View a selection of implementation strategies from educators who are successfully using ALEKS to achieve dramatic learning outcomes.
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Westfield High School, Westfield Washington Schools
Grade(s): 9 - 12
Scenario: Computer Lab
Purpose: Credit Recovery, Improve State Test Scores, At-Risk Students, Supplement
ALEKS Portion of Curriculum: 70%
Time Spent in ALEKS: 3.5 hours per week, 40 hours per term
ALEKS Course: Algebra 1
Erin McKinney, Teacher
I love working with the ALEKS program. I went from creating individual assignments and assessments for each student on my own to a program that assisted me with all of it and actually did it well. I had looked into other programs, but there was nothing out there for high school students that could keep them interested, motivated, and focused. The best thing is that they are learning at the same time. I no longer go crazy working with students who have failed multiple times, struggle in math, or just don't care about school. I am finally able to reach a class of students with a huge range of abilities all at once.
What challenges did the class or school face in math prior to using ALEKS?
Our biggest challenge was deciding what to do with students who have trouble in the traditional class. These students continually fail for multiple reasons, often because of attendance, lack of motivation, missing basic math skills from previous years, and attitude problems in the classroom. Few teachers want to take these students on in one class together, much less individually. Now that I have implemented ALEKS, I actually really enjoy this class. I find students who haven't succeeded in math are actually great kids when they feel they can do well.
How many days per week is class time dedicated to ALEKS?
3 days per week.
What is the average length of a class period when ALEKS is used?
How do you implement ALEKS?
I started out with the ALEKS program five years ago. I was going crazy trying to work with students who had failed, and I was doing all the work on my own. I saw an ALEKS presentation and I jumped on it. My program has grown and changed a lot in the last five years, but I have finally found something that is a good balance of everything and works well for me. I use the ALEKS program 2-3 days a week and am in the classroom 2-3 days a week. The days we are in the class we cover the absolute needed Algebra standards which are non-negotiable and topics that students will use as building blocks for other topics. That doesn't mean I don't expect them to learn the other material; it just means that the learning happens through the ALEKS program. At the end of every in-class period, I give an exit slip. This is used for me to help students one-on-one with in-class work. They are also given regular quizzes in the ALEKS program over this material. On the days we are in the computer lab working on ALEKS, students can be doing one of three things:
1) Working on their pie chart
2) Taking a quiz through the ALEKS program
3) Working with me on things they are struggling with (in ALEKS, in class material, or on a quiz)
Students are open to work through the pie at any pace and in any order they choose. They all have the understanding that the further they get the better their grade. They are allowed to work on this any time they have Internet access. At the end of the year, 50 percent of the grade is how much of the pie a student completes, 30 percent comes from quizzes given in the ALEKS program, and 20 percent is from class participation and working during class time.
Do you cover ALEKS concepts in a particular order?
No, I allow students to work on anything available in their pie.
How do you structure your class period with ALEKS?
We spend a couple of days a week in the classroom covering some of the basic things for the Algebra curriculum. At the end of each class, I give students an exit slip. When we are in the computer lab to work in the ALEKS program, all students log in and start working. I take time to go through the exit slips and work one-on-one with students who struggle or are not getting something correct. I provide feedback for all the students and pass them back. I then go through and check the Time and Topic Report to see if there is anyone who hasn't completed any topics. I go around and check what these students are stuck on and help them make progress for the day. Finally, I schedule quizzes for students periodically to check where they are at. They are always allowed to take a practice quiz first. I take time to check on quizzes and work with students who have questions on these. This usually fills the class period, but if I ever have extra time, I will check to see if there is a group of students ready for something new, and I will work with a small group to help them prepare for the upcoming items they will have to work on in their pie.
How did you modify your regular teaching approach as a result of ALEKS?
I have modified my teaching by only spending class lecture time on the basics. I provide students with a solid starting point. How far they work from that depends on how far they get in the ALEKS program. Some of my students will fly through a certain topic but only touch the basics of another. At first this was really hard for me, but students don't really need all the details at once. By working at their own pace, they have a better understanding of the topics they work through so they don't get overwhelmed and shut down.
How often are students required or encouraged to work on ALEKS at home?
I wish I could get my students to work in the ALEKS program every day at home. However, that rarely happens. I get students who are absent a lot and will work at home which is great. A big reason why some students can't pass is that they don't come to school. The ALEKS program allows them to work at home and stay caught up with materials. I have several students who will use their BSD class (a resource class for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs)) to work in ALEKS. This has been great for our Special Education teachers. They can click the Explain button if the student isn't sure and see what they need to help them with. We also love that it keeps students working all day. There is no reason for them to say they have nothing to work on.
How do you cultivate parental involvement and support for ALEKS?
Once again, there is very little happening here. We have great parent involvement at my school but not great parent involvement amongst the students who are actually in this class. I even have several students who don't come from home but from a juvenile detention center or something similar. However, I do get some parents who are more interested than others. I take time to introduce parents to the program at our Open House and send out weekly emails to update them with where we are at as a class. Some parents follow up, and have even said they have enjoyed talking about it with their student and are glad their student is finally excited about a class.
Is ALEKS assigned to your students as all or part of their homework responsibilities? If so, what part of the total homework load is it?
For my class I don't assign ALEKS as any part of a homework assignment. After talking with my students, we realized too many students who use ALEKS don't have Internet access at home, so I allow them time after school to work in it. They can stay and work or there is also a library across from the school that has Internet access for students. Regardless, we decided this wasn't something we wanted to count as homework.
How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
Fifty percent of the grade is how much a student completes the pie chart over the trimester, 30 percent is quizzes I create in the ALEKS program covering things we have covered in class, and 20 percent covers class participation (working in ALEKS and in class). I don't set a specific limit as to how many topics a student has to complete in a day. There are days students will be completing an assessment, and therefore, they don't complete any new topics. Instead, if I have to ask a student to get back on task or if I see that they haven't worked the entire class period (by checking the Time and Topic Report), they lose points.
Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
I do not require regular amounts of progress. I tried this several years ago, but it was too much work for the classes I teach. One of the things I love about the ALEKS program is that it helps us credit students who are absent a lot. There are students who have been sick or have had deaths in the family which have led them to miss school. They can be out of school for a week and work twice as much the next week and not be behind in the course. This way whatever the student has going on at home their grade is in their hands. The more they complete the pie, the better.
Since using ALEKS, please describe the learning outcomes or progress you have seen.
I use ALEKS to work with students who have failed math in some way or another. The entire class has failed the course, failed the End-of-Course Assessment (ECA), or most likely failed both. Often other teachers feel as if they are lost causes, and there isn't much we can do to get them to pass the class or the ECA. I had 35 students who fell in this group at the start of the 2011-2012 school year. I am excited that of those students, 15 passed the ECA and another 14 passed with a pass+ score. Of the eligible tests, 88 percent passed! I also had 86 percent of students pass the class. Students who most people told me would never make it were finally successful with the help of this program. My students don't love the ALEKS program, but the reality is there isn't much they do love about math. However, they continually demonstrate and vocalize that they love having a new way to show that they know the material and a way that lets them work on material they understand. They are able to feel successful in math when they haven't had that feeling for a long time.
Are there any best practices you would like to share with other teachers implementing ALEKS?
I don't know that there is a best practice here. It took me several years to really feel I had a good set-up. I think a class using this for gifted students would look totally different than my class which is for students who we are hoping to get to graduation. I think the best advice is just to stick with it. It takes time to adjust and learn to use the program to the best of your ability. I still learn things and think, "Why didn't I do that two years ago?" It is a learning process, but if you stick with it, it can change the way you work with your students.