The numbers are adding up quite nicely at Westview Elementary School.
Students in Nikki Carney’s second-grade class are adding and subtracting three-digit numbers with ease. And not just any three-digit numbers. These involve carrying and borrowing – tasks that would test many adults.
The bottom line is that math test scores are up dramatically at the northwest Spokane school, which is getting a big boost from technology.
Carney and her 18 students consider another problem on the video board: What is 102 plus 739?
There are no papers in sight, but hands shoot up and correct answers are quickly given to that problem and several others.
“Yes, it is advanced,” Carney said. “But they’re quite capable.”
They’re also getting help from DreamBox Learning Math, an interactive program developed in Bellevue that focuses on reinforcing students’ mental math and visualization skills rather than memorization of rules and procedures.
A decade ago, Spokane Public Schools tested out DreamBox, but Westview was one of few schools to stay with the program, which costs $9,000 annually per school.
Utilizing federal Title 1 funds that assist schools with high rates of students living in poverty, Westview teachers noticed three things, according to Principal Cathy Comfort.
“It made a difference in terms of motivation, parents liked it because it was available online in summers and evenings, and kids could do their math homework at home,” Comfort said.
However, the biggest plus for teachers is that students can work at their own pace, with prompting from the software.
As Carney’s students dispersed to their seats, some worked with paper and pencil to reinforce the group lesson. Others grabbed their iPads, preloaded with the current lesson and tailored for each student.
That means all 18 students in Carney’s class could be working on different problems, depending on their skill level.
“That’s huge,” Carney said. “The program will take them in a certain direction, or if they are needing help, we can … give special assistance to the kids.”
“The kids get instant feedback, and I can see how we go from there,” Carney said.
DreamBox analyzes a student’s input on a click-by-click basis and uses that information to assign the most appropriate follow-up lessons.
As a result, there are millions of different “paths” students can take through Dreambox’s learning units.
This also means that the student is initially presented with only a limited selection of lessons to do.
DreamBox will analyze the student’s responses to those and then present the student new lessons based on the analysis.
Students can go at their own pace all the way through sixth grade, while Carney and her colleagues receive constant updates on each child’s progress.
“That allows the teacher to work with goal-setting,” said Comfort, who noted one more benefit during an age when electronic games are so popular.
Like a video game, DreamBox pulls them toward the goal of winning.
“Kids really yearn to have that next level of rigor,” Comfort said. “They measure themselves by how many lessons they can complete, and where can I go next.”
“That empowers them and makes them part of the learning process, and they’re more engaged,” Comfort said.
At the same time, that approach dovetails with state-approved standards and curriculum. Despite some challenging demographics – two-thirds of Westview students receive free or reduced-price meals – the school has consistently scored in the top 10 among the 34 elementaries in Spokane Public Schools.
The key, Comfort and her teachers agree, is consistency. For example, data for the first half of the school year shows that kindergartners who take DreamBox lessons five or more times per week experienced more than a year’s worth of increase in skills.
That information, Comfort noted, allows educators “to connect data to the needs of the child.”
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