View a selection of implementation strategies from educators who are successfully using ALEKS to achieve dramatic learning outcomes.
St. Michael School, Diocese of San Diego
Grade(s): K - 8
Scenario: Computer Lab
ALEKS Portion of Curriculum: 80%
Time Spent in ALEKS: 2.5-5 hours per week, 90 hours per term
ALEKS Course: Middle School Math Course 2
Maureen S. Hetzel, Computer Technology Coordinator/Math Teacher
I am working with a small group of challenged seventh graders who have a wide assortment of knowledge gaps. I am very pleased with the artificial intelligence aspect of ALEKS' organization of concepts to be learned. Students have the freedom to select the path they wish to follow in pursuing their goals. Some of my students have chosen to try to work on one section of their pie to completion before moving to another, only to find that ALEKS requires them to complete other sections of their pie before moving on. I like the way ALEKS will move them forward as they appear to be ready, or will divert them to another topic if they are not being successful and later return them to the area(s) they need to master. My students are becoming much better about asking for the help when they need clarifying in specific aspects of a topic. The assessments ALEKS generates are great because they constantly revisit the "big picture" items from each of the areas. Students retain the knowledge of concepts much better when they are routinely being reevaluated on specific content. Too often in regular classes, after the topic is taught and tested, the students do not revisit those topics. Consequently, they learn to compartmentalize math concepts and not see the common threads running through what they have been taught. Furthermore, they do not understand that there are math concepts that are "forever," not just to be learned for a test, regurgitated on test day, and promptly dismissed from memory a few days later. We are starting to have more "a-ha" moments each week. The fact that I can make a quiz available to be done as many times as the student wants is very powerful. At first, most of the students just accepted the grade they earned and did not seek to engage actively in improving their performance on those topics. Now we have reached a point where they will willingly repeat a quiz over and over until they master the content and/or achieve a score they are happy with. Because of the diversity of the "holes" in their knowledge, it is a challenge to present a whole class lesson that will be accessible to every one of them given what they are ready to learn at that moment. Using a combination of lessons on "big picture" items and daily individual work on ALEKS as well as an expectation of a minimum of 30 minutes a night, five nights a week on ALEKS at home, I believe that we will see far greater progress over the long haul. I do repeat the "big picture" lessons on a regular basis, so that when others are now ready to absorb the information, they hear it again. Repeating these lessons also helps those who understood it the first time around.
What challenges did the class or school face in math prior to using ALEKS?
Some students who have learning challenges keep getting further and further behind the rest of their classmates as they move up in grades. We have tried classroom math aides, pull-out programs, and the like, but we still have some students in the upper grades that are dramatically behind their peers.
How many days per week is class time dedicated to ALEKS?
4 days per week.
What is the average length of a class period when ALEKS is used?
How do you implement ALEKS?
We use ALEKS with 12 of our 60 seventh grade students who are at-risk.
Do you cover ALEKS concepts in a particular order?
The students are free to select the order of topics from their pies.
How do you structure your class period with ALEKS?
A minimum of twice a week, a "big picture" topic is presented to the whole class. All students work regularly on math vocabulary. Daily assistance is available to all students as they progress through their pies. Kinesthetic instruction is also frequently used as well as manipulatives.
How did you modify your regular teaching approach as a result of ALEKS?
I make much more use of the computer-based instructional lessons available with ALEKS. I utilize the email component of ALEKS to communicate back and forth between teacher and student in class as well as at home.
How often are students required or encouraged to work on ALEKS at home?
I assign a minimum of 30 minutes per night, five nights a week for homework and track student time and accomplishments.
How do you cultivate parental involvement and support for ALEKS?
I explained briefly the nature of ALEKS to parents at Back-to-School Night in the fall. I call and email parents regularly to report their child's progress. I send copies of their pie chart and quantitative data periodically so parents can see the progress made.
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?
ALEKS is the primary homework assigned. Other homework would include worksheets or math-related study material.
How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
ALEKS class work, homework, assessments, and worksheets account for about 80 percent of a student's grade. Math lab quarterly projects count for about 20 percent.
Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
The students must do an average of 2.5 hours of ALEKS work at home per week as well as whatever is required in class. Progress is measured by performance on quizzes, worksheets, and class participation.
Since using ALEKS, please describe the learning outcomes or progress you have seen.
I have seen students become more focused, more intent on making progress, and more willing to approach the teacher to ask for help. Self-esteem has improved dramatically. Additionally, I am seeing a great improvement in individual desire to improve skills. A sense of achievement is evident in most of the students.
Are there any best practices you would like to share with other teachers implementing ALEKS?
Be certain you know what they know or don't know and help them fill the gaps in a logical progression, so that each new skill can build on previously learned ones. Remember that they have lots of information floating in their brains, but often it is disconnected or they do not know how to apply it to new situations. Never forget that cognitive development does not happen at the same time or at the same place for all students. Be alert to those who suffer from performance anxiety and make the classroom a safe environment in which to make mistakes. What they could not understand last week may suddenly become perfectly clear this week. Allow students to help each other and themselves by explaining what they know to the others. Be aware that poor reading skills are often at the root of their lack of success. Keep it interesting, concentrate on the "big picture" concepts, and constantly help the students make the connections between the threads of the math curriculum; use manipulative and kinesthetic objects, and draw parallels to how the math they are learning is used in the real world.