A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I’ll admit- I’m a tad biased after two and a half weeks into this project.  As a keen observer, I find myself cataloging all that is working in this project.  Partly it is because I hope to help other educators find their own recipe for success.  They may utilize a little of “this” success and a lot of “that” success, customizing an approach for their own students.  Yesterday was a day when I just walked around and observed.

The teacher had spent the weekend creating a rubric for grading.  She knew the traditional averaging of quizzes and tests would not work for this scenario.  Envision Academy awards grades based on 10% work habits, 50% application, and 40% mastery.  She decided to give the kids the 10% work habits based on the effort they had shown over the past two weeks working on the more basic skills; the 50% based on what percentage of the “Do Nows” (anticipatory sets), homework, and modules they had completed; and the 40% mastery based on the post-assessment.  She then explained to the students what the “modules” would be.  The teacher had spent time combing through Khan’s Star Map to find those topics which she could group as modules aligned to California’s standards.

Each student will receive a copy to track his/her own progress.  Several students made noise about the final standardized test, but the teacher assured the students, “I’m going to make sure you’re prepared for this.” Individualized does not mean a lone journey!

Since the students now had a better sense of what their grades would be based upon, there was incentive to try the harder topics.  For the first time, I saw several students watching videos before attempting the practice exercises. One student asked if they received points for watching the videos.  We emphasized that the videos would help them master the exercises more easily.

About halfway through the two hours, I walked around, and seventeen out of twenty-two students were working on those topics aligned to the modules the teacher had highlighted.  It was encouraging to see them reach a bit higher and find success.

We had a visitor today.  She sat down next to one of our students and asked what she was doing.  The student promptly removed her headphones, and I overheard her explaining how Khan works.  She did a stellar job describing what the daily process is.

Students readily ask for help and/or explanations.  Not surprising, but it sure does help to have more than one teacher roving in the room!

My favorite moment of the day was watching these two in the photo below work on a topic together.  You may jump to the conclusion that one was doing the bulk of the work, but rather the two were tackling the same problem independently and then conferring to see if they had the same answer or not.

I sat behind them for quite a while and just listened.  The conversation was rich and filled with that all-important math speak.  They were encouraging each other as well.  When one got ahead of the other, she turned and said, “Try (linear equations) #2 again since that’s easier… you’re 1 step away (from success)!

During Week 1, I was amazed at the lack of noise/chatter in the room.  I had mentioned to the teacher that it was so quiet, and she had answered, “Yeah, but is that a good thing?”  It is a valid question to ask.  Today, the students were working quite silently again.  At the end of the period, one girl walked up to another and chided, “Is there something wrong with you?  You haven’t talked all period!”  Her observation only underscores how the other was immersed in her own learning.

Yet, with all these high points, I still am compiling a list of, shall we call them, questions…

In earning a proficient ranking with the first ten exercises, is the student guaranteed to cover all aspects of that topic?  I heard one student exclaim to another, “I didn’t do that (multiplying) for my linear equations… how do you do that?”  On a positive note, three students then crowded around one computer to tackle the multiplication problem.

Many students languish on the Star Map.  There is not an easy way to search through the topics (the provided list relates to the videos, not the exercises), so I wonder if they are painstakingly searching for particular topics or rather if they are using it as a way to avoid working on exercises.  Could a search box easily be incorporated into the visual of the Star Map?

Many are still frustrated when the streaks reset after one mistake.  I watched as one student made a mistake when solving problem #10.  She exclaimed aloud, “I always do that!”  She did then choose the right answer, but immediately abandoned the exercises, returned to the Star Map, and chose an easier topic.  How might we encourage perseverance, determination, and stamina?

I saw one student using a multiplication chart she found online to help with the more taxing exercise of simplifying radicals.  Then I saw another student using her iPhone’s calculator to solve basic division problems.  How might we clearly draw a line for the students as to when the affordances of technology aid learning versus hinder?  More importantly, (and not a new issue) how can students be dissuaded from taking the easy way out?

So much more to wade through, but so worth the swim!

Written by Darri Stephens

Collaborator at EdSurge
& Envision Academy

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