Three Reasons Why I Find Time for My Middle School Students to Be on DreamBox Every Week
Leveraging the magic of DreamBox Learning’s adaptive engine to personalize learning and close gaps
Author: Holly Willis, Math Plus Teacher, Ed Willkie Middle School, Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Independent School District (ISD), Texas
I have been teaching middle school math for 22 years. Throughout that time, I have seen many digital math programs come and go. When DreamBox Learning® Math came into my district, I was thrilled with what I discovered. My students were engaged, learning, and enjoying the personalized experience.
Like most teachers, one of my largest challenges is time. All of my current students did not perform at grade level on their end-of-year STAAR state test. They have given up an elective to be in my class, which means they have two math classes—their regular math class, and mine. My job is to help them close gaps, prepare for their regular math class work, and ultimately demonstrate growth on the STAAR test. Here are three reasons why I find time for DreamBox each week.
- It works! I know that DreamBox works for my students because I’ve witnessed the impact DreamBox has had on their growth and on the results of their assessments. In my second year of using DreamBox, I started keeping data on my students’ growth in DreamBox and compared their growth with whether they passed their STAAR test. Every single student who had 100% growth or higher passed the State test. Remember, these are students who didn’t pass their grade-level state test the previous year – and many of them had NEVER met the grade-level standards on the test.
- Actionable student data. As an active data consumer, I love the wide variety of reports that I can use in the Insight Dashboard to monitor student progress and activity. I keep charts of the lessons my students complete. They love to see how they are comparing to their goals and peers. After a couple weeks of me filling in the boxes, my students began filling in their own charts. It’s been exciting to see them take ownership of their learning as they update their data chart each week.
One of the reports I use quite often is the Activity Feed. If I notice that a student has started multiple lessons, but not yet completed them, I am able to conference with that student to check in and understand why. If I find that they are struggling with a lesson, I explain that DreamBox is personalized specifically to them. I encourage them to try to finish the lessons, so that the “magic” behind DreamBox can understand what they are ready for and adapt the content accordingly. Once they understand what DreamBox is doing, they are more inclined to persevere and finish even the most challenging lessons.
I also utilize the Standards Report to quickly view how my students are progressing through the standards. I love seeing all the green circles which tell me that my students are proficient on specific standards. It’s easy for me to dig in to learn more – I often click on a student’s name and it will take me from whole class view to individual student view. The ability to quickly see each student’s proficiency across every grade level from Kindergarten up through Algebra is a great bonus!
- It builds confidence. DreamBox builds confidence in my students – particularly those who have very little confidence in math to begin with. I generally don’t use the AssignFocus feature because I want the adaptive engine to place my students where they need to be. Recently, however, my 8th grade students were struggling with slope lessons in their regular class. I decided to create a long-term assignment to provide additional learning opportunities for them to engage with the concept of slope. The students were surprised when they saw a different icon on their dashboard but were excited to see an assignment that was directly related with something they were doing in their class. I immediately saw progress in the students who started on their assigned lessons. DreamBox takes the students through the lessons in an appropriate progression so they build conceptual understanding and fluency, while simultaneously feeling more confident.
I also give a writing assignment for my semester exam each semester. For the first semester exam, I have the students answer this question: “Explain how you feel about math now as compared to the beginning of the year.” I give additional questions to fill out the prompt with: “How did you feel at the beginning of the year? How do you feel now? What changed, if anything? What caused the change?” I never give any parameters for the writing other than the questions above. I’ve had students write multiple times about DreamBox. Here’s one student’s response, exactly as he wrote it:
“My mind changed when I started doing DreamBox. DreamBox gave me questions I never had done in my life. I’m at one-hundred and seventy-five lessons and it is still hard. Every week when I get onto DreamBox, there’s always something to learn.
Basically, DreamBox changed my life. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I learned a lot of things in one lesson. Most lessons take two to five minutes while others take forty-five minutes. I don’t care how long it takes as long as I learn something in it. So I’m going to say this again, this class and DreamBox changed my life.”
Here’s another example from a different student, from a different year:
“Every Wednesday in my Math Plus class we would go to the library to do what is almost like an online tutor. It involved things that we would be doing in our regular math classes. I started to try to do better with math and focus on my work, which isn’t easy for me. Every week we went to the library, I would always learn something new or get to know more about something I didn’t understand very well. In present day, I’m now passing my math class with an 89, when my average was a 70. I didn’t think I would be able to do most things I was taught at the beginning of the year, but after the help that I’ve been getting, I can now do most things that I thought weren’t possible.”
When my students notice they are more confident and they are improving, I consider that a win! Add into that the growth that I see and the incredible data that is at my fingertips, and I will always find the time in my busy schedule for DreamBox.
About the Author:
Holly has been teaching middle school math for 22 years. Two of those years were spent teaching in Croatia in Eastern Europe where she was blessed to be able to realize her love for travel. The last 10 years she has been an at-risk interventionist where she has had great success with her students and has been able to see many “aha” moments with them. She was selected as the 2017 Teacher of the Year for her campus. In her free time, she enjoys playing the violin, crafting, and traveling with her husband.