There’s an App for That

Tip of the hat to Scholastic’s Math Hub for pointing to Common Sense Media’s helpful reviews of hundreds of educational apps.  As Math Hub reveals, over 52% of U.S. children have access to a mobile device of some sort (iPads, video iPods, or smartphones) and 29% of parents have reported downloading apps specifically for their children.  Given the size of the market, the availability of educational apps has, predictably, ballooned in size; and there are now literally thousands of apps from which to choose.  The abundance of educational apps is a positive step, but with so much choice parents are bound to be hopelessly confused by such a wide array of possibilities.

Thankfully, Common Sense Media offers detailed reviews for many of the available apps.  The reviews are quite candid and parents will find that Common Sense Media was frank in their assessment of what each app offers – and what they lack.  The reviews not only offer a written description, but also offer the appropriate age range and then rate the games on: educational value, ease of use, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/smoking/drugs, and privacy/safety.  We applaud Common Sense Media for offering an easy way for parents to wade through a vast catalog of choices. 

It’s critical that student instruction extend beyond the school day.  We’ve documented the effects of shortened school days and summer slide across the socio-economic spectrum.  If students are to experience a lesser degree of learning loss, than it is imperative that parents keep students engaged in instructional activities as often as possible.  Educational apps are one way of doing that.  While many may be of questionable educational value, many others offer quality digital instruction in a fun, familiar setting.  Plus, by providing on-demand, easy access, app developers allow students access through the devices that students prefer.  Ultimately, that’s a good thing – anything that reinforces and supplements basic skills is bound to help foster a love of learning.

Digital Promise: Math for Every Student

Tip of the hat to Scholastic’s Math Hub for posting this piece on the state of technology in math education.  Though many math educators report still relying on a basal textbook, many more are employing a variety of digital resources to help reach struggling math students:

On average, math teachers reported spending more than one full class period per week using digital tools or content, and many spent significantly more time utilizing technology. Specifically, among teachers who report using digital content or tools during more then 26% of class time (high digital use), the highest percentages are remedial math teachers and grades 6-8 math teachers. The most commonly used digital tool is interactive whiteboards. Teachers considered interactive whiteboards to be the most important supplemental material in addition to textbooks. This demand for whiteboards is a change from 2008 when interactive whiteboards were not even part of the survey. Math teachers and educators value the “faster reporting” and “detailed student/class information” generated by computer-based programs, features that traditional textbooks and workbooks cannot provide.

What many math educators have discovered is that moving from whole-class instruction to differentiating for struggling students requires going beyond the textbook to solutions that harness technology to adapt and respond to a student’s learning trajectory.  Technology of that sort can take multiple forms, but some important features include the ability to individualize for a student’s needs, provide supplemental resources, and multiple explanations for math skills and concepts.  As many educators now understand, one size does not fit all when it comes to math instruction; and ensuring that students graduate ready for the mathematical demands of the post-secondary world entails matching student math ability to the level of the lesson. 

At MetaMetrics, we’ve attempted to harness technology to supplement and strengthen student math ability through Math at Home.  Math at Home serves as a portal for matching students to targeted math resources across a variety of mediums.  Because each student has a different preferred learning modality, Math at Home offers online resources, video tutorials, skill practice sites, literature guides, games, and hand’s-on activities – a wide variety of resources to keep students engaged in math activity.  But Math at Home is more than a mere portal.  There are plenty of activity portals widely available.  What distinguishes Math at Home from other student portals is the Quantile Framework.  Math at Home uses the student’s Quantile measure to establish the student’s math level.  The list of available resources differs for each student and is based on their Quantile measure, or math level.  Additionally, Math at Home utilizes a large database of textbooks to match students with resources of their choice based on their current textbook lesson, but at their own math level.  If you haven’t already tried it, be sure to take a look.

Math Prize for Girls

Congratulations to Victoria Xia for winning the Math Prize for Girls at M.I.T.  Xia, a 15 years old high school sophomore, won first place and a $25,000 prize for taking first place.  The contest was sponsored by Advantage Testing Foundation and consisted of 20 challenging math problems to be solved in 150 minutes. Xia has won previous math distinctions such as helping the US team win a gold medal at the 2011  Girls Mathematical Olympiad and also a honorable mention at last years Math Prize for Girls contest.  Kudos to Victoria!

It’s refreshing to see students take a deliberate and focused interest in mathematics.  With the recent focus on STEM education, along with increased demand for math and engineering majors in the workplace, it’s good to see U.S. students committed to high level math.  Our own contribution to improving student math achievement is the Quantile Framework for Mathematics, which allows teachers to differentiate math instruction for struggling students.  Plus, tools like Math at Home allow students to engage with targeted math resources all year long.

Minimizing the Digital Divide: Comcast’s ‘Internet Essentials Program

As educators and policy makers have attempted to eliminate the achievement gap over the years, one of the well-documented pernicious gaps continues to be the “digital divide”.  In fact, a google search on “digital divide” yields over 4 million hits as of October 12, 2011. While there are several definitions of the term, Wikipedia captures the essence in the following description:

More recently, some have used the term to refer to gaps in broadband network access. The term can mean not only unequal access to computer hardware, but also inequalities between groups of people in the ability to use information technology fully.

Last month, we as a country made a major step in addressing this problem with the joint announcement by the Comcast Corporation, FCC, and District of Columbia Public Schools. This major step is the national roll-out of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which will provide affordable internet access to low income families. At an Internet Essentials launch event, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski assessed the digital divide and the need for affordable broadband. With broadband being essential to the academic success of America’s youth, Chairman Genachowski reflected that “the digital divide is seriously troubling; more troubling now than in the past, because the costs of digital exclusion are rising”. Genachowski continued this sentiment noting, “Students increasingly need to go online to complete their homework assignments.” Chairman Genachowski further remarked on the stark statistics and detrimental nature of the digital divide. He referenced research that shows one-third of all students and most of all low-income students do not have internet access at home.

This lack of resources available due to the digital divide results in a lose-lose situation in education. When faced with this problem, teachers will either assign Internet-based homework or not. Either the students without Internet access at home are hurt, or the students do not learn how to utilize the Internet and do not attain necessary Internet skills. However with Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, teachers can escape this lose-lose situation. (more…)

Teacher Demographics are Shifting

Here’s Walt Gardner with an interesting look at the changing demographics of teachers.  Worth nothing: just over twenty years ago, a high percentage of classroom teachers had 14+ years of classroom experience.  As of three  years ago, the most common answer was 1-2 years.

As Gardner argues, that trend is likely to continue to rise as more teachers retire or exit for the private sector, creating high demand for talented and effective classroom educators:

Where these new teachers will come from and what their presence in the classroom will mean are questions that warrant a closer look.

According to the National Center for Education Information, four out of 10 new public school teachers hired since 2005 have come from alternative teacher-preparation programs. I expect to see even more teachers entering the classroom via this route. I’m not talking only about Teach for America. I’m also referring to standalone colleges such as the Relay Graduate School of Education, which is the first such school to open in New York State in nearly a century (“Ed Schools’ Pedagogical Puzzle,” The New York Times, Jul. 21, 2011).

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that new teachers from any certification route, no matter how promising, are untested. The crucible of the classroom will determine if they have what it takes to be successful. But since nearly half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, the emphasis must be as much on retention as it is on recruitment. Unfortunately, it’s the former that has been given short shrift.

Gardner’s right, of course.  Too little attention has been paid to retention.  And in an economy that facilitates career fluidity and rapid shifts in job choices, school districts will have to grapple with not only recruiting and developing effective teachers, but keeping them for more than a couple years.

Partnering to End the Early Education Achievement Gap

MetaMetrics is a proud partner of Jumpstart’s Read for the Record campaign. This annual campaign calls to end the early education achievement gap in America. With a Lexile measure of 360L, Llama Llama Red Pajama is Jumpstart’s 2011 featured book.  This Thursday, October 6th, Llama Llama Red Pajama will be read to over two million children nationwide

Participating in Read for the Record, MetaMetrics is dedicated to working towards closing the achievement gap. Reading is essential to preparing children for a successful academic career so please join us in encouraging every child to read.  Take a stand for America’s children by taking a seat to read with them tomorrow.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.