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.

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.