriculum path where they are having the most difficulty. This allows me to get to know my students and we create a relationship around their mathematics improvement and growth, removing the stigma of failing quizzes and tests.

Pat was also asked why she chose Wowzers over other programs:

I tried other programs, but they lacked the communication piece and the flexibility Wowzers offers. I’m able to truly meet my students where their needs are; I can adjust each student’s level. The pre- and post-test, and other assessments in the Wowzers program, are essential to measure growth. This is an area that standardized tests and chapter tests cannot measure for students who are below grade level. As an educator I know how important it is to see growth. I want my students to be successful in mathematics and be prepared to take higher-level math in high school and college, and use their mathematical skills in their careers.

“My students LOVE Wowzers! They are excited to see their understanding of math grow.”

Teacher Feature: Catherine Romero

This month we’re featuring Catherine Romero, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher with 20 years of experience. She teaches at Central Elementary, part of the Belen Consolidated Schools, which has been using Wowzers since early 2015.

In Catherine’s fourth grade class, students use Wowzers on Windows desktops, iPads, and Mac laptops several times per week, in 30- to 45-minute segments. Here’s what she has to say about Wowzers:

Currently we are on multiplication and about five students really understand the concept and have their multiplication facts memorized. I love that they can go on in the Wowzers program without waiting for others. Oftentimes they are on my classroom computers while I’m working one-on-one with students that need more individual help.

My students last year showed great improvement in math, but honestly, I think Wowzers helps with reading comprehension skills too. Students read or follow along a lot with the program, but it’s in a fun way and they don’t even realize the amount of reading they’ve actually accomplished in a session.

I just love Wowzers. It’s like having another 23 math teachers in class!

Catherine’s Teacher Tip:
Know your students. Some students need to be advanced through sections or they lose motivation and get bored. I require each student to keep a math journal that they often refer to.  The journal shows their work so I can see how they are solving problems and their notes are a good reference for them.

Central Elementary’s principal, Emily Sisk-Layman, fully supports Catherine’s enthusiasm for Wowzers as well. She reports:

From what Ms. Romero has shown me, I see that her students are engaged in the program and are working on very specific skills. She has shared with me very informative data reports on her students’ progress on those skills. She has shown me how she can provide feedback in the constructive response format on student tasks.

I would recommend the program to the schools simply for the fact that I see that students are highly engaged in using the program and are involved in tracking their progress.

We love hearing from teachers and administrators who are using Wowzers in innovative and creative ways!

How can we tell if our integration with NWEA is successful?

Wowzers partnered with NWEA to meet students where they are and determine where they need to go. Student needs are identified and paired with engaging content to teach students “what they need to know when they need to know it.” NWEA MAP Growth RIT scores are imported to the Wowzers’ K-8 standards-based content. This new feature automatically builds a personalized curriculum for each student based on their MAP Growth test results. It examines goal-level RIT scores and NWEA norms to assign “just the right” Wowzers content. Since each path is individualized, it can include content from multiple grade levels to perfectly suit the student.

Teacher and administrator response to this new feature has been overwhelmingly positive.

The NWEA paths were instant! Literally one click of a mouse and I had real and true personalized learning for every one of my students. Students love the immediate feedback that Wowzers gives. But it’s more than that–students get nudges and reteaching to help with understanding the math.

However, the ease of use of this new feature is only part of how we judge its success. To truly consider it successful, we needed to test whether students who use their custom Wowzers curriculum perform better on their next MAP Growth test. To check whether this is true, 12 schools and 96 classrooms during the 2017-2018 school year participated in a pilot study.

To analyze the results, we collected each student’s MAP Growth RIT scores (taken approximately 3 months apart) and the time spent in Wowzers between the two tests. The students in this study varied from Kindergarten through 8th grade.

Analysis of the data uncovered that:

  • Students who used Wowzers from 2 – 3.99 hours between subsequent tests increased their effective grade level on average by 16.9%.
  • Students who used Wowzers from 4 – 6.99 hours between subsequent tests increased their effective grade level on average by 20.9%.
  • Students who used Wowzers from 7 – 11.99 hours between subsequent tests increased their effective grade level on average by 21.1%.
  • Students who used Wowzers from 12 – 14.99 hours between subsequent tests increased their effective grade level on average by 24.8%.
  • Students who used Wowzers more than 15 hours between subsequent tests increased their effective grade level on average by 26.3%.

In summary, students who used Wowzers more between subsequent MAP Growth tests displayed improvement over their previous MAP Growth RIT score. This suggests that on average, students who use Wowzers’ personalized curriculum (based on previous MAP Growth RIT scores) longer see a greater improvement in subsequent MAP Growth tests. For more information on the schools involved in this study and how we calculated students’ effective grade level, check out our full study summary.