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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Flipped Classroom Benefits Revisited

classroom 2

A short time ago, eSchool News released the article:  3 ways the flipped classroom leads to better subject mastery.

In describing the benefit of truly personalized learning they write:

“Much of the conversation about flipping has focused on using teacher-created video as an instructional tool, but the real benefit of flipping the classroom does not come from video. The true benefit comes from using videos as a teaching tool to deliver direct instruction at home so teachers are free to reinvent classroom time.”

I agree completely but wonder what teacher has the time to create a unique video lesson for each objective she teaches and for the below grade level lessons she does not.  I addressed this very question last year (see the post repeated below).

The Challenge of Differentiated Instruction

Posted on December 8, 2015 by Kevin Briley

I 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 at 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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What Your Brain Looks Like While Doing Math

brain scanA short time ago, the NY Times put out a fascinating story with pictures of scans showing what happens in the brain when solving a math problem.  They indicated four distinct steps: encoding (downloading), planning (strategizing), solving (performing the math), and responding (typing out an answer)

The steps themselves should come as no surprise to anyone who has taught math. Our lead instructor, Elayn Martin-Gay, has been teaching these steps in our award winning videos for over 20 years.  Science is just starting to describe what great teachers have known for decades and probably centuries.  I would like to see what the brain looks like during the fifth important step: checking the answer.


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A Decade of Research on Math Instruction

Exploration_Multiplying-with-Two-Digit-FactorsEducation Week just released a highly informative article summarizing what has been learned from a decade of federally funded research into math instruction.

I enjoyed reviewing these findings again. The research has been very advantageous.  At Ascend Education, we developed 80 new math lessons over the past two years taking advantage of these findings bringing our total objective count to over 600. Much of the research strongly supports the use of the hands-on Explorations found in Ascend Math. In addition, the research findings below are supported in the newly constructed Compasses (Teacher Guides) for the Explorations.

“Using gestures and physical movement can help students better understand math concepts. For example, teachers [can use] gestures to simulate actions, such as placing their arm at different angles to simulate the action of altering the slope of a line,” says the report.

You’ll find this excellent article at

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The Value of Inquiry Based Teacher Guides

I just read an interesting article from Education Week, “Study: Give Weak Teachers Good Lesson Plans instead of Professional Development.”  The study found that the use of inquiry based lesson plans had an effect on learning “about the same as moving from an average-performing teacher to one at the 80th percentile.” I might take some issue with their contention that inquiry based lesson plans are most helpful to weak teachers.  In my experience, most if not all teachers can improve with better lesson plans.

I found the timing of this article serendipitous.  You see, Ascend Math has just introduced forty new Compasses (Teacher Guides for Ascend Math Explorations). Compasses direct teachers on how to best use the inquiry based Explorations found in Ascend Math. They are perfect as a group instruction and/or blended learning resource providing questions to check for understanding, knowledge of vocabulary, as well as additional hands on activities.

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Strategies for Helping ELL Learners

I just reviewed an interesting article regarding new instructional strategies to promote greater academic success among students not yet proficient in English.  The strategies are being employed in Fresno, CA.  Essentially, they get students talking to each other in pairs, rather than just listening to the teacher. It works because the students are interacting (actually practicing) with the language.  Fresno was ahead of the state in helping students become English proficient last year, with 18 percent achieving that goal in the district, compared to 11 percent statewide.

This article reminds me of a strategy employed in several Ascend Math schools with ELL learners. All the instructional content in Ascend Math is captioned in Spanish.  However, teachers have told us that their Spanish speaking students like to put the English captions on to help them learn English while learning math.  Then, they speak along with the video instructor, practicing their English while learning math.

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Three Rules for Providing Better Instructional Videos

student-experience-videoA recent article from KQED News reported the value of using videos to teach math concepts.  Here is quote from that article:

“Getting students excited and authentically curious about a math task takes more than presenting a word problem. Some teachers are finding that a short, high-interest video or other piece of media that raises questions in kids’ minds is the best way to prime them to dive deeply into problem solving.”

We agree, but in order for video lessons to be of high-interest to students and effective it needs to be done correctly. As the creators of more than 700 award winning instructional videos here are three rules we follow,

  1. Video lessons should be given only by master teachers, not amateurs or performers.
  2. Video lessons should provide the student with more than one way to understand the lesson.
  3. Video lessons should be hands on and interactive. Today’s students are used to getting immediate feedback from their video games.  They expect to take an active part.

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ESSA changes need not be a concern

ESSAEducation Week and others have been reporting concerns that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will no longer accept super subgroups in place of individual subgroups of students for accountability purposes.

Under the 2001 NCLB law, the federal government created a system that held all states accountable on two measures—the number of students who tested “proficient” in math and reading each year. However, the Department of Education authorized waivers that allowed states to lump some of their subgroups—like their 25% lowest-income students, students with special needs, and ELLs, for example—together into more broadly labeled categories such as “disadvantaged students.”   These “super subgroups” enabled states to release more data about how their high-needs students were doing, since they now had larger sample sizes of students and could more easily avoid concerns about violating student privacy, but it also obscured performance of specific subsets within that larger group.

This change in reporting need not be a concern if schools and districts can only come to understand that under-performing students need to work on their individual skill gaps.  Each student is unique.  Although they can be assessed and the results reported in groups, they must receive individual instruction.

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Report: Elementary School Teachers Still Struggling with Common Core

common core 2The Hechinger Report recently published an article describing the challenges many Elementary School teachers still face teaching Common Core math objectives. They conclude: “If the Common Core is to improve the math education of U.S. students as intended, experts agree that teachers who are meant to get students excited about math and become proficient in its basic concepts need more help and support.”

I concur. A recent study of pre-assessment results by Ascend Education shows that elementary students struggle with the new conceptual objectives more than any other objectives.  More than 16% of grade 2 objectives are conceptual. However, data show that 30% of the grade 2 objectives that 5th graders least often understand are conceptual.  These skill gaps follow them because a) they’re challenging for students and b) they are challenging for teachers to teach.

Elementary school teachers have so much on their plate. They need help providing appropriate instruction to students not understanding the new objectives.  Support programs need to offer improved instruction for the conceptual objectives found in common core and other revised state standards.  That’s why we added more than 60 new learning objectives written to the Common Core and rigorous state standards and updated many others.

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Study shows Growing Need for Individual Study to Fill Skill Gaps

A couple of weeks ago, a new analysis of reading and math test score data was released by Stanford CEPA (Center for Educational Policy Analysis).  If you didn’t hear about it or get the chance to read the excellent New York Times article on the subject you really should.

CEPA mapThe analysis confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter to academic achievement.  Students (particularly minority students) from areas with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of four grade levels below children in the richest districts. Far too often, students from poorer neighborhoods have math skill gaps two or more grade levels below their current grade.

I’ve said this before and will continue to say it. These students cannot successfully begin to compete with their peers without an individual study plan that focuses only on their skill gaps.  Without a plan that guides them through their unique study path at each grade level they will continue to fall further and further behind.

According to the NY Times article, “The study found that by contrast, the communities with narrow achievement gaps tend to be those in which there are very few black or Hispanic children, or places like Detroit or Buffalo, where all students are so poor that minorities and whites perform equally badly on standardized tests.” Many rural areas are affected in the same way.  But this simply means that the need for individual study is even more pronounced.

There is hope.  Schools that use a product like Ascend Math to assess individual student skill gaps and  guide each student to successfully complete their unique gaps at each grade level are seeing tremendous improvement.

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