Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mastering (and loving) math at the Depot

We've made lots of big changes this year at the Depot, but this may be the most important one:

More math.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the importance of social skills for jobs, but jobs requiring a combination of math AND social skills have shown even more growth.

That's why we've ramped up the math.

But how do you ramp up math at a tiny school where the students are out of the building two days a week, and none of the teachers are certified in math?

It's called ALEKS, and I'm not the only one who likes it. I've had multiple students actually say to me, "I love ALEKS."

How can this happen? They used to say they hated math.

Well, maybe that's changing.

ALEKS is an online math learning system. We enroll students in courses, like Algebra and Geometry, they read tutorials, and then they practice the skills online two hours a week.

What's so cool about ALEKS is that it is a mastery based program. Students start by taking an initial assessment of their skills in each course. It tells them how many topics they have already mastered, and starts them THERE. They may start 20% or 30% of the way through the course, if they already know that much of the material!

ALEKS shows them their progress in a way that is rewarding and motivating, and they only move forward after they've mastered a topic. It gives them periodic "knowledge checks" along the way, and will send them back to relearn topics if necessary, even on their final assessment. There are no grades, because they don't finish until they have mastered 100% of the topics in the course.

If students are not progressing fast enough, we move them to an easier course. For example, a student who is hitting the wall in Algebra is moved to High School Preparation for Algebra, so she can get the skills she needs to go back and tackle Algebra 1 later in the year. If a student is moving quickly, they may get through more than one course in a single year--more credit, and more progress toward college and career!

Right now, our average progress on Geometry and Algebra 2 is 36%. Not bad for independent, online study!

All of this just confirms what I've been thinking lately: Kids don't hate school because it doesn't match their learning style, they hate it because they feel they're not good at it. 

Imagine if we could change that! Just imagine if every student left this place with a new confidence in their math skills?

Imagine the doors that would open for them, not only to college and careers, but to new ways of understanding the world?

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