We were lucky enough to talk with Ms. Lacey Carr, teacher at Marshall Middle School in Pomona USD about what blended learning looks like in her middle school classroom and why it works for her kids. Whether it be support for personalized learning experiences or a tool to encourage and build confidence, a blended classroom that utilizes game like components has really helped Ms. Carr and her students realize growth and experience math in new and different ways.
Below is our Q&A with Ms. Carr: A Middle School Math Teacher’s Perspective on Why Blended Works.
Why do you feel like Blended Learning works for your middle school math students?
Blended Learning is a great setup for struggling algebra students at Marshall. Originally, 30 struggling students were identified and placed in my algebra support class. The way our schedule worked out, half of those students were then assigned to my 2nd period algebra class, while the other were placed in my 3rd period algebra class. At the beginning of the year, each student took a math diagnostic test and was assigned a list of objectives that needed remediation throughout the year.
My students visited the math lab two or three times a week for ST Math sessions. Our goal, as a class, was for each individual to meet 1-2% progress toward their Syllabus (objective list) during each session. Following each session, I would print out their progress and check up on the concept modules my students were working on. This was a great tool for me to use because it allowed me to follow up our sessions the following day with group discussions, concept extensions, and/or to make explicit connections to the algebra curriculum. Because of the time spent on ST Math and in the support class, I feel like my students blossomed in the regular algebra class. Throughout the year, my support students were able to voice the connections they were seeing and I was able to see a big improvement in their number sense. I credit that directly to the ST Math program and the way it scaffolds and models math concepts through puzzles.
What characteristics of a middle school learner are unique? And how do you teach with this in mind?
Middle school students are very impressionable! In my class, I have the opportunity to encourage them, build them up, and give them opportunities to feel success.
I feel like my middle school students desire not only peer interaction, but validation from me, as their teacher, that what they are doing is right (or along the right track). They want to know that it is safe to try and they will not be penalized. As struggling math students they want to feel success! In response to these things, my support class and I came up with an agreement of how our class was going to run. I expressed to them what I expected and allowed them to give me feedback as to whether they felt they could achieve that. We agreed upon a 50/50 breakdown—50% of their grade would come from ST Math progress while the other 50% would be participation in the class on our non-lab days. So long as they met their 1-2% progress each session they would receive their 100 points. And as long as they participated in our class discussions and extensions they would receive 100 points for non-lab.
The class structure was such that they were allowed to help each other, or request my help once they had tried a certain number of times. This gave my students the chance to interact while helping each other. They were instructed at the beginning of the year never to “tell” answers but to ask questions such as “what have you tried?” and “where are you stuck?” They also helped each other by explaining the screen set up and in explaining the overall goals for difficult puzzles.
In response to their desire to feel successful, I was a big cheerleader for my students. When they completed a puzzle with 100% I was quick to congratulate them with a “Good Job Kevin,” or “WooHoo! Sheldon.” My kids congratulated each other and became competitive in the number of puzzles completed in the session. At the end of each session, I asked my students to take minute to review their progress. We followed that up with a, “Who made more than 2% progress?” The highest percentage progress earned a treat such as a small candy, sticker, or school supply. Sometimes when my students were working through longer sections, I would ask about the top number of puzzles completed that day. Simple things like clapping for each other gave my kids a boost in participation and feelings of validation.
When students were not making progress, simple one-to-one conferences helped me figure out how I could help them.
What benefits do gaming programs, like ST Math, bring to your classroom?
Gaming programs, such as ST Math allow my students to experience math in another way, allows them to work at their own pace, and gives them the opportunity to struggle through concepts without the fear of failing. ST Math allowed for some competitiveness while having fun and learning!
Brienne is a Director of Education Success and former Elementary School Teacher. She speaks on behalf of the MIND Research Institute across the country to illuminate the power and necessity of neuroscience-based, interactive math software that is designed to teach all students how math really works.