The Unique Study Path to Math Success

Lost in woodsNo two students are exactly alike. In a perfect world, we would treat each as an individual, but it’s not a perfect world. Most often, one teacher must guide twenty or more young people to find the path to success and understanding. For many of us that’s okay.  Since, with the teacher’s guidance, we often assist in finding our own unique path to learning.

However, the student who falls increasingly behind in math will remain lost and unable to find his way out of a foreboding wilderness. It becomes increasingly confusing and eventually frightening.  The only way back into the clearing and back on level will require blazing an individual path out of the confusion.  And that cannot be done without individual guidance each step of the way.

Imagine a map of a thick forest. Three students are lost in the forest.

First, we have to locate the student. How far back has this student fallen? At which functional grade level are the student’s math skills? Is he two grade levels back? Three?  Four?  Once, we know how far back they are, we can begin to plot a unique path to math success for that student.  Let’s say our three students have all fallen three grade levels back. They may all have an equal distance to go but each is in their own location in the forest.  Each will move in different directions and have different stopping points on their way out.  Finding each student’s individual skill gaps is the only way to plot a reliable path out of the forest.  If they go in any other direction or make any other stops along the way it will delay their journey back and even possibly put them deeper into the woods.

Teachers need two things to help students out of the forest: 1. An assessment that finds each student’s position and plots their individual paths forward (think of it as a GPS correlated to state standards).  2. The best instructional content providing students with the individual skills to make their way out.

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Dr. Brian Scott Writes Foreward to Which Math Skills Are Students Missing

Brian Scott

Brian, Scott EdD, author of “The Effectiveness of Differentiated Instruction in the Elementary Mathematics Classroom.”


Wouldn’t it be great if all math students in a classroom came with the same experiences and same motivation to learn?  It’s a nice thought, but the reality is that there is a wide range of skills and readiness in every classroom.  Teachers are faced with the challenge of making sure that every student is at grade level or above by the end of the school year.  Combined with growing class sizes and changing standards and curriculum, this expectation for teachers today is overwhelming.  The believed solution is to simply differentiate instruction.  To do this well requires teachers to have a deep understanding of the curriculum, strong classroom management skills, and use assessment well.

Teachers also need to access the scope and sequence of skills before and after each particular grade level.  Allowing students to grow in their academic endeavors as seen in academic gains should be the goal for all students regardless of where they start at the beginning of a unit of study.  Integration of technology to support the learning as well as classroom management procedures, are critical for optimized student learning.  Having a tool available to communicate any skill gaps helps teachers to better understand and plan strategically.  Individualized instruction can be very difficult to manage, especially with a large class and a wide range of mathematically ability.

The use of web-based support materials in a blended learning environment can be an effective way to better fill in the missing skills and extend the learning of those working below and above grade level.  Avon Intermediate School East has implemented Ascend Math for several years for the primary purpose of extending the learning for those students at or above grade level.  Further analysis of recent statewide testing indicates that not only the amount of time spent using the program, but the leveling up and teacher intervention based on the reports are crucial to attain this growth.  This was true for students who are below or on grade level as well.

We have found that Ascend Math has multiple uses, and it can be a very helpful tool to reduce skill gaps if implemented well.  There are multiple reports and resources.  Its flexibility is its greatest attribute.

Dr. Brian Scott, Principal of Avon Intermediate School East

To learn more, read the white paper:  Which Math Skills Are Students Missing?.


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TedEd asks, “Was math discovered or invented?”

TedEdThis is a fascinating video posted by Ted Ed and fun to watch.  Whether discovered or invented, real or theoretical ideal, helping students to understand and appreciate mathematics is critical to our future. 

Thank you to all math educators.  Here’s wishing you a great new year!




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A Holiday Math Game For You and Your Students

Holiday BearsI wish you a wonderful and safe holiday break. Students have been progressing well in Ascend Math this year and are enjoying the reward of Base Camp. Ascend Math Base Camp is a virtual world with fun games and activities available to students as they progress through objectives and levels.

So, we created a special Holiday e-card featuring one of those math games just for you. To play, just scroll to bottom of card, adjust the angle and velocity and press launch. See if you can choose the best trajectory for your snowball toss in Holiday Bears.  Share the game with your students and others.

View the e-card

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The Challenge of Differentiated Instruction

classroom 2I was recently asked for a good source on differentiated instruction.  I replied that ASCD put out some exceptional publications. You can find them at:

My concern with differentiated instruction has always been classroom management, simply put one teacher trying to see to the needs of numerous students.  When each of these students has individual skill gaps, that challenge becomes even more daunting.  No teacher can be expected to handle truly individualized instruction for more than a few students without help.  And individualized instruction is so often needed when students fall behind in math.

In a recent article in Forbes Magazine, Jordan Shapiro explained that differentiation is easy when the teacher is working with an individual student because the teacher can adapt the teaching to fit the student.

“Great teachers adapt their teaching in this way thousands of times a day…for a few of their students. It just isn’t feasible to do it for everyone. No matter one’s intentions, teachers are human, they have limits. Therefore, for a variety of reasons, certain students in a traditional classroom reap the benefits of the instructor’s personalization skills and other students don’t.”

Our recent Math Skill Gaps Study shows conclusively that students identified for math intervention have skill gaps all different grade levels.  In fact, the gaps are so diverse that in most cases individualized instruction is needed to fill gaps quickly and get them back up to grade level.

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Should Learning Be Personalized or Individualized?

middle schoolThere has been a lot of discussion lately regarding Personalized Learning. What is Personalized Learning?  Is it really any different from Individualized Learning? Some people think so.

I read an interesting article on the subject of “personalized learning.”  For today’s students …

“The approach, called personalized learning, differs from the traditional classroom their parents probably experienced, when teachers gave unifying lectures and told all students to work on the same problems.

‘That sounds crazy. Why would you expect all students to need the same thing in math on that particular day?’ sixth-grade teacher Becca Kratky said.”

While I agree with this, the headline from this article “With Personalized Learning Students Plot Their Own Path” should give one pause.

Whether you choose to call it individualized or personalized the key is the addition of the word “guided.”  Without guidance, students well ahead of others, those behind, and those in the pack are far more likely to falter.  With only rare exceptions, students should not choose “what” they learn and when they should learn it.  This is most especially true of students who have fallen well behind in math. What they must learn should be chosen for them.  Students who have fallen behind need an individual study plan that bypasses what the student already knows and focuses on that student’s individual needs. Add a professional educator overseeing the plan and monitoring progress and you have a recipe for success.  Call it personalized. Call it individualized. Call it what you will. Guided individual study plans are the best way to move math students ahead quickly.

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Ascend Math named Top Product of 2015 by District Administration Magazine’s Readers

Ascend Math has been recognized for making a positive difference in education by K12 leaders who named it to District Administration magazine’s “Readers’ Choice Top Products for 2015.”

I have to say it is an honor to again be chosen as one of the best products for K-12 education. It is an even greater honor to make difference in the lives of dedicated educators and their students.

The winners were compiled from 2,100-plus nominations from the magazine’s readers over the past year. The Readers’ Choice Top Products has been announced online and in the December 2015 issue of District Administration. This is the third time that Ascend Math has been named a Top Product by District Administration having received the award in 2011 and 2013 as well.

District Administration’s Readers’ Choice Top Products awards program informs superintendents and other senior school district leaders about products their colleagues around the country are using to help their districts excel in a variety of areas, such as technology, sustainability and curriculum instruction.

“It was inspiring to learn about the products being used in today’s schools and classrooms that are helping districts succeed,” says JD Solomon, District Administration’s editorial director. “All of our 2015 honorees should be very proud of this achievement.”

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Thanksgiving Math Problems

ThanksgivingHere are some fun Thanksgiving math problems to share with your class.

Turkeys have more than 5000 feathers.  How many feathers on a flock of 4 turkeys?

The Pilgrims are planning a big Thanksgiving for friends and family. They are expecting 18 adults and 40 children. For dessert they will bake apple pies and pumpkin pies.  Each apple pie will be cut into 6 pieces for adults. Each pumpkin pie will be cut into 8 pieces for the children. How many of each pie do they need to make?

Turkey is higher in protein and lower in fat than other meats.  A 3 ounce portion of turkey has 170 calories with 70 of those calories from fat.  By comparison, a 3-ounce portion of chicken has 200 calories with 100 of those calories from fat.  What percentage of the turkey’s total calories comes from fat?  What percentage of the chicken’s total calories comes from fat?

A turkey can run at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour and fly at up to 55 miles per hour. If a turkey runs at top speed for one hour and flies for another 2  hours how far will he have travelled?


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Award Winning School Finds Blended Learning Success

Howard Middle School, residing in the Bibb County School District of Macon, GA, was named a Focus School due to the large achievement gap between the highest achieving and lowest achieving subgroups.  The school district implemented a blended learning approach which consisted of direct instruction coupled (one-on-one or small groups no more than 10 students) with online learning. In an effort to increase the most-at-risk students’ math skills and close the achievement gap at Howard, the district’s Title I Office selected Ascend Math because the program identifies the student’s strengths and needs and tailors instruction specifically to their deficiencies.

Ascend Math is used exclusively with FLP (Flexible Learning Program) students, during connections throughout the school day. The at-risk students in the program attended FLP five days a week during the time period allotted for connections.

“Howard Middle School was an overwhelming choice to receive the 2015 Ascend Math Gold Medal,” said Kevin Briley, CEO of Ascend Education.  “The students and educators at Howard Middle School have really excelled in math,” said Kevin Briley, CEO of Ascend Education.

The Gold Medal Award was established in 2010 to honor the schools or districts that best demonstrate a dedication to ensuring that all students become successful at math. Howard Middle School used Ascend Math as a key component of their blended learning approach to math intervention.

At the beginning of the school year, 58% of Howard Middle FLP students tested below the 4th grade level in math. By April, only 15% remained. Only 9% of students tested at grade level 5 or above at the start of the year. By April, that number increased to 64%. Howard Middle was removed from the Focus School designation in August 2015.

“The achievements by our students have been amazing! Each and every student in the FLP program strived each day to increase his or her math skills,” said Dr. Sharon Daniel, FLP teacher. “My students made me proud to be a part of FLP.”

A Gold Medal Award Banquet in honor of Howard Middle School was held on Thursday, Nov. 19th during the NCTM Regional Conference at Merchants Restaurant in Nashville, TN.

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New Motivational Component Added to Ascend Math

Ascend Education announced today the addition of an all new motivational experience for students using its award winning Ascend Math product.

“Teachers told us that while there students really like Ascend Math they wanted an occasional fun break from it,” said Kevin Briley, CEO of Ascend Education.  “In response, we created Base Camp as a reward for hard working students as they progress through objectives and levels.”

Base Camp is a virtual world with fun games and activities for students using Ascend Math. After spending time on task in Ascend and completing post-assessments a student gains access to explore Base Camp for three minute increments.  The short respite ensures that Base Camp does not detract from time needed to fill math skill gaps in the Ascend Math program.

An evolving formula built into Ascend including time on task and the passing of assessments, units, and levels will determine when students can access Base Camp. Students come to understand quickly that they must earn their time in Base Camp.

“Ascend Math with its interactive lessons and multi-modal learning activities has always been engaging,”  said Product Developer Brodie Vidrine.  “Our goal with Base Camp is to add another layer of motivation for students struggling with math.  So far, students really like the age appropriate games and activities.”

“The kids do enjoy a 3 minute brain break during their Ascend Math time,”  wrote math teacher Marcie Cook.

In the near future, students will be able to earn awards and accolades for their efforts in Ascend Math and Base Camp.  To learn more about Ascend Math and Base Camp educators should consider attending a convenient weekly webinar at or visit us Nov. 19-20 at NCTM Nashville, booth 411.

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