Enhancing Curriculum and Instruction Through Technology
Mississippi Bend districts implementa technology-rich, research-basedmath program to meet EETT goals.
Sometimes, state requirementsreally are helpful, resulting in projectsthat positively affect teachersand students. In our case, the requirementfor school districts and area educationagencies (AEAs) to submit annualprogress reports (APRs) to the state, basedon student data, resulted in a technologyproject with wide-reaching implications.Using the analysis of APR data, whichincluded districts’ student achievementdata and comprehensive school improvementplans, the Mississippi Bend AreaEducation Agency 9 (AEA 9) noticed twospecific problems common to virtually allof its 21 K-12 districts:
- There was a significant drop in the state’smath test scores for eighth-gradestudents, specifically in the area ofproblem solving, and particularly amongstudents from low soci'economic backgrounds.
- National and state studies of teachers’technology use revealed that there was alarge, teacher-identified need andinterest in using technology more effectivelyin the classroom.
Fortunately, both needs meshedperfectly with the goals of the No Child LeftBehind Act’s (NCLB) Title II D: EnhancingEducation Through Technology (EETT)program.
Satisfying State and National Goals
AEA 9 district superintendents met anddiscussed the APR data as well as participationguidelines for a consortium proposalfor EETT funds. Then, 17 of the 21 districtschose to participate in the implementationof a technology-rich, research-based,National Science Foundation (NSF)-designated“exemplary” mathematics program—Cognitive Tutor Algebra I—to address theproblems. The remaining four districtselected to continue their implementation ofother NSF “exemplary and promising” mathprograms and served as controls.
The EETT Math Project with IntegratedTechnology (www.aea9.k12.ia.us/06/e2t2/e2t2_year2_report_files/frame.htm) was designed to increase the percentage ofstudents in both the high and intermediatemath performance groups for low soci'economicstatus and minorities through theeffective use of technology.
The project sought to do this in two ways:First, it addressed the quantitative and technologicalabilities of all middle and highschool students, helping them to prepare forsuccessful careers in the technology-richenvironment of the 21st century.
Second, the project focused onimproving the quality of mathematicsinstruction by providing participatingteachers with standards-referenced,research-based instructional strategiessupported by technology that facilitatedschool improvement processes and technologyintegration in AEA 9 mathematicsclassrooms.
Thus, this initiative satisfied state goalsto increase the use of technology bystudents and teachers, and NCLB goals toprovide classroom instruction by highlyqualified teachers.
Selecting the Proper Content
Cognitive Tutor Algebra I was selected for itsmathematics content based on 20-plus yearsof research by cognitive scientists at Carnegie Mellon University. It was an idealchoice for the EETT mathematics initiativebecause of its “exemplary” NSF status and itssupport for teacher instruction through theintegrated use of technology. The CognitiveTutor Algebra I curriculum used sixresearch-based strategies in guiding studentlearning: real-world situations, masterylearning, cooperative learning, directinstruction, group and individual presentations,and student use of technology.
In the Cognitive Tutor Algebra I classroom,teachers directed classroom instruction60 percent of the time, while studentsprogressed through sequential sections ofthe Computer Tutor program at their ownpace (based on their individual needs)during the other 40 percent of the classtime. Also, cooperative groups worked onreal-world scenarios that they followedwith presentations to their classmates, andstudents used language and fine arts skillsto develop visual pictures of their problemsolutions.
Following the Iowa Professional Development Model
With a clear goal and course contentselected, the next step was to design professionaldevelopment. For this,guidance camefrom the Iowa Professional DevelopmentModel, a research-based professionaldevelopment framework. The modelfocuses on improving the quality andcapacity of teacher instruction by payingattention to the components of theory,practice, demonstration, and feedback;thus, improving student achievement. Theprogram leader from AEA 9 and a districtteacher leader participated in CarnegieLearning’s Certified ImplementationSpecialist Program to deliver CognitiveTutor Algebra I training to the mathteachers responsible for implementing theprogram.
After working together to plan trainingsessions, the program leader and the teacherleader provided training to 38 seventh- througheleventh-grade mathematicsteachers in the summer of 2003. Eachparticipating district sent two or moreteachers: one who would be activelyteaching the course, and the others tosupport the implementer and foster collaborationwithin the district. During the fourdays of classroom and computer lab workthat made up the training, participantsexperienced the Cognitive Tutor Algebra Itextbook and software from both thestudent and teacher sides. The final day oftraining involved planningfor the implementation ofthe Cognitive Tutor AlgebraI program in their districts,according to their buildingschedule and the schoolcalendar.
Iowa CommunicationsNetwork. In the fall of 2003,the agency providedsupport to the teachers byfacilitating seven one-hoursessions on the IowaCommunications Network(www.icn.state.ia.us).Thesemonthly professional developmentmeetings includedcollegial sharing by CognitiveTutor teachers, as wellas presentations fromCarnegie Learning, theMississippi Bend AEAMedia Department, theIowa Department ofEducation (www.state.ia.us/educate), andIowa State University’s external evaluatorfor the project. In addition to the monthlyICN sessions, site visits were conducted bythe program leader and a representative ofCarnegie Learning to check for fidelity ofimplementation.
Video conferencing units. In the fall of2004, video conferencing units weredistributed to more than 80 percent of theteachers involved in the Cognitive Tutorprogram. The purposes of the videoconferencing units were to facilitate collaborationamong teachers, provide coachingopportunities, and to observe peers deliveringmath instruction. Also, the programleader had a multi-point video conferencingunit that allowed her to communicatewith teachers, observe classroomimplementation, and conference with theIowa Department of Education and theexternal evaluator at Iowa State University.
Supporting cognitive teachers. Implementationmomentum was sustainedthrough hour-long monthly ICN meetings,site visits, and video conferencing. InFebruary, AEA 9 and Carnegie Learning cosponsoreda technology and learningconference that featured speakers fromCarnegie Mellon University, Carnegie Learning, Iowa State University, and theIowa Department of Education. Thepurpose of the conference was to increaseadministrative support for the CognitiveTutor Algebra I curriculum, teachers, andlearning through technology; however, itactually had a much greater impact on theteachers who attended.
Brian Reed, who teaches CognitiveTutor Algebra I and Geometry at NortheastHigh School in Goose Lake (IA),commented, “The best part of this conferencewas the chance to talk with CognitiveTutor teachers from other districts andstates. Sharing their learning andharvesting their ideas was priceless.”
Student Evaluation Process
The Mississippi Bend AEA implemented avariety of approaches to assess studentachievement. In the spring of 2003,prior toimplementing Cognitive Tutor Algebra I,1,145 seventh- through eleventh-gradersfrom AEA 9 participated in area-widetesting to establish an end-of-course baseline.The following spring, the same test wasadministered to different students at thesame grade levels. Because students weredifferent, the only comparisons that couldbe made were between the teacher and theoverall change in student performance.
In the fall of 2004, 2,250 students tookan algebra pretest; in April, the samestudents took the identical exam as a post test.This assessment procedure hasprovided participating teachers anddistricts with academic-year growth datafor individual students, which results fromthe use of their district’s mathematicscurriculum (either Cognitive TutorAlgebra I or another program).
“We learned that implementation of a project of this size is related to one principle: Commitment to technology in atechnology-based project is important.”
We have learned a number of lessonsregarding the implementation of a projectof this size that are related to one principle:Commitment to technology in a technology-based project is important. Thismay seem obvious, but lack of access to technologyaffected the project in many ways:
Slow technology distribution. CognitiveTutor Algebra I is only implementedeffectively where there is a one-to-onestudent-to-computer environment. Someschools were slow to distribute theircomputers, resulting in a partial implementationof the program.
Content disconnect. Cognitive Tutor is asequenced, spiraling curriculum that relieson students working through the problemsin the Computer Tutor program. In oneschool, the teacher placed students inselected units in the Computer Tutor basedon the district’s adopted text. In this case,the textbook drove the curriculum, and thebenefit of the Computer Tutor was not realizedbecause of the disconnect between thetutor program and the textbook.
Uneven support. Some districts in theproject had a video conferencing unitfrom the beginning of the project becauseof grant money targeted to one county.Other districts outside of the county hadto wait for funding from another grant toreceive their video conferencing units. As aresult, there was uneven support providedto teachers in the project.
These common implementation problemsaffected the extent to which teachersmaintained fidelity with the professionaldevelopment training they received whenthey started the program. Based on site visitsby the evaluation team, teachers were placedinto three groups: those who implementedwith fidelity, those who were supplementingwith low fidelity, and those whowere not implementing the program.
Raw data from the student algebraassessment have arrived, but the statisticalanalysis of the results has not yet begun.When the student test data, site visit observations,and additional district student dataare compiled and analyzed, we will providea follow-up article describing our results,our judgments concerning the impact ofthe program, and the effect of implementationproblems on student achievement.
Sally Rigeman is a cognitive tutor programleader and Nancy McIntire is coordinatorof quality learning for the Mississippi BendArea Education Agency 9 in Bettendorf, IA.
This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2005 issue of THE Journal.