Eureka! Authentic Problem-Based Math Challenges You Can Use Today

Two of our teachers recently challenged me by asking for a resource that would provide great real-life application math projects.   There are a lot of such things out there, but none of them have really impressed me, mainly because they all seem like a lot of work to implement.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a source that did all the work for us of creating quality, authentic math scenarios that we could immediately get students busy solving – engaging students’ curiosity and critical thinking while giving them a chance to apply their math skills?

Well, I think may have found it, thanks to my friend and partner in edtech, Amanda Hoagland.

Robert Kaplinsky is my kind of educator! At the time of this writing, he has developed 65 real life problem-based challenges that any student would actually WANT to solve.  Let me give you an example…

Screenshot 2014-11-19 20.02.39see the full lesson

Now if you’re thinking that this is WAY too hard for your 3rd graders, have no fear.  Kaplinsky has challenges for all grade levels.   They are also tied to Common Core Math standards.  A simple search for a CCSS indicator will bring up all the lessons that incorporate that standard.

But wait… it doesn’t stop there.  If you don’t find the perfect problem-based challenge for a particular math concept in his collection, he has also provided a “Problem-Based Search Engine powered by Google on his site.  This allows you to search within a huge list of other resources that provide similar types of lessons.

So what are you waiting for, math teachers?  Go check it out!

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“I Hate Math”

Ever hear these words coming from your students?  Many develop a dislike for math through the years that has a negative, circular effect on their learning.  They don’t like math, and math doesn’t like them.  Although they may actually have good mathematical reasoning and computation skills, they may never experience success because of this barrier.

Stanford University has developed a course that helps change this – “How to Learn Math”.  It is an online course for k-12 teachers and parents to help them know how to improve student engagement with math.  The course began July 15, but will likely be offered again given the 20,000 people who have already enrolled.   During the 2012-2013 school year, Stanford will offer a student version of this course as well.

Follow the link below for more information.  There are some other great articles on this site that you may find helpful!

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Achieve 3000

Taking the Plunge

 At Southwest Parke we are using a huge number of digital resources that are changing the way we do school.  It is incredible how much quality content is available that’s free for education.  However, there are a few areas that are worth some investment.  Achieve 3000 is a differentiated reading program we have purchased, focusing on comprehension of informational text.  After conducting an initial assessment, Achieve delivers news articles supplied by The Associated Press to each student at their unique reading level.   Students answer opinion polls, complete comprehension questions based on the article, and write responses to critical thinking questions.  In doing so, they see exponential growth in their reading comprehension skills, and teachers receive continuous data to guide their instruction.

You can discover a lot about exactly how the program works on their website, but I’ve put together a short video so you can hear directly from a couple of our students and see some of our actual results.  There is no doubt that adding more digital content and greater differentiation into our curriculum is benefiting student learning.

Why We Made The Investment

Although we have made lots of progress in recent years, our students were still not showing the growth and success we wanted them to have (you may be able to relate).   We know that differentiating learning produces results because it provides each student with exactly what they need.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that concept, it just was so very difficult without the technology tools in place.  Our first experience was with ALEKS to provide differentiated learning in math.  We saw what a huge difference it made and sought something to provide the same benefits in reading comprehension, recognizing that there is no skill more fundamental to success.  A student who doesn’t understand the non-fiction text they read will struggle in all academic areas.  Achieve 3000 seemed to be the perfect solution at the perfect time, as we were also implementing 1:1 and digital curriculum initiatives.  We began using Achieve in grades 3-9.  When we saw such rapid results and realized that our freshmen needed more time to close the achievement gap, we expanded to provide Achieve for grades 10-12 as well.

The Early Harvest

As shown in the video, we have seen a very quick return on our investment with increased student Lexiles, but there have been other positive outcomes.  We’ve seen students come alive that had no interest in school or the quality of their work before.  The immediate feedback they receive, the fact that the content is on their personal level, and the motivating elements are appealing to both non-traditional and typical students.  Here’s a story that didn’t make the video…. I met with a junior who is using Achieve to help him pass the ECA test.  Although he is quite intelligent, he is a student who makes it known how much he loathes school, and his lack of success shows his attitude toward education.  I asked him how he felt about Achieve, expecting the same sort of answer I had always heard from him.  Instead, he paused and quietly said, “I don’t hate it.”  If you know students like this, that’s saying a lot.  We have students who would never complete homework assignments that are now getting on and completing several Achieve articles per week from home.  The high achievers are benefiting as well because the program puts no limits on how much they can advance.

Keys to Success

Teachers – As with any resource, you get out of this program what you put into it.  Although powerful enough to produce some results even on “auto pilot”, the real success comes when teachers interweave their reading, writing and language arts instruction into their use of Achieve 3000 articles.  It is also a very effective means of providing complex informational text in science, social studies, health and other content areas.

Students –  Students have to learn to take some responsibility for their own learning.  This is one of the added benefits, teaching them to be more independent learners.  A student who skims the articles and clicks through questions isn’t going to grow.  The program does have some things built in to catch this sort of behavior, but a high level of accountability for quality of work goes a long way.  I think it also helps if the students learn exactly why their reading skills are so crucial to their success later in life and know some specific things to do (and what NOT to do) when they are using the program.  To that end I created a Student Guide to Achieve 3000, which has been presented in most classes.

Administration – Monitor data.  I can’t emphasize that enough.  Achieve provides an enormous amount of customizable reports that paint a good picture of progress or the lack thereof.  If students aren’t growing, drilling into the data often reveals the reason, which can then be corrected.  You won’t be successful with a weight loss program unless you monitor your food and exercise.  You won’t stay on budget unless you track your spending.  Students won’t grow to their fullest potential with any learning program unless you use data to guide instruction and implementation.

Ready to Transform Learning Through Differentiation!?! 

Watch the promo video below and visit Achieve’s website to learn more about how the program works and the research behind it.  Contact me if you have questions you’d like to ask a real school instead of a company or if you’d like to visit us to see it in action!  If you’d like to schedule a presentation, contact Diane Baldessari  (pssst…. she’ll probably bring snacks!).