Tuesday, January 25, 2011

BuzzMath and Back Bay Continuation High School

Discover how Dennis Ashendorf captured his students’ interest and improved their mathematics knowledge through Google Apps and BuzzMath by providing quick access to thousands of high-quality math problems with immediate detailed feedback.

Back Bay Continuation High School serves students that fail multiple courses, principally Algebra 1, in the highly regarded Newport-Mesa School District in California. The majority of Back Bay’s math students are low-SES, Hispanic boys and girls. Keeping all at-risk students involved with academics is the everyday goal.

BuzzMath was developed by Scolab Inc., an international team of programmers, designers, educators, and students, working closely together to create high-quality educational math applications. BuzzMath for Google Apps (www.BuzzMath.com/GoogleApps), their latest addition, is aimed at middle school teachers looking for the best way to engage their students in math practice with ease of access through Google Apps sign-on.

Dennis Ashendorf, credit recovery math teacher, was seeking software for individualized instruction with continuous formative assessment for competency-based (mastery) learning that also engaged his students. His instruction had to acknowledge students’ deficient English skills as well as partial memorization of tricks and shortcuts that had become a detriment to his students’ conceptual understanding. Mr. Ashendorf realized no program would satisfy every student, but the one with the widest coverage, the highest percent of satisfied, on-task users could give students the best chance of learning while passing a course.

After eight years and approximately twenty different online software programs, BuzzMath emerged as the course most students prefer to use. In Mr. Ashendorf’s classroom, after an initial assessment, students have the flexibility to choose one out of six software programs. Students often try several before a good fit is found. Yet after trying BuzzMath, students did not switch. It apparently has the right combination of animation and graphics and accessible math language - not too much and not too little. It’s far from being an automated worksheet. For example, its focus on mastering the richness of the number line fits recent research on building depth of understanding in integers and fractions prior to focusing on other areas.

BuzzMath and Google Apps allow the students to work from any computer lab under any operating system, without the need for creating personal server accounts for all students. This saves five to ten minutes at the start of every class. Plus students have access to all their Google Apps and services from home.

One of the appeals of BuzzMath is that students only see scores of success. Stars are awarded, but never removed. Mistakes are corrected by the learners as they retry problems. These features make the system positive and fair. There is no incentive to enter wrong answers. Students can select a topic of choice and work until they master each question. Again, BuzzMath offers a beneficial mixture of student choice and linear sequences for learning.

Low achieving English Learners at Back Bay Continuation High School have thrived and stayed on task more with BuzzMath than with any other product in Mr. Ashendorf’s experience. The students’ main issues in math were English skills and lack of foundational math skills. Most BuzzMath exercises are word problems one to three lines long and written in a clear, but not condescending style. Perseverance is rewarded with access to challenging missions and math puzzles. When asked what he likes about BuzzMath, Mr. Ashendorf says, simply, “Students get it.”