Monday, December 16, 2013

Accelerated Math

We are quickly coming to the end of a 30-day trial version of Accelerated Math, which we will be implementing throughout our school from second through twelfth grades.  I was tagged to step into an 8th grade pre-algebra class as a co-teacher to help pilot the program and immerse myself in it.  This post is my attempt to tell you about the program along with its pros and cons.

What is Accelerated Math?
AM can be run as a stand-alone math curriculum or a supplement to your normal curriculum.  It actually is three pieces that can be run simultaneously or separately.
  • STAR Math Test: The goal of the STAR is to assess what students can and can't do.  The test itself takes 20-40 minutes and adjusts the difficulty of a question based on how the previous question was answered.  In the end, it gives data to the teacher about each student's math abilities.  You can see a scaled score, percentile rank, and objectives that need to be retaught from previous years. Tests can be administered as often as you please, and it is good to test periodically to track student growth.
  • MathFacts in a Flash: This is pretty much what you might expect. Students have 2 minutes to complete 40 virtual math flashcards. If you pass the level within 2 minutes, you move up.  If you fail it, you get to practice over and over till you can pass the test. There is nothing flashy about this, except the name, but it helps students automatize their facts. Let's face it. No one wants to take time to learn their multiplication tables, and most kids never really learn them.  This gives students 71 different levels of math facts to work through (start with adding 0 and 1 and end with a review of +, -, x, /, and squares with everything you can imagine in between). The more math facts you memorize and can quickly recall, the better your overall math computation will be.
  • Accelerated Math Live: Students do practice assignments online with objectives previously determined by the teacher. These objectives should be selected by two criteria: the objective being taught in the regular curriculum for the day and the results of the STAR test. As students do well on an objective (5/6 correct) they have the opportunity to test on that objective.  Should they pass the test (3/4) it is mastered and will slowly rear its head again over the course of the next week or so till the program is convinced it's really mastered, then will go away forever.  There is also a help section where students can get help (a glossary, example problem, Khan video, and a list of other students to ask for help) should they get lost. 
There's more to it than that, but I'm hoping that at least gives you an idea of the program.

What I don't like about AM? 
  • Accelerated Math is a small step up the SAMR Ladder. It's a step up, which is a good thing, but not by much.  I'd put it in the A category, and I'd love to push our teachers to teach above the line, not just under it. There is a lot of tech capital going into AM (time, money, training, teacher frustration) that I would prefer utilizing in other areas. 
  • It's way too easy to sit behind a desk at my computer and merely assign objectives and generate tests while expecting my students to come running to me with any questions.  I know -- and you do too -- that a math teacher really needs to be proactive to be effective.  Yes, students should wrestle with math problems, but teachers need to teach, not just sit behind a desk.  (Yes, I feel like a hypocrite right now.) 
  • It lends itself too easily for ability-grouping.  The students already know the division between the smart ones and the not-so-smart ones. There is no need for me to accentuate that.
What I do like about AM?
  • Accelerated Math can help a student go back and pick up missing skills OR move ahead of the class. It is incredibly personalized, so everyone is learning at a level and pace that he or she is comfortable with...and done correctly, you don't have to do ability-grouping. 
  • Students take control of their own learning. They have numerous tools to pick it up and run with it. I attended a seminar with an experienced high school math teacher. He had one girl who started in 10th grade at a remedial level and graduated after completing AP Calculus.  If someone wants to learn, they can learn and learn well. 
  • The wonderful tasks of assigning and grading are done by the computer. That leaves the teacher to analyze and diagnose student work. Instead of plowing through papers with red ink flying, a teacher can actually look at what a student does and help him or her through any potholes in the road.
  • It's Common Core aligned.  The creators are taking great pains to make sure that all objectives and questions fit with the Common Core objectives. If fact, it's still a work in progress as they are currently shifting the high school curriculum over to Common Core.  If, by chance, you're not a fan of Common Core or you aren't bound to it, you can still shift back to the old curriculum objectives. 
  • I love the MathFacts section. I've spent a lot of time watching kids think through simple math facts that should be as easy to them as breathing. Keep those facts automatized and more complex math will get easier.
My principal made the decision to purchase the program, and we will begin it in earnest in January. In our pre-algebra class, we will put a hybrid curriculum into effect.  It will go something like this:
  • Monday: Teach a lesson out of the book. Assign a few problems from the book to practice. Assign AM practice based on that objective.
  • Tuesday: Assign AM practice based on Monday's lesson, plus three objectives based on individual student needs.
  • Wednesday: Teach a lesson out of the book. Assign a few problems from the book to practice. Assign AM practice based on that objective.
  • Thursday: Assign AM practice based on Wednesday's lesson, plus three objectives based on individual student needs.
  • Friday: Test on all 8 objectives for the week.
I'm looking forward to seeing where we go from here.  I'm still hoping for a day when we can move our school to using Educreations and math blogs as a normal part of their workflow. Maybe Accelerated Math can help us take that next step towards not just doing math but being able to explain what we do.

Please let me know if you have questions or comments or thoughts.  I'd love to connect with other AM users or know what you're thinking about this program.

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