The scalability of individualized instruction in math intervention

Great intentions do not always equate to great results.  Anyone who has spent any time in education comes to realize this.  Recently, ASCD has been promoting a well-intentioned approach to differentiated instruction. Their article “Differentiating without Drowning”  maintains that teachers should:

“Choose two students on whom to focus your differentiated instruction or lesson (who isn’t benefiting from instruction in your class?).

Use student files, assessment results, student work, support-staff knowledge, and any other data you have on hand to pinpoint three areas of weakness for each of the two students. (You may want to build on this list later, but begin with a short list of three weak areas.)”

What’s the problem with this approach?  It simply does not scale.  The average classrooms we see often include half or more of the students with skill gaps BELOW their current grade level.  With the exception of a few common gaps like fractions, their needs are quite individual.  No two students have exactly the same set of gaps.  The ASCD approach is well meaning and may well provide assistance for a few students who are close to proficiency but it is not differentiated enough to assist all the struggling math students in a class.

Teachers need a tool that clearly identifies each student’s missing gaps, puts them together in properly sequenced study plans and provides award winning instruction to help students understand and fill those gaps quickly.   It is simply not something that they will be able to do on their own.

Given the right tools, good teachers can provide truly individualized help for struggling students while continuing to teach to the collective class.

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Ideas Wanted for Math Explorations. Cash Prizes!

Explorations2There’s still plenty of time to enter the Create Your Own Math Exploration Contest from Ascend Math. Ascend Education is giving educators and their students a chance to come up with their own ideas for online explorations for any math objective grade 3-Algebra II.  The educator submitting the exploration voted best will receive a $500 cash prize. The second prize winner will receive $250 and the third $100.  Three honorable mentions will receive $50 each. Educators interested in submitting will find complete information and examples of online explorations on the Ascend Math website.   All entries must be submitted by May 8, 2015. The winners will be notified by email.

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The Growing Importance of Individualization in Math Intervention

Recently, the Washington Post reported that for the first time ever, the majority of public school students are from low income families, that is students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  The article goes on to explain how this changes the way teachers have to deal with students. They now need to look at these students individually each day. “When did this student eat last?” “Is this student healthy today?”  “Is something making this student especially fearful today?” These questions are now a part of most teachers’ daily routine. When everything is pretty much okay with students, they can be taught and dealt with collectively. When things are not okay, individual attention is necessary.

The same is true when students, for any reason, fall behind.  Just as educators cannot form a collective opinion of what is going on in the personal lives of disadvantaged students, they cannot make a collective decision on what academically struggling students require to progress. Each student in need of intervention is individual and their personal needs or skill gaps must be seen to.  According to the Washington Post article this need has greatly expanded. “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools, a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up.”

These students can and do catch up when their instruction is individualized to their needs.  Providing individual instruction to a few students is extremely challenging. Multiply the need by more than half the students in the class without help and it quickly becomes an impossible situation.  Intervention programs must be created to relieve teachers of part of this burden.  Programs like Ascend Math provide truly individualized assessment and instruction, reaching down to the student’s lowest math skill gaps.  Only in this way can one teacher help a large number of individual students.

To learn more about Ascend Math I encourage you to attend one of our brief weekly webinars.

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A Valentine for Your Math Intervention Students

Our records show that math intervention and enhancement students working in Ascend Math are making fantastic progress this year.  We offer this Valentine’s Day math fun for them and you.

V Day candy1.  The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.)  How many years have passed since that first valentine?

2. According to the Hallmark Corporation, 132 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion. This total does not include packaged kids valentines for classroom exchanges. Packages of 25 Valentines are on sale for $5.00 each.   How many could be purchased for $20?

3. According to a nationwide survey conducted by the National Confectioners Association (NCA)  Americans overwhelmingly prefer chocolate over flowers on Valentine’s Day by a margin of 69 to 31%.  When asked what was their most popular flavor in a box of Valentine’s Day chocolates here’s how they voted:

34%  Caramel
24% Chocolate-covered nuts
13%  Cream filled  
13%  Chocolate filled 

What percentage said something other than these top choices?  What do you think was the next most popular chocolate?

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Celebrate Black History Month with Math

Black History Month 1In honor of Black History Month we’ve provided a few fun and challenging math problems. Try these out.

1. On 25 March 1965, Martin Luther King led thousands of nonviolent demonstrators on a 5-day, 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama to the steps of the capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. According to the American College of Sports Medicine the average step length of an adult is 2.6 feet or about 31 inches. There are 5,280 feet in a mile.

Can you determine how many steps were taken by someone marching the entire distance from Selma to Montgomery Alabama?  (To estimate there are about 2000 steps in a mile)

2. A court order restricted the number of marchers to 300 when passing over a stretch of two-lane highway.  However, on the final day of the march, when the road reached four lanes the number of demonstrators swelled to  25,000.

What was the percentage of increase?

3.  An African-American and son of a former slave, Benjamin Banneker rose to fame as a brilliant scientist, scholar and mathematician.  He wrote and collected mathematical puzzles written in verse.  Here is one that can be a lot of fun to try and figure out. See how close you can come to answering the question “How many leaps did the hound have to make to catch the hare?

When fleecy skies have Cloth’d the ground
With a white mantle all around
Then with a grey hound Snowy fair
In milk white fields we Cours’d a Hare
Just in the midst of a Champaign
We set her up, away she ran,
The Hound I think was from her then
Just thirty leaps or three times ten
Oh it was pleasant for to see
How the Hare did run so timorously
But yet so very Swift that I
Did think she did not run but Fly
When the Dog was almost at her heels
She quickly turn’d, and down the fields
She ran again with full Career
And ‘gain she turn’d to the place she were
At every turn she gain’d of ground
As many yards as the greyhound
Could leap at thrice, and She did make,
Just Six, if I do not mistake
Four times She Leap’d for the Dogs three
But two of the Dogs leaps did agree
With three of hers, nor pray declare
How many leaps he took to Catch the Hare.
Just Seventy two I did Suppose,
An Answer false from thence arose,
I Doubled the Sum of Seventy two,
But still I found that would not do,
I mix’d the Numbers of them both,
Which Shew’d so plain that I’ll make Oath,
Eight hundred leaps the Dog to make,
And Sixty four, the Hare to take.

For hints on solving this complex verse problem see John F. Mahoney’s excellent discussion of this and other Banneker puzzles


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The Super Bowl of Math

Share these five engaging Super Bowl math problems with your math intervention or enhancement students.

super bowlMyth or Math?

A super bowl quarterback can throw a fully inflated football 55 yards in the air. If he has his equipment manager deflate the balls by 16% (or 2 pounds per square inch) and that causes a 10% increase in distance how much further will he throw the ball?

Adding Points

If the score is the Patriots at 27 and the Seahawks at 14, what combination of touchdowns (7 points) or field goals (3 points) would the Seahawks have to make in order to tie or win the game?

Average numbers?

If  Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks, rushes for 127 yards on 22 carries against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, how many yards per carry would he have averaged?

Oh by the way, what Super Bowl number is that?

Dash off the answer!

A super bowl wide receiver runs a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Assuming he runs a hundred yards at the same pace, how much longer would it take him?

The more complete quarterback

Tom Brady completed 65% of his passes while Russell Wilson completes 70% they each throw 40 passes. How many passes will Tom Brady complete, how many will Russell Wilson complete? Bonus: what is the total of incomplete passes for both quarterbacks?

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Math Intervention Advice from Gold Medal Winner

A few months ago, Amy Boyd of Holabird STEM program in Baltimore County Schools spoke to a group of math educators attending the NCTM regional conference in Richmond, VA.  Holabird STEM program is an Ascend Math Gold Medal leader for 2014.

Prior to using Ascend, 97% of their students tested at least one grade below grade level, with about 70% of those students testing three or more grades below their current academic grade. The math intervention program they ran last year using Ascend Math helped these students make tremendous gains.  More than 60% of students gained two or more grade levels in math.

Please watch this brief video.


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Interactivity and Math Intervention! It Matters!

More than a year ago, we made the conscious decision to add a greater level of interactivity to the online lessons in Ascend Math.  Ascend Math was already among the most interactive math intervention resources available.  We saw the opportunity to go further. The reasons are firmly based in research.

The Role of Interactivity in Web-Based Material  examined students divided into three groups experiencing the same web content with varying degrees of interactivity.  This study found those students working most interactively with a web program attained significantly higher pre to post test gains.  The students also reported a greater sense of satisfaction and spent nearly double the amount of time on task compared to the next highest group.

Educators and students using Ascend Math agree that increased interactivity aids learning.  In a recent survey, educators using Ascend Math had the following to say:

“They like the interactivity. The students are surprised when they see their name in the captions.”

“Students enjoy the interaction. The interactivity makes this program unique.”

“I think it helps them to remain focused on what objective is being taught”

The Ascend Math website includes several examples of our interactive student experience.  Please visit.

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Announcing Reel Success Video Contest Winners

Crosby Middle School was the First Prize Winner in the Ascend Math Reel Success Video contest.  All the schools entering videos use Ascend Math with their math intervention students.  For example, 60% of tier 3 intervention students at Crosby Middle School grew one or more grade levels the first two months of this school year.

You can find all the winners at



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Education Tech Trends for 2015

Wondering what tech trends you might see in classrooms in 2015?  The Washington Post released an article you may be interested in.  They even ask for feedback on which ones might be reality and which are wishful thinking.





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