How States Could Improve the State of Education Starting Now!

essaA new federal law called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) hands more control over education to state leaders.  Rather than threatening them for failing to achieve certain test scores, the law provides money and guidance pursue new models of education.

This is an enormous opportunity for needed change.

“Notably, the law provides financial and regulatory support for policies compatible with “personalized learning,” a teaching method that gives students custom-fit lessons, the choice to pursue individual passions and the ability to move as quickly (or slowly) as needed to master skills and concepts. Similarly, the use of technology to enhance in-person lessons, known as blended learning, is also included in the law, with language that specifies that schools can use federal money to pursue that strategy.”

The Hechinger Report

Providing each student with an individual study plan is a perfectly achievable goal.  Great educational technology products can help teachers easily monitor the process of personalizing learning while quickly assessing students and providing truly individual study plans.

Let’s make this the school year in which education reaches out to use technology the way it was intended.  That is to make learning accessible and teaching to a diverse classroom of students manageable and enjoyable.

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Best of Halloween Math Problems

Here are a few of the best Halloween math problems sent to us by teachers and others:

  1. pumpkin 2An adult skeleton has 206 bones. There are 27 bones in a hand and 26 bones in a foot. How many bones are not in the hands or feet?

2. Count Juan Toothree is giving a party at his haunted castle. Throughout the evening guests come and go. 10 guests go in.  2 come out. 12 more go in. 3 come out. 6 go in. 8 come out.  10 more go in. 1 comes out. And just before midnight 2 go in and 8 come out.  How many guests are at the party at midnight?

3. Punkin Chunkin is an event in which machines such as catapults are used to hurl pumpkins the greatest distance.  One of the goals of the WCPCA (World Championship Punkin Chunkin Association) is to hurl a pumpkin a full mile. The current record is 4,484 feet.  How many more feet do they have to go?  The pumpkin would need to travel at 1000 mph in order to make it the full mile.  How long will it take to reach it’s goal?  Once you’ve solved this trick, treat your students to one of the punkin chuckin videos on the Science Channel’s website.

4. Anoka, MN is the Halloween Capital of the World.  They created the first Halloween parade in 1920. How many years will it be before they can celebrate their 100th anniversary?  How many months?  Think that’s scary, now try to figure out how many days?

5. After scooping out and carving the Jack O Lantern, the class counted 162 pumpkin seeds.  Their teacher roasted the pumpkin seeds for a tasty treat.  She wanted to divide the seeds up evenly among all her students. There were 18 students in the class. How many pumpkin seeds did each student get?

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More Students Graduating High School? Great! But then what?

graduationGreat article by Education Week this week. Recently, the White House announced the national high school graduate rate has reached 83.2 percent. President Obama called it the “highest on record.”  However, the Ed Week article brings up some important questions. For example:

“The question is what those gains mean. How do you make sense of the idea that more students are walking away with diplomas, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress suggests that they’re not learning any more these days than they were years ago?

And what about this pesky problem: Many states award a variety of different diplomas, some of which connote strong preparation for jobs and college, and some of which, um, don’t. How much should we rejoice in more teenagers graduating from high school, when some of them have most certainly completed a watered-down course of study?”

Don’t get me wrong. This is progress and worthy of everyone’s attention.  Couple it with students improving in key skills like math and it would be great news!  Let’s keep working and when we see NAEP scores improve as well we’ll know we are on our way!

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Your Math Vote Counts! Electoral Math for the Classroom

voteSeveral educational blogs and publications are focusing on the Presidential election and creating ideas for learning opportunities.   Our staff and friends have created these historical election math problems to share with your students.

A Bully Math Problem

In the election of 1912, former Republican president Teddy Roosevelt came out of retirement to lead a brand new party known at the Progressives.  Below is the electoral vote count.  It takes 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency.

Woodrow Wilson, Democratic Party        435 votes

Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive Party 88 votes

William H. Taft,  Republican Party              8 votes

If Roosevelt had been the Republican party nominee and received the 8 votes in addition to his own how many more would he need to get the 270 votes needed?

Who Says One Vote Isn’t Important?

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel J. Tilden by a single electoral vote! That’s the closest in US history. To complicate things further, Tilden won the popular vote by over two hundred thousand votes—one of four times in history someone won the popular vote but lost the presidency. There have been 56 contested U.S. Presidential elections. (George Washington ran unopposed)

What percentage of times has the popular vote been greater than the electoral vote? 

Dewey Want Him or a Truman?

In 1948, early polls showed Thomas E. Dewey the winner over then President Harry S. Truman. However, east coast votes had not been counted when the Tribune went to press, and Truman pulled off one of the biggest upsets in American election history. He ended up winning with 303 electoral votes to Dewey’s 189, and was famously photographed holding the paper that announced his defeat.

What percentage of electoral votes when to Truman?  What percent to Dewey?

The Winner by a Fraction!

John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were evenly matched going into the presidential election of 1960. Kennedy received 49.72 percent of the vote while Nixon received 49.55 percent.  The difference between them was only 112,827 popular votes!

What was the difference in the percent of vote between the two candidates?

Can you determine how many popular votes each candidate received?

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October STEM and Math Fun

pumpkin-recycleEverybody likes a Jack O’ Lantern with its fiery eyes and gleaming grin but what do you do with the pumpkin once Halloween is over. Did you know that the US wastes 450 million kg of pumpkin yearly. The National Wildlife Foundation is sharing several clever ways to put used pumpkins to use.


STEM project idea

  1. Ask students for their ideas on recycling pumpkins.
  2. Convert the weight of used pumpkins from kilograms to pounds and ounces.
  3. If just 15% of used pumpkins were recycled by how much would that reduce the total waste?

Happy Halloween!

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High Achieving Students Need Individual Study Plans as Well

hispanic-2In past blog posts I’ve talked about the need for individual study plans in math for students below grade level.  Recently, NPR released an article worth reading on the needs of students working above grade level.  A new report shows that there are more of these students than most of us might expect.

“Makel and his co-authors found that, on the NWEA, 35 percent of beginning fifth-graders were already scoring at levels you might only expect by the end of the year. And, on the NAEP, the top 25 percent of fourth-graders outscored the bottom 25 percent of eighth-graders every year but one — for 26 years straight.”

Note: NWEA and NAEP are two of the most widely used assessments for elementary grades.

High achieving students have as much or more to gain from individual study plans as students in need of intervention.  Case in point: City of Hammond Schools.  They began using Ascend Math with their High Achieving (HA) students last year.  Today, 88% of all their HA students are working at or above grade level (1-3 levels).  At one elementary school our HA second grade students are working at grade level 3 and 4.  At another elementary, all second grade HA students are working at level 3 and showed better than expected growth on NWEA testing.

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Blended Learning Success Video from Macon Schools

bibb_county_success_storyBeginning in 2014, Bibb County schools in Macon, Georgia began a Flexible Learning Program (FLP) utilizing Ascend Math in several schools including Howard Middle School.

The students in the FLP were those most at risk of failing math. These students fell in the lowest 25 percentile.

“Bibb’s FLP is designed to prescribe differentiated instruction in a blended learning environment.  Our students in FLP receive tailored instruction online, in small groups or one-on-one.  Ascend pinpoints the student’s deficiencies and maps out the course of actions for remediation.  We have a great remedy for preparing our students for the 21st Century.”

Joanna Gittens-Summerow, Title I Education Specialist.

Results:  Year one 44% of students in the program moved up two or more grade levels.      Year two results were even better.  An astounding 86% of students gained one or more grade levels with 41% gaining three grade levels and 8% four grade levels.

They were so pleased that they produced a video explaining the program and its success. Please take a few minutes to hear their story.

View Bibb County School Video

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Growth Mindset Top EdWeek Article, Gathering Momentum

I first read Carol Dweck’s book outlining her groundbreaking research on “Growth Mindset” shortly after its release.  Today, more than ever, her groundbreaking work is influencing K-12 leaders world-wide. An Education Week article written by Carol one year ago today remains their most popular article over the last six months. That’s like being #1 on the New York Times bestseller list one year after your book’s release.

Growth Mindset continues to gather momentum and for good reason. This article reminds me of how Carol’s work continues to influence what we do here at Ascend Education.

In the article Carol says “So a few years back, I published my book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success to share these discoveries with educators. And many educators have applied the mindset principles in spectacular ways with tremendously gratifying results.”

Based on Carol’s research, in the spring of 2014 we added Growth Mindset concepts and feedback for students to Ascend Math.

I also love the way she describes the paradigm change.

“Recently, someone asked what keeps me up at night. It’s the fear that the mindset concepts, which grew up to counter the failed self-esteem movement, will be used to perpetuate that movement. In other words, if you want to make students feel good, even if they’re not learning, just praise their effort! Want to hide learning gaps from them? Just tell them, “Everyone is smart!” The growth mindset was intended to help close achievement gaps, not hide them. It is about telling the truth about a student’s current achievement and then, together, doing something about it, helping him or her become smarter.”

At Ascend Education, we work hard every day to help students close learning gaps showing them their current achievement level and then, together with their teachers, helping them become smarter.

Here is this week’s communication from Education Week about their fine article.


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Personalized Learning vs Individualized Learning: a second look

A short time ago I remarked upon the eSchool News article:  3 ways the flipped classroom leads to better subject mastery.  Once again the idea that for truly personalized learning to take place students need to be involved in choosing what they learn.  They do suggest limiting the choices: “One practical way to facilitate limited choice is through choice boards or selecting from a list.”

This reminded me of another post from last year which I happily repost below:

Should Learning Be Personalized or Individualized?

There 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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Intensive Math Intervention Program Gets Even Better

Live-Student-TrackerWe consistently ask the teachers and administrators at our Ascend Math partner schools to tell us how to make Ascend better so we can help students have more success.

This has resulted in important improvements including adding interactivity to all video lessons, new conceptual lessons and virtual explorations, plus the dashboards for school, teacher, class and student. Their most recent suggestions were the impetus for the valuable enhancements found in the 6.0 version of Ascend Math.

These include:

  1. Live Student Tracker providing real time data on progress. The Live Student Tracker provides an at-a-glance look at critical data on student’s progress including the current level, unit, and objective as well as the next skill gap for each student.  The Tracker provides an enormous time saving advantage in planning for whole or small group instruction and/or a blended learning model.
  2. A completely new and exciting student motivational component. Students really like Ascend Math but tell their teachers they want an occasional fun break from the grind. Base Camp is an all-new virtual world with fun games and activities for students. After spending time on task in Ascend and completing post-assessments, a student gains access to explore Base Camp for three minute increments. Base Camp will continue to see enhancements throughout this year.
  3. New Teacher Guides aid in group instruction most commonly in a blended learning application. Forty Compasses, Teacher Guides for Ascend Math Explorations have been added to Ascend Math. The Compasses contain helpful information about the Explorations with questions to check for understanding and additional activities.
  4. New and improved classroom management tools The Six Things You Need to Know offers teachers the fastest and most efficient access to help and advice. “Six Things” answers the most common questions and leverages the best tools in the Ascend Math program.
  5. New School Dashboard completes the lineup of dashboard reporting. For school administrators, the School Dashboard provides quick one-click access to view Ascend Math data grouped by teacher.  Best of all, the School Dashboard links directly to the Teacher Dashboard and from there to the Class Dashboard and the Live Student Tracker making progress monitoring with Ascend easier than ever.

The best news is we’re not done. New later this year, teachers will be able to assign lessons outside of the student’s prescriptive plan, including on level assignments and Math Level Equivalency (MLE) scores will also be available for each student on Ascend Math reporting.  We’re also adding more than 40 new virtual explorations this fall to the objectives students find most challenging.

This is the most important and most valuable release of Ascend Math to date.

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