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.”

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.

Winning with Wowzers in Agua Caliente Elementary School

Today, we would like to introduce Ms. Raina Robison and her 5th grade class from Agua Elementary School. After receiving some important advice from her son, Ms. Robison returned to what she truly loves–teaching–and has been a 5th grade teacher in Palm Springs Unified School District for the past 10 years. Her current 29 students benefit greatly from her passion for teaching, particularly the engagement she incorporates in math.

During our recent interview with Ms. Robison, she shared that one of her priorities is to meet students on their level. This allows students to easily engage in learning and wards off frustration. Wowzers has helped her accomplish this priority. As one of her students shared, “What I like about Wowzers is that if you get the question wrong, you can fix it a few times and if you don’t get it, then [Wowzers] shows you how to do it.” It’s clear that Ms. Robinson’s students are embracing the challenges of math and are engaged and excited in their learning.

The students in Ms. Robinson’s class face difficulties familiar to teachers across the country. Each student has their own individual learning style, and many of her students have fallen into the stereotypical mindset that deems “math is hard.” She shared the overarching challenge that educators across the country are facing: how to personalize instruction for all students and engage them in learning math to prevent it from being considered boring or too hard.

Although the district provided a digital math resource, Ms. Robison wanted a program that was appealing to all students—on-level, struggling, and gifted individuals—and that would provide data to track student progress toward increased achievement and ultimately toward mastery. Unfortunately, the provided program was not user-friendly and required her to spend hundreds of hours, outside of school time, to curate curriculum for each student. She also knew that in order for the curriculum to resonate with her students, it needed to be engaging.

It wasn’t until she implemented Wowzers that Ms. Robinson realized exactly how much time she was spending outside of class. She explained, “[Wowzers] pretty much runs itself. Now, I have time to meet in small groups and while students don’t need 100% to pass, students realize that they still can advance through the program without having to continually redo things over and over again.”

Math is not for the timid nor should it be intimidating. When Ms. Robison creates a lesson plan, she first provides her class with an instructional overview of the curriculum. After reviewing the material as a group, she allows her students to reinforce the concepts through Wowzers. Her students’ engagement in Wowzers is apparent when they become anxious to complete her initial instruction so that they can use Wowzers. She also appreciates that the students are able to apply math to real-world applications through the Wowzers quests.

The reports available through Wowzers alerted Ms. Robison to the struggles that her class faced with fractions. Through the pre-assessment reports, the data identified only one student who passed. After assigning the class curriculum from Wowzers specific to 5th grade fractions, the post-assessment resulted in only four students who did not pass. The results clearly showcased that students were engaged and learning, successfully mastering a difficult concept.

Most recently her students were involved in three weeks of state assessments. This typically becomes draining and can be overwhelming, but as students completed the assessments, many specifically asked to use Wowzers to practice for the next day of math assessments. Ms. Robison attributes that to “the engagement and the way the program is structured.” She believes that her students enjoy the program because the lessons and practices sessions are short and keep their attention focused on math. Based on the feedback from her students (see below), their reactions speak for themselves! Congratulations to Ms. Robison and her 5th grade class in becoming the next class of Wowzers Wizards!

  • I love the quests that Wowzers gives us.
  • I love how they ask questions and then they quiz us.
  • I like how it teaches me about math really fast.
  • I like how they let you explore.
  • It helps me be a better mathematician.
  • ​I like earning coins for answering questions.
  • I like the games and the quests.
  • What I like about Wowzers is that if you get the question wrong, you can fix it a few times and if you don’t get it, then is shows you how to do it.
  • It helps me with the math problems that I don’t get.
  • It helps me learn things that I did not know.
  • I like Wowzers because it is very educational and it is a fun program.  It helps me more than other math programs.
  • I like it because it shows me how to solve problems in a different way.
  • It shows step-by-step how to do something.
  • It gives us the problems that we don’t know and shows us step-by-stop how to solve them.
  • I like earning coins to have a pad and decorate it.
  • Gracias por todo gracias a ustedes por ayudarme en fractiones.
  • Woiwzers me gusta porque me ensena matematicas.
  • I like Wowzers because they have fun activities.
  • I like that Wowzers has free time.
  • I learn new things.
  • I like math now.

 

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. Aguilar’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.”