Friday, July 11, 2014

MathLand Revisited

It's been 2 years since I posted on MathLand, but I've noticed that people are visiting this site, so I thought I'd post an update.

I finished my 5th year of gamifying and 13th year of teaching mathematics to students with emotional impairment and went to work as the Math Accessibility Specialist for Michigan's Integrated Mathematics Initiative (Mi)^2, a state initiative supporting and promoting high quality mathematics education for students who struggle and students with disabilities. It is a huge change of pace, full of new challenges, and I, while I very much miss my students and the classroom, am loving the opportunities this new job offers including meeting excellent educators around Michigan and the country, and working with them to provide access to the math curriculum for all students.

 Recently, I've joined the Board of Directors for Aspiring Games Foundation out of Lansing, under the leadership of our president, Becky Palmer-Scott. This welcome, but unexpected, turn of events, has brought two of my original classroom projects back to life: Junkyard Wars and MathLand.

This blog is about MathLand, but Junkyard Wars is a project-based learning unit I did twice a year where students built machines out of unconventional materials (paper, metal, plastic, wood, foam, etc.) and competed to see whose machine functioned best. We made catapults, ramps, cargo boats, speed boats, and elevators, among other projects. It was a fun, hands on, and effective way to engage students and to teach and learn mathematics in context.

MathLand did not get any major overhauls since my last post describing how it works, but it, and gamification in education in general, have gained some attention in the last few years.

For a long time, MathLand felt like my own little project to address my own personal needs, but it seems that my challenges are many people's challenges, and people are interested in hearing about them, which makes sense now that I stop and think about it.

If anyone out there is reading this and is looking for guidance on how to begin to do this, please contact me! My email is I'm happy to share my process, my materials, my reading lists, or whatever might be useful. I'd also be happy to share about Junkyard Wars.

Here's another thing - if anyone out there is reading this and has their own game-based or play-based solutions to challenges such as low motivation, chronic attendance, learned helplessness, underachievement, I'd love to hear about that, too. Not just as a curious teacher, but also as someone whose job it is to find innovative, effective ways to improve mathematics outcomes for all students. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Initial Results from MathLand 2.0

I am pleased to post that MathLand 2.0 is extremely successful.

The mastery tests not only force students to learn a skill (as opposed to just finish an assignment and then either avoid the test, dig in their learned helplessness heels while I prod and prompt them to answers, or just scribble out the easily regurgitated answers), but they give students the sense of accomplishment that comes from receiving an assignment, going someplace to do it, completing it independently, and getting the answers correct.  Students may use anything to help them except a person, so they also experience looking back at lessons, using resource materials, and generalizing information to fit the test question.  It's great!

Students are collaborating even more.  With shorter levels and targeted skills, students find it easier to collaborate on levels.  The other day in my 2nd hour Algebra 2 class, two groups spontaneously sprouted: the level 4 group (multiplying polynomials) and the level 5 group (factoring and dividing polynomials).  When everyone is working on the same objective, study groups are productive and beneficial to all involved.

Students are recognizing the effectiveness of MathLand.  The other day one of my students asked me if I invented MathLand.  Yes I did.  You are a genius, she said.  This is the only way I could learn math.  Wow, that is amazing.  It would be amazing for any teacher to get such a spontaneous, unsolicited critique of their methods, but this is from a girl who first came to my room telling me she couldn't do math at all.  I mean, that's the first thing she ever said to me, before telling me her name, or asking where to sit, she told me she couldn't learn math.  She's also emotionally impaired, in a day treatment setting for special education students, and functioning well below her grade level on individual achievement tests, and she's multiplying polynomials, by herself, with the help of manipulatives, clear instructions, and peer support.

I did not have time to upgrade my Geometry levels to 2.0 over the summer, so it's interesting to see the contrast between how my Algebra 1 and 2 classes are running versus Geometry.  The Geometry kids are still doing MathLand 1.0 and are finding it as motivating as always, but they lack the mastery, they lack the ability to work together on just the one skill (although they are still doing a great job helping people who are behind them in the levels), and they never know exactly what the point of the activity is.  As a teacher/facilitator, I also notice that I am providing way more help/instruction during my Geometry hours.  That is because MathLand 2.0 provides more supports for the kids and allows them to better help themselves and each other, and be more independent.

MathLand 2.0

MathLand got a face lift over the summer.  Every summer I edit the levels and clean up problems, but this summer, the entire Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 course got a total update featuring:

1. A three phase delivery for each level: lesson, practice, and mastery test.  Yup, now to earn points for a level, students must pass a mastery test all by themselves.  The mastery test contains about 5 questions that mirror the questions in the lesson.  The practice problems are optional and done only if students and/or teacher feel they need more practice in order to pass the mastery test.  Human help is readily available for lessons and practice, but no human help is allowed on the test.

2. An entirely electronic format.  Because I am not allowed to have a printer in my classroom, I am still making massive amounts of copies from the printouts of the electronic files.  However, I am one step closer to getting the levels on the web where students can access them from anywhere.  They are also WAY easier for me to edit.

3. Consistent formats between levels.  My mishmosh of levels was causing undue stress by me having to explain a lot of vague or missing directions and making kids have to reorient themselves on every level.  Now the levels look the same, contain clear step-by-step instructions, have built in make-your-own reference sheets when needed, utilize systematic and direct instruction, and...

4. Clearly defined learning targets written in the same place on every level.

5. A "work during work time" sticker with independent study skills listed on it to help students help themselves before asking for help with math (like getting out the assignment, gathering the materials, reading the directions, identifying what is confusing, having previously completed work from that level out on their desk).

6. Each level focuses on just one skill.  No more multiple skill levels that caused mass confusion when one piece was missing.  Each level is one specific skill that leads up to the next one, which leads to the next one until the entire learning objective is completed.  Some objectives require one level, others 4 or 5.

7. Alignment to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

I have been away from my blog for a long time, and right now I'm away from my bookshelf, but these improvements were based on and inspired by some new books I've read, and as soon as I'm back by my bookshelf, I will add them to my book list.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Why MathLand?

Why MathLand?

The short answer: it is motivating, individualized, flexible, positive, and it is working.

But with me, there is always a long answer, too:

I attended a technology conference and the key note was Marc Prensky. He was talking about what it is about games that makes kids like them. He said kids like that there are levels to go through, and that there is a goal that you are trying to attain. It immediately clicked in my mind that I could structure my curriculum like that: with levels and an end in sight.

Then I wanted to know more about video games. So I bought James Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Literacy and Learning. He talked about customizing avatars, gaining status, and having an identity in the game (or in this case, the MathLand context and our classroom). So, I came up with the idea that kids could design an avatar and gain dots when they did something well in MathLand.

And that's pretty much it. From those two main ideas came something that is flexibile, individual, attainable, immediate, collaborative. I aligned the levels to the state curriculum and tried to come up with a variety of ways to present the materials. Group instruction hadn't been working for a long time because it was hard for my students to concentrate and engage when I was talking at the front of the room.

Now, they work on assignments at their own pace. They help each other. And when they need more help than that, they refer to old assignments, textbooks, the computer, or classroom staff. When classroom staff help them, it is individual and personal attention.

Students no longer "fall behind" because they pick up where they left off. Students no longer "skip steps" in the cumulative math curriculum because they can't go much farther ahead without completing the previous level.

The system was naturally reinforcing because they get rewarded regularly for doing well. Every time they accumulate five full days in class (no bathrooms, special activities, etc.) they are rewarded. Every time they finish an assignment, they are rewarded. And so on. And if they finish the levels before the deadline, they get to do bonus opportunities. The bonus opportunities are still academically based, but because they are "bonus" they are rewarding and more palatable.

They also can't do subpar work. Every time they think they are finished with a level they are evaluated by the classroom staff. No putting it in the basket poorly done and not finding out until I have had a chance to go through the basket. Nope. I check it immediately, reteach the parts that they got wrong, and send them back for corrections. Or I pass them on to the next level.

It is a positive system. It is easily adaptable to subject areas and different types of activities. It is aligned to state standards. And it is individually based. From those two ideas came a system that really works with the students and covers the material.

Since beginning MathLand during the second semester of the 2006-2007 school year, I have done a lot more reading. I've read books, reports, and blogs. I've watched videos and slideshows. I've really been adding to my perspectives on technology, game theory, and mathematics. As I evolve, MathLand evolves. It's a fun process for me, too.

The Return of the MathLand blog

I started this blog as part of a project for an online class that introduced me to Web 2.0.

My return is really the proof positive that Web 2.0 is a powerful and important entity for education. Through Web 2.0 tools I've found totally changed the way I do professional development. Sure, I still attend conferences and workshops, but most nights I can be found reading the blogs on my RSS feed that have so many more ideas and insights that influence my teaching and philosophy more than anything else has.

So, I'm going to try and keep up with my blog. I'd now like it to be a place where interested parties could go and see what I am deciding to do in my classes and understand why I'm doing them. I realize there may be no interested parties, and that's ok, but then this blog will serve as my personal journal where I can work out for myself what it is I want for my students, my classroom, and education in general.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Looking for the Mouse

This guy has an interesting perspective on the whole Web 2.0 thing. One of the biggest things I couldn't get over was how time consuming it was to read/watch all of the information available on the web. He addresses that. Another difficulty I had was understanding the personality type that would embrace this. He addresses that, too.

He not only reveals what "looking for the mouse" means, but his comments lead up to his conclusion that "Media that is targetted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for." As the guy on my blogline blog suggested, substitute "education" for "media" and we really understand why educators should care about Web 2.0.

He also talks about people who have been "served up passive, fixed, canned experiences" and what we can do for them. As soon as I heard it, it made me think of the traditional classroom.

I hope you like these videos.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Welcome to Kate's MathLand

Welcome to Kate's MathLand. This is my first adventure in blogging, and I hope you will enjoy it with me.

MathLand is what I call my classroom. Students find their way through MathLand as the year progresses by attending class, completing work, and acquiring new skills. The more successful they are, the better grade they earn, and the more status in the class they gain. It is a complicated system, but so far it is working.

As if MathLand weren't complicated enough, it also has to be a place that makes high school level math as relevant and interesting to the students as possible, while meeting state standards and using best practices, too.

So, MathLand isn't just a classroom management system, or a curriculum delivery system, or a blog. It is an environment. And hopefully, through this blog and learning experience, it will continue to grow, evolve, and adapt to what this teacher and her students can do.