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Big Bear Middle School Personalizes Math with Grant Funding

A California school has gone public with its use of software from McGraw-Hill to help teachers personalize math study for students. Big Bear Middle School in Big Bear is using ALEKS assessment and learning technologies with its seventh and eighth grades. The Web-based math software is designed to adapt to a student's knowledge. McGraw-Hill Education acquired ALEKS in mid-summer 2013.

Deborah Burton, the math teacher, began using ALEKS at the middle school three years ago. "ALEKS accomplishes two big goals: filling in the gaps of students' knowledge and teaching them the topics they are ready to learn right now," she said. "Normally, I would have to take the whole class to the lab and spend time focused only on the students who need the most help. Or, I would teach the whole class the same topics, even though not everyone would be ready to learn it. ALEKS allows for extremely targeted teaching, which is just wonderful."

The software generates pie charts with color coding that specify a student's current knowledge, with each pie slice representing a group of math topics. As a student masters a particular area, the slice becomes darker, and that visual aid allows the teacher to track student progress.

The pie chart is also how a student gets into ALEKS. It serves as an assessment of the student's knowledge of the topic. The program offers practice problems that teach a given topic. If the student doesn't understand a problem, he or she can pull up an explanation. Once the student shows topic mastery, ALEKS allows him or her to choose a new one to learn. Periodically, to make sure the topics have been retained in long-term memory, the program retests the student.

At Big Bear, before class begins each day, said Burton, she studies students' pie charts to sort out which topics her students are ready to learn. During the first 10 minutes of class, groups of students are called to the whiteboard to work on problems; then they're sent to the computer lab for independent study using ALEKS software. During the rest of the class, Burton works with students one-on-one.

Burton worked with Principal Tina Fulmer to obtain grant money to cover the cost of the implementation. Fulmer noted that the investment has been worthwhile.

"I had a student come into my office to show me her math grade, which was at 133 percent. When I asked her what she was doing, she said 'I'm addicted to the ALEKS program.' Even though this student already had an 'A,' she was excited to keep going and push herself as far as she could."

Fulmer added that in another instance, a parent contacted her in tears, concerned because her daughter was failing math. The principal found additional funding to give the student access to ALEKS at home. Within a month, she said, the student went from a failing grade to a "C-," thrilling her mother, according to Fulmer.

ALEKS software has also been used at Haas Elementary School in Michigan, Oak Hill Jr. High School in Indiana, and Raton High School in New Mexico.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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