Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Teaching a Virtual Math Class

I get a lot of questions about the math program that I teach. I don’t think I’ve ever really even tried to fully explain it to anyone before now. Truth is, whenever I tell people that I teach an online math program, people usually get a really weird look on their faces and seem to automatically start questioning the successfulness of it. They don’t understand how it could possibly be beneficial to cut into two and a half hours of regular classroom math time for students to learn math online. Nor do they understand what exactly it is that I do with MY time all day. I mean... obviously the computers must do all the work, right?

These assumptions are similar to the feelings of many teachers in the district at the beginning of the year when we first incorporated Reasoning Mind. Only a handful of Title 1 campuses adopted the program this year. I had no doubts. I knew from the stats and reputation of the program in so many other districts alone that it was going to do big things in math for our students. It also probably helped that I completed some master's work in Educational and Instructional Technology a couple of years ago. I’m naturally a fan of what technology can do for education! Nevertheless, when someone starts asking me about my job, I usually just say that I teach 2nd-4th grade math and leave it at that. It's just easier that way.

So, in case you’re interested in this sort of thing, here’s what ACTUALLY goes down in my classroom.

Every second, third, and fourth grade class comes to RM three days a week for 45 minute blocks of time (fifth graders receive ALL of their math curriculum through RM, but are taught by a separate RM teacher).

In a sense it really is a futuristic virtual classroom type atmosphere. Students access their lessons by logging in to RM City.

Within RM City, the students learn new math material, solve problems, e-mail the teacher, submit homework, and earn points for the efforts with which they can use to collect virtual prizes. The "RM Genie" is there to support and cheer for them along the way.

Students spend the majority of their RM time learning new material and working problems in Guided Study. New objectives are taught in a storylike setting by several vibrant RM City characters. These lessons are followed by a chunk of problems that check to see if the student has a good understanding of the new material. After submitting an answer to a problem, the student is given immediate feedback along with a detailed step-by-step solution to the problem.

Every student progresses through the program at a different rate. Students who are doing well are progressively given more difficult problems to solve. If a student is doing poorly in an area, the system will automatically have him/her complete the lesson again.

The students are required to keep daily notebooks in RM class. They write down key ideas from new theory learned as well as document their work. They are given tests at different points in the curriculum to ensure that they have been taking their notes.

I have incentive plans happening all around the classroom to keep my students engaged and excited about their work. We keep track of class goals, personal goals, class competitions, and high streaks (number of problems solved correctly in a row).

Students earn points in RM City for solving problems correctly and meeting goals. At the end of class on Fridays they are given the option to spend their points in the virtual shopping mall. Their purchases are used to decorate their personal "Great Hall."

There are several steps that RM students are instructed to take before they ask for help. They have hints available as well as a great virtual library resource that includes past lessons and a math textbook. As a third option, students who are excelling in the program (Genie's Helpers) are allowed to help their peers and answer any questions while I’m working with students who are struggling.

Since (on a good day :)) the students are able to work mostly independently, I spend the majority of the class period completing interventions. Only occasionally do we have a whole-class lesson. Most of my math instruction is completed one-on-one or in small groups. I’m notified any time a student is struggling. The RM teacher interface allows me to run all sorts of reports to track student progress. I’m able to view specific problems that each student has missed, so we can go over everything again together. It's SUCH a great concept!

I document my interventions on the spreadsheet that I made and love oh so much.

I’m only just now reaching a point where I feel like I am truly utilizing the program to its fullest potential. It has really been a learning process and I’ve spent many many hours in training with other RM teachers from around the district. Overall, I think the program has really won most everyone over by this point. Even the students seem to enjoy math a lot more and have also drastically improved their mathematical abilities. I’m definitely a fan of what this program is doing for education and I can see a new technological future for classrooms down the road!!

And before I go I have to show you the OCD computer wallpaper that I made for the student computers yesterday...

Can you imagine how beautiful my life will be if it actually WORKS? I'm so excited about it!

Whew. That's all folks.

1 comment:

bee said...

I am impressed! I wish I would have had a math class like this. I might have actually liked math. Your classroom is awesome and I can tell you have really put in a lot of work. Thanks for sharing. Was very interesting.