Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Talk Math

The problem with a one-size-fits-all curriculum is that it rarely does. Some students are bored because the work is too easy or repetitive; others are lost or lack foundational skills required for success. Some students need minimal practice to perfect a skill; others need more time than is usually available. (We seem content to give those students low grades and move along.)

One of the great promises of mobile learning is the potential to allow students to learn when and where they want, at a pace that is both comfortable and challenging. There is also the potential to allow students to take responsibility for their own learning. This involves much more than finding the time and place to work--it means understanding your strengths and your needs and challenging yourself to perform in order to improve your skills.

Wouldn't it be extraordinary if each student could find that sweet spot between comfortable and challenging and progress accordingly?

After observing just six weeks of fifth grade, I'm seeing that situation develop in Mr. Mitchell's classroom when it comes to math instruction. The students have a variety of tools at their disposal to supplement and extend the regular math curriculum (which is implemented largely through a district-wide adoption of Everyday Math). These tools include Khan Academy,, Fast Facts, and recently Moby Math, all accessible through their class iPads and, significantly, through computers and mobile devices outside of the classroom.

There are two videos associated with this post. Together they give a compelling picture of math as it should be taught, from both the students' and the teacher's perspective.

In the first video, you'll see a remarkable conversation with three students who have been working at an accelerated pace in math. (There are others in that group, but only these three were available for an impromptu interview.) This is the first wave of such students--Mr. Mitchell made it clear to his students on the first day of class that his goal is to move everyone ahead as quickly as possible by paying careful attention to their needs and strengths and crafting programs that will get them there.

As in most cases, the fact that this program is working is a combination of technology and good pedagogy. It wouldn't be possible without technology, but the technology itself would do no good at all were it not for the thoughtful planning and prescriptive lessons and opportunities.

First, you'll hear from three students who have taken responsibility for their work and have developed an expert facility with the tools for learning. At 14 minutes it's a bit long, but it's worth listening to their comments about what works and what doesn't--and about the freedom to learn.

In the next video, Mr. Mitchell discusses the recent addition of Moby Math to his classroom tool chest. If you teach math, it's worth your time for his insights into how math can be taught to 28 students, all of whom are on different levels.

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