Teach Plus: The Quantified Student
This post originally appeared here on the Huffington Post.
By Sujata G. Bhatt
A year ago, in the Washington Post, I wrote a blog post called “I am a Bad Teacher,” in which I questioned education reform’s push for standardized test data. A lot has happened since then.
After writing the piece, I decided not to focus on adapting my students to the test, but rather on using the test’s requirements to meet my students’ needs.
Their needs are many. I teach in Los Angeles at a Title 1 school. My students are largely English language learners, and our school is dotted and dashed with its share of poverty-related urgencies. In the fall of 2010, my fourth grade class had come to me particularly unprepared. Reading, writing, subtraction, multiplication facts, focusing, doing homework, not throwing paper balls at random moments mid-class: all this was a revelation to many of them (and not one they welcomed).
Since California’s standardized test for fourth graders measured skills almost all my students needed, I analyzed its requirements, broke them down into core concepts, and then worked and reworked these concepts with the students until they felt a sense of mastery over them. My daily job consisted of finding different, creative ways of approaching, teaching, and reteaching the same core skills so that most all students could incorporate them into their cognitive toolkits.
It worked. The students succeeded wildly. They returned to me for fifth grade with heightened confidence. They saw something new in themselves: the reward of effort and the joy of success.
But there was also something more. They came back to me curious about numbers and stats. They wanted to know how many more points it would take to get to the next level, how many more problems they’d need to get right to get those points. They had begun to look at the test as they would a game, and they were invested in it. Even more than that, they understood that because every fourth grade public school kid in the state had taken this very test, they could measure themselves against their peers. Suddenly, their view of the world became that much bigger. Testing had begun the process of networking them into the world beyond our little schoolyard.
I watched these discoveries unfold, and I learned that students could gain something from standardized tests, data, and metrics. These things could be tools for students as much as they were tools for us adults.
Studies have shown a strong correlation between socio-economic status and test scores. I don’t think there’s anyone who would deny that. But does this mean that we as teachers can’t do anything until we solve the underlying social problems that lead to disparate opportunities and achievement?
I don’t think so. I think it means we have to do two things at once.
We must — no question — change the political situation that, in California, spends $52,000 per year for each prison inmate and $7,500 for each K-12 student.
But I faced thirty-four fresh if slightly pimply faces every day last year. They couldn’t afford to wait until we solve the problems of poverty. They needed to be engaged, taught, and networked into the system now — and at the highest possible level. If we don’t work together to create pathways for our students now, gangs and those budding hormones certainly will.
And I’ve come to believe that data is one way to do that.
Last year, working with the same cohort of students (by then fifth graders), I tried to find more learning opportunities that focused on data. We used math websites like TenMarks that enable students to learn about their own learning even as they practice new skills. We analyzed information graphics and dove into ways of presenting numerical information. We explored how numbers shape our understanding of ourselves and the world. And much of their enthusiasm and curiosity for these tasks came out of their interest in numbers from standardized testing.
I’ve thus come to believe there’s a role for standardized testing within education. As a limited portion of a multiple measure evaluation system, it helps teachers understand how well we’ve taught over the course of a year. It also helps students understand how much they mastered over that year and makes them agents in their own learning.
Much work still needs to be done to improve both testing and test-based evaluation measures. There are silly, decontextualized “pineapple” questions, as we’ve seen in very public controversies this year. There are too many interim tests created by districts to lead up to the state tests. Students must have a stake in the tests for the results to have meaning. Growth or “value-added” models must take into account more variables such as English Language level and attendance. Stringent testing integrity procedures must be put into place. Tests and course materials must overlap better.
But what I learned from my students over the past year is that it makes more sense for me to work to create better data than to fight data. Data analysis is an increasingly significant and empowering way of making sense of the world. All sorts of professions use data to interpret their work and decide upon courses of action. Why shouldn’t we in education?
In the high tech world there’s a growing movement called “The Quantified Self.” With quantified self models, adults use data to change habits and behaviors—to lose weight, exercise more, to calm themselves. I think our kids already think this way. They like learning about their learning. And standardized tests are but one of many ways they can do that. As teachers, perhaps we can learn this way of looking at the world from our students. Why not take advantage of it? And most importantly, why not help our students become makers and masters of their own data, and help them use it to propel their own learning forward?
Sujata G. Bhatt is a National Board Certified teacher in her 11th year at Grand View Boulevard Elementary in Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a current Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow.
Follow Teach Plus on Twitter: www.twitter.com/teachplus
The Power of Being Connected
In this installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Laura Candler, a retired educator with 30 years experience in teaching grades 4-6. Laura has built a community of more than 54,000 teachers on Facebook through her Teaching Resources site, where teachers from all over the world collaborate on improving their practice. Laura is also a regular blogger who is active on Pinterest, Twitter and in the TeachersPayTeachers community. Many thanks go out to Laura for her reflections on being a connected educator, and for the work she does to connect educators from across the planet.
August is Connected Educator month, and it’s a perfect time to reflect on how being connected has impacted me as an educator. The term “connected educator” is a wonderful way to depict the spirit of collaboration among teachers who are able to share freely across space and time. Years ago, a teacher’s primary support system consisted of his or her immediate colleagues. Yet if those educators didn’t share the same philosophies and methods, it was easy to experience a sense of isolation. As a new teacher over 30 years ago, I experienced bouts of loneliness and isolation from time to time, so when I first logged on to the internet in 1997, I welcomed the spirit of connectedness I found there. I began exploring online resources, and within a few weeks I had joined a thriving email discussion group, where I discovered hundreds of others teachers who were just as passionate about teaching as I was!
As a part of that discussion group, I began writing about teaching strategies and activities that were effective in my own classroom. Others in the group were sharing websites and helpful materials, too, and it was as if a whole new world had opened up before me. We were constantly collaborating, and I soon began looking for a more organized way to share resources. I envisioned an online file cabinet where I could store documents to share with others. In a matter of weeks, I taught myself the basics of Microsoft FrontPage and created the Teaching Resources website. I set up a collection of online file folders and began adding free teaching resources to them, bit by bit. The ability to share resources online is now so commonplace that it’s hard to describe the joy I felt when I first realized the power of the Internet. To be able to connect and share with teachers in other countries via the web was such an incredible gift, and it still is.
Prior to 1997, I had written a number of books for teachers that were published in print. A few years later, when I began writing ebooks, I learned to tap into the power of collaboration in a new way. I thought, “What if I could get teachers from all over the world to help me field-test the problems and strategies?” I created an email discussion group for this purpose, and the members implemented the techniques and gave me concrete feedback about the word problems. I learned so much from these teachers, and I realized that what worked for me sometimes needed to be tweaked to work in other classrooms.
To this day, I love to collaborate with others in my writing projects. For example, a few years ago, I began to fully implement the reading workshop approach, and I was excited about the results I was seeing in my classroom. I decided to write a book of step-by-step instructions for how to implement reading workshop. I knew that my book would be far better if I could collaborate with others while writing it, so I created an online discussion group. called the Empowering Readers Learning Community. Over 700 teachers from all over the world signed up and began to implement the strategies that I was finding to be effective. They asked for clarification about some of the techniques and offered their own suggestions as the project unfolded. The response to the product of this collaboration, Power Reading Workshop: A Step-by-Step Guide, was so overwhelmingly positive and I again collaborated with the same group on other projects, including Graphic Organizers for Reading: Teaching Tools Aligned with the Common Core. I’m convinced that the success of my books is due to the collaborative approach that I used when writing them.
As I’ve discovered, being a Connected Educator means being able to impact the educational community in ways that were not possible 20 years ago. Up until the 1990’s, an educator’s impact was limited by the constraints of time and space. A teacher could directly observe the impact of a terrific lesson or teaching strategy on his or her own students, but apart from writing a book or becoming a consultant, it was difficult to have a more widespread impact. Fast forward to 2012, a time when thousands of teachers have blogs, Facebook pages, and Pinterest boards where they freely share their strategies and teaching materials with hundreds of thousands of educators worldwide! It’s an exciting time, but this tremendous potential also brings to mind the wisdom of Peter Parker in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether we realize it or not, being connected does give us great power. However, we must also accept the responsibility to use that power in ways that benefit not only our students, but the greater educational community.
Laura Candler is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist. She received the Milken Family Foundation Award in 2000, and is retired after 30 years of teaching in grades 4 – 6. Click here to learn more about her and the lesson resources that she creates for teachers around the world.
#CCchat: All Common Core, All the Time
For the first installment of our Connected Educator Month blog series, we’re handing our blog over to Ben Curran of Engaging Educators, founder of the the Common Core State Standards resource chat on Twitter. This fall, Ben and his blogging partner Neil Wetherbee will be hosting TenMarks webinars focusing on the Common Core State Standards. Many, many thanks go out to Ben for his invaluable collaboration which has been instrumental in in making our Connected Educator Series come to life.
I first started exploring the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the winter of this year. When I did so, I was pretty much on my own, at least in terms of my own school district. At that point in time, we hadn’t held any workshops or professional development on the standards or even discussed them at grade level, staff, or leadership team meetings. As a school and as a district, we were pretty much in the dark. And as I got to thinking, I figured that if we were behind in our CCSS planning, then others around the corner possibly were, too. I set out to immerse myself in the Common Core so as to share my learning with my colleagues and with my Personal Learning Network via Engaging Educators.
So, after realizing how overwhelming trying to teach yourself the CCSS by using Google can be, I thought of another approach. I decided I would attempt to gather and share Common Core info and resources using a twitter hashtag. Adding a regular weekly or monthly chat was a bit too much for my schedule, but I thought I would try for an “all-day chat” a la #CPchat (Connected Principals) and #TLchat (Teacher Librarians), two hashtags I follow that ALWAYS provide great resources and inspiring conversation. Thus, #CCchat was born. An all-day chat dedicated to the discussion of the Common Core and the sharing of Common Core resources.
In my mind, it made perfect sense. Common standards call for a common approach, a common conversation, and common efforts. What better way to do this than to unite like-minded educators around a shared hashtag? It has turned out brilliantly, catching on much faster than I ever would have anticipated. Each day a growing number of educators are sharing links and helping each other learn. If you’re learning about the CCSS yourself, you should be sure to follow along.
I’m quite proud of this hashtag “invention” of mine. I think that, in just a short time, it has helped teachers a great deal. I follow the #CCchat tweets very closely, and I love seeing new names show up in the feed. And I love seeing tweets like this one:
It’s been a great illustration of the power of the twitter educators’ network, and something I hold up as evidence of how all educators can benefit and learn from Twitter.
You should give it a try, too! Is there something you want to learn more about? Make a hashtag for it and tweet it out there. You’ll be amazed by what happens. (And be sure to tweet me about it so I can help spread the word, too.)
As for the Common Core, if it’s a topic of interest for you, be sure to follow #CCchat as well as the Engaging Educators blog, where we are trying to share as many CCSS resources and stories as possible.
Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee are an instructional coach and fifth grade teacher, respectively, in Detroit, Michigan. They are also founders of Engaging Educators, a firm dedicated to helping teachers engage the future.
Summer Upgrades: A friendly reminder!
Though summer is in full swing for many teachers + students, our TenMarks engineers won’t be getting much (if any) of a vacation! Because they’ll be hard at work making TenMarks better than ever, the FREE version of TenMarks for Schools will be unavailible from June 30th, 2012 through August 19, 2012. Teachers and students who use the free version of the program will be unable to access their accounts during this time. We encourage all teachers with a FREE TenMarks account to print any and all of the reports needed before Sunday, June 30th, 2012.
Our summer upgrades will not affect any TenMarks Premium accounts, but teachers and students using TenMarks Premium may get a sneak peek at some of the exciting features we’ll be adding into the program for next year. Some of the things you will have to look forward to include customizable and printable reports, non-multiple choice problems, smarter worksheets, expanded curriculum content, text-to-speech capabilities, parent accounts, games controls and more!
… no word yet on whether TenBarks (our office puppy) will be joining the engineers as they TenMarks their way through summer! In the mean time, feel free to share your TenMarks suggestions with us on Twitter, Facebook or Edmodo.
TenMarks Supports Teach For America to STOP the Summer Slide
While the phenomenon of summer learning loss isn’t new, it can be devastating on the hard-earned math skills of students developed by students during the school year. On average, students lose 2+ months’ worth of grade level skills while not in school. For students from low-income communities however, summer learning loss is a more serious problem. When combined with a lack of summer learning opportunities, educational trips, and out-of-school distractions, the summer slide widens the achievement gap and puts these students even further behind their more affluent peers.
To help eliminate (or at least mitigate) summer learning loss, we created a Summer Math Program to personalize learning for every student to meet his or her unique needs. To help combat the widening of the achievement gap, Teach For America (TFA) corps members will receive a free license to use TenMarks Summer Math to mitigate summer learning loss in their students. With the program, every student takes a quick assessment at the beginning, the results of which are used to automatically create a customized curriculum to meet their specific needs, whether it’s catching them up on concepts they didn’t master last year or preparing them for the year ahead. At the end of the program, a post-summer test can be conducted, and the results can be sent to the teachers for the new school year, helping them better prepare their lessons plans.
To take advantage of this donation, TFA corps members need only do the following:
1. Visit http://info.tenmarks.com/tfa to register you’ll be asked to provide your credentials, including you Corps placement year and placement region
2. You will receive an email from TenMarks with instructions on how to set up your teacher account, and register your classes and students (first name only).
3. Once you’re registered, you’ll receive your teacher account usernames and passwords, and those for each student.
a. You’ll be able to login to the teacher account, and set up assessments for your students with just a few clicks, and once they’ve completed them, you can review the results immediately and get them started on their program.
4. Students will each get a personalized curriculum mapped to their assessment results, and work at their own pace. The program will assign them work, moving them from one topic to the next on their curriculum.
For more information about the TenMarks Summer Math Program, visit us here.
This just in: TenMarks featured on YouTube EDU!
When we launched our YouTube channel in 2009, we did so with one goal in mind: to share our educational videos as an open resource for teachers, students and learners everywhere. A fun fact: the voice you hear in many of our videos is that of Rohit Agarwal, our co-founder and CEO. As the TenMarks Instructor he has created a bajillion* math videos, has been asked countless times in YouTube where he’s from, and he even has a classroom of TenMarks Instructor fans in Bellevue, WA who mimic his accent when they working on their math lessons.
An integral part of our online, adaptive math program (you know, the one we talk about sometimes with built-in hints, smart worksheets, assessments, actionable student data reports that’s FREE for teachers) our videos have garnered us countless thanks from YouTubers everywhere who were in search of homework help or a quick math refresher. With those interactions in mind, we’re very much looking forward to participating in the YouTubeEDU community through our featured channel, where we will have improved tools to help classify + organize our videos for learners everywhere.
Over the summer, we will be working hard to develop more professional development materials and expand our curriculum to include first grade content, resources that we will be certain to share through your YouTube channel. For students, we hope to remain a valuable resource for homework help. For teachers, especially those looking to blend or flip to their instruction but who don’t have the time or resources to produce their own videos, we hope to become a reliable source for math videos and supplemental classroom instruction.
*We know that’s not a real number, but it’s still pretty fun to say. ;-)
Scheduled Maintenance for Playlist Updates
UPDATE: TenMarks users, your accounts will be accessible as usual on Saturday, April 28th. We are rescheduling our maintenance for Premium Playlist upgrades in the near future.
After a quite a few long nights of coding, we’re ecstatic to be releasing a new-and-improved Playlist module for TenMarks Premium users this weekend. While we usually make product updates without having to take down the site, this weekend’s changers are a bit more complicated than our usual fare. In order to successfully implement the Playlist changes and migrate all premium students to our new format,
TenMarks will be inaccessible to all users on Saturday, April 28th, 2012. This scheduled downtime will impact all customers, including those who use TenMarks for Families, TenMarks Premium, and the free version of TenMarks Math.
For a sneak peek at the changes that Premium users will see in their Playlists when the site returns on Sunday, April 29th, click here. If you’re a current TenMarks user who would like to know more about TenMarks premium, just click the red “Upgrade” button in your teacher account or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As always, we look forward to your feedback and suggestions to help improve TenMarks for your students. Feel free to tweet us, join our Edmodo community, leave a message on our Facebook page or use our YouTube videos while the site is down for maintenence.
Math Madness: it’s taking over!
Since launching the Math Madness contest on Digital Learning Day, we’ve been busy crunching numbers, sorting classrooms and expanding the challenge to keep up with math mad students everywhere. We’ve seen thousands of students answer thousands of questions each day— a MILLION questions a week, total— and there’s still almost a month of competition remaining!
The positive response to the challenge has been so great that we added new prizes to the contest at its launch. In addition to each classroom being eligible to win an iPad 2, we’re awarding one classroom a week a free subscription to TenMarks Premium for the next school year! For the “Most Spirited” classes— those who share their contest spirit with pictures, stories— there’s also another opportunity to win TenMarks Premium for the next school year.
And of course, like any good “Madness” tournament happening this time of year (ahem, NCAA March Madness, anyone?!), there’s a Wildcard Challenge on the horizon. We can’t quite let the cat out of the bag yet, but this one is sure to kick the competition into a frenzy!
Do you have a class or student participating in the contest? Leave a note above in our Wallwisher Board (or leave a Facebook comment here) to cheer on your favorites! Be sure to include the class name or bib number so that students and teachers know you’re talking about them!
We win! (Again!)
Last week, we were pretty excited to get the “Cool Tool” award from EdTech Digest. We’ve been longtime fans of EdTech Digest— educational technology is our thing, how could we not be?!— and we were (and are) incredibly stoked that Victor Rivero not only thought that we were cool, but that we were included in such an impressive group of educational tools that have been doing great work to make a difference in classrooms all over the country. We’re proud to be in such great company, and we love our nifty gold seal.
This week, we’re all kinds of excited all over again, and here’s why…
When we weren’t looking, District Administration named as one of their Readers’ Choice Top 100 Products for 2011. Once again, we’re in the company of some incredible educational technology products— Edmodo, for example— and we’re incredibly honored to have been acknowledged as a K12 education product that supports education innovation. To date, TenMarks is used in over 30,000 classrooms with more than 2,000,000 math problems a week answered by students everywhere. Our goal is to change the lives of 2 million students by helping them learn math, and we’re working hard to reach it— getting an award here or there definitely inspires us to work harder to try to help bridge the gap in STEM education.
We have a blog now. (Blogs are cool.)*
Hi there, TenMarks here! It’s no secret that we’ve been wading into the world of math and education and digital learning over on Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo and LinkedIn, but we dropped the ball on putting together our own blog. Sure, we linked our funding announcement from TechCrunch in one very small (practically microscopic!) post and we shared some delicious cupcakes from our co-founder’s birthday in another, but we’re entirely guilty of setting up this Tumblr and neglecting it without ever having written an appropriate launch post.
We’re remedying that right now.
For those of you who know us already, you know that we’re TenMarks and we’re an educational software company that helps students practice and master math concepts.You might even know that we owe our existence to a dinner table squabble between our co-founder, Rohit Agarwal, and his niece, then a seventh grader who decided she didn’t need to learn a math concept on which she had tested poorly because her class had started a new unit. For those of you who don’t know us, we could continue to tell you all about how awesome we are (we did just win an award for being cool!) but we’re pretty sure that would get old rather fast. Plus… well, we already have a pretty nifty website to do that for us.
What we really want to do here, besides kick this blog off, is say that we’ve been incredibly blown away by the work that passionate educators and thinkers are doing to improve education prepare our students for the future; we’re incredibly inspired by what we’ve seen and we want to join the wider conversation and exchange of ideas happening in the blogosphere on fixing and improving the state of education in our country. We’re in the business of changing lives by providing students with a tool with which to build a strong foundation. We believe that strong foundations lead to even stronger futures, and while we may not always blog about serious things—we’ve got a wicked sense of humor and our social media gal really loves cake, math jokes, and pretty much all of the math cover songs she finds on YouTube, okay?—we can promise that we’ll do our best to speak up and share our passion for education, STEM, and educational technology here. We’ll be sure to provide a signal boost to and throw our two cents in on great ideas and important issues whenever and however we can.
Did we mention that we’re really excited to get this thing off the ground? Yay, we’re blogging now! Can’t wait to see where this takes us!
*… And oh, yeah, extra cool points for anyone who knows to what our title is making reference.