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.

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: 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.