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.