My school is the academic magnet elementary school for the county. There are entrance tests, standardized test requirements, and grades to maintain. The majority of my class is identified by the state as “Gifted & Talented.” I always have a bright group of students, but this year I have one student who is exceptionally bright, especially in math. He was getting into some trouble for classroom behavior issues, and ended up in the principal’s office for detention. He wrote me an apology letter but at the bottom, he added, “…but can you imagine what it is like for me sitting through your math lesson?” And it hit me like a ton of bricks because I do know. I was that bright kid bored out of my mind while my teachers in school “taught to the middle.” I knew I needed to do something different in my class, and I was going to start with math.
I participated last year in a pilot program to use this web-based math tool called ALEKS. Students worked at their own pace and I received really good data to see each student’s weaknesses, strengths, and pacing. This year, it was not offered to my school but I begged my principal, the school foundation, and even the Technology Department at the district level. Eventually, my principal purchased a school-wide subscription. Two days later, I heard from the district they had some extra licenses and they would go to my school! We cancelled our school order and got started:
Each student takes an initial knowledge check. They get a pie chart with each 4th grade standard. The more full the pie slice, the more they know. Unfilled portions of the slice are things they still needed to learn. Each kid can work at their own pace (they call it a Path). I can see the problems they are working on, the time spent on each standard or problem, and how to group students for small groups and interventions. When students are prompted for another knowledge check (after about three hours of time spent in the program), I get an email report for anyone mastering 85% of the material. I can move them on to more challenging material. I currently have 28 students in my 4th grade class and 17 students working on 5th grade math, and two working on 6th grade math.
The student who was bored during my math instruction recently wrote me a separate note for the Great Kindness Challenge and it was little different: