Saturday, May 23, 2015

Guinea Pigs (My students evaluate 4 math practice sites)

Having wrapped up our unit on volume with a test on Thursday, my students asked what we were going to do on Friday.  "You're going to be my guinea pigs!" I replied.  Looks of horror crossed their faces.  They had visions of being put in cages and having a mad scientist (me) performing tests on them.

When they came to class on Friday, they were relieved to find that they were simply testing out and evaluating 4 math practice websites for me.  We've been using IXL and BuzzMath through the year, but after attending NCTM in Boston last month and hearing a lot about TenMarks and LearnBop, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.  I wanted my students to help me decide which sites to use next year.

I set up userids and passwords for all of them and created similar assignments in each application.  I asked my students to work on each site for 10 minutes (I set a timer).  I wanted them to purposely make mistakes so they could try out the built-in feedback/hints/videos that each application provided to assist the students and scaffold them to the correct solution.  A few of my students just don't like to be wrong -- I saw them actually writing out the problems, showing their work, using the calculator -- really trying to get the questions right.  I explained again that I want them to just guess, just pick any answer.  I didn't realize how difficult this would be for some of them!

After they had tested out the 2 new sites, I had them complete a survey to let me know the site they liked best and least.  I gave them a text box to leave any additional comments as well.

Here are the results for the site they liked best:


Here are the results for the site they liked least:


Here are some of the comments my students made:
  • TenMarks is the most "PARCC-like"
  • TenMarks should teach you what you got wrong and help you if your struggling like LearnBop
  • IXL is basically a online test
  • In TenMarks, the hints are too general
  • LearnBop is the complete opposite of TenMarks because it some how figures out your learning patterns and helps out
  • I think they both did an excellent job. The videos did help a lot if I needed help with anything and I like how it showed me tips on how to do things
  • TenMarks is not as great IXL because IXL and BuzzMath give details when you get something wrong

So it looks like BuzzMath is the overall winner!  

This year I used the basic (free) subscription for BuzzMath, but I think I'm going to upgrade to the Premium subscription for next year so my students can see the detailed solutions if they get a problem wrong.  That's the one thing they said they would like to see changed with BuzzMath.  I also think they'll like the ability to have problems read aloud and the gaming aspect of unlocking "missions".  And I'll appreciate the detailed reporting tools.  What I like about even the basic version is that it scaffold the students through solving the problem and gives them immediate feedback, allowing them to retry a similar problem until they master it.  It also has multiple styles of problems which are "PARCC-like".

I'd love to hear your feedback on these sites as well.  Feel free to take the same survey that my students took:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Make sense and persevere

I teach 8th grade Pre-Algebra in a Special Education resource room.  This year I have been blessed with an amazing group of students!  They all try so hard every day to grasp the concepts I am teaching them.  

This week I was particularly proud of them.  We are coming to the end of our unit on linear equations, and I came up with an activity which would really let them demonstrate their knowledge of linear equations and the flexibility to represent the information in various forms.  I knew it was a very challenging activity, but I had confidence that they would all give it 110% of their effort.  

Before we started, I warned them this was going to be really challenging.  They moaned and groaned.  I explained to them that this activity combines everything they've learned so far in this unit and will really show that they understand linear equations.  I first displayed a similar but blank problem up on the SmartBoard.  I pointed out that there were three forms of equations, a table, a graph, and the slope and x- and y-intercepts that needed to be identified.  I told them to all put their detective caps on because they were going to solve a puzzle.  I was going to give them just 1 piece of information, and they have to fill in every other piece of missing information.  You should have seen their faces!  Looks of panic, disbelief, and total lack of confidence.  

I get really math-geeky and excited at this point.  I explain to them that this is soooo cool because everything interconnects with everything else.  That there is more than one way to figure out each piece of the puzzle.  That there is more than one path to get from start to finish.  They look at me like I've totally lost it!

(Warning: I'm about to ramble!)

So, I put one piece of the puzzle up on the board -- a standard form equation.  I ask them what we can do with this?  What information can we get from the standard form of an equation?  They look at me with blank stares and shrugging shoulders.  I guided them to finding the intercepts.  Then I asked them what the intercepts could do for us?  I started to see some light bulbs go on.  I graphed the line using the intercepts. Then I explained that they could have also transformed the standard form into slope-intercept form first in order to graph it.  Then I asked them what we can get from the graph?  Someone volunteered "the slope!"  So we found the slope (and I reminded them that if we had found the slope-intercept form first, we would already have the slope), and I asked what can we do with the information we have so far?  No responses...  I asked if we could write one of the missing equations?  "Oh yeah!"  So we wrote the slope-intercept form of the equation.  (OK, here I go again with more questions -- I really had to drag it out of them the first time through!)  Can we fill in the table of values yet?  I saw mostly blank stares and shrugging shoulders again.  "Substitution" was my clue to them.  One students remembered that they could substitute the x-values I had provided them into the slope-intercept form of the equation to find y.  So we went through that process, painfully...  Then I erased all the y-values and asked them if they could think of another way to fill in the table without substitution.  No responses.  Which order pair do we already know?  What's the special ordered pair in the table?  "Oh, the y-intercept is the one with the zero for x!"  OK, so how can we fill in the rest of the table if we know this one ordered pair?  Can we use the fact that we already know the 'change in y over the change in x'?  "Oh yeah, we know the slope, so we can use that!"  We finished filling in the table using the slope.  Once we had the table complete, I asked if we could now write the point-slope form.  After we did, I explained that they could have also done that without the table since they had the slope and intercepts already and could have used one of the intercepts for the point in the point-slope form.  Phew!  Finally done!  It was exhausting...

But when we were done filling in all the information in, they said "Can we do another one?"  I was so excited that they wanted to do more!  I thought since they seemed so confused and frustrated by the whole process, that they would never in a million years want more!  But they were so persistent and determined to figure out how to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.  We did a few more "puzzles" where I gave them different pieces of information such as just the completed table of values, or just the graph.  When the class was almost over, they asked if we could do this again tomorrow!

My hope is that learning to be flexible and complete all the missing pieces of the puzzle from any starting point will help them truly understand linear equations.  They really demonstrated Mathematical Practice Standard #1 - Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. I've never seen them work so hard and I was very proud!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Slope and Intercepts Review with ThingLink and Zaption

Before the holiday break, I had taught my classes about slope and intercepts.  Twelve days later, I did not expect them to recall anything about either of these concepts, so I planned a "Slope & Intercepts" review for the first day back. 

In the beginning of the school year, I had set up a "Know Your Fractions" review using ThingLink and ThatQuiz.  It was a self-paced review where students watched a video tutorial that I had created using Explain Everything, worked on some practice problems, and then took an assessment with ThatQuiz.  I decided that since it worked so well, I would use ThingLink again for this review, but as for the assessment piece, I changed from ThatQuiz to Zaption.

For those of you not familiar with it, Zaption allow you to create interactive videos by inserting text, images, or drawings, and assessment pieces such as open response, numerical response, multiple choice, checkboxes, or draw responses into the video of your choice.  You can also restrict viewers from skipping forward, allow them to skip backwards to review, and require viewers to answer all questions.  Zaption calls the final product a "tour".  You can share your tours by providing the link to your viewers or embedding it into a website.  (While my students used their Chromebooks to view my Zaption tours, Zaption also has an iPad app.)

notes were found throughout the videos 
questions were found at the end of each video

So I reused my own tutorial videos that I had created a few years ago, added some notes throughout the videos, and then 3-4 questions at the end of each video (you can add them at any point during the video, I just chose to place them at the end).  Zaption saves the analytics from your viewers' sessions so you can see how they did later on.  I kept an eye on the analytics as my students were completing each video so I could be proactive and meet with each student to discuss their errors and prevent them from repeating their errors on the practice problems they were to complete after the videos.  I also used the analytics to compile a list of the top 4 errors that were made by all of my students.  I used these 4 problems as my 'Do Now' for the following day to address the common errors with the entire class.

overall statistics for the tour
statistics per question

I really like the way Zaption made my videos more engaging and interactive, and the fact that it collects data for me.  One of my goals this year is to use data such as this for my formative assessments in order to address student error as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Zaption made this super easy!