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Insist on these 4 Cs When Evaluating EdTech

Curricula that cultivates curiosity and confidence

You may have seen this compilation of yearbook photographs before. The gentleman in the pictures is Dale Irby, a physical education teacher at Prestonwood Elementary in Richardson, Texas. After discovering he had inadvertently worn the same outfit in his yearbook photo two years in a row, he decided to make it a thing and proceeded to don the same clothes for the annual school portrait another 38 times—40 in all. We applaud his sense of humor, timeless style, and unwavering commitment to facial hair.

DreamBox senior VP of learning Dr. Tim Hudson used this fun compilation in a recent EdWebinar on Evaluating Digital Curriculum to make a point about the difference between “learning experiences” and “instruction.” He explained how traditional instruction that favors a teach/practice/test model can be tedious and stifling for students.

Citing a passage from Teaching What Matters, the seminal work on student-centered learning by Strong, Silver, and Perini, Tim recounts the observations of a fifth-grade teacher reflecting on her own experience as a math student in elementary school:

“Every class was the same for eight years. Get out your homework. Go over your homework, here’s the new set of exercises, here’s how to do them. Now get started. I’ll be around.”

This familiar and repetitive cycle is a lot like Mr. Irby’s yearbook photo. It’s the same thing, year after year after year. This “sit-and-get” approach to instruction doesn’t challenge students to think mathematically. The fifth-grade teacher quoted above admits that while she did well in math she never really understood what she was doing. That’s what happens when students memorize formulas and procedures, but don’t know what they mean.

If you’re in a position to evaluate digital curriculum for your school or district, this is something you want to avoid. Instead, look for programs that foster deep learning and independent problem-solving, so students can apply what they learn to problems outside the math classroom.

Make sure that lessons support a growth mindset that empowers students to define their own solutions. There’s more than one way to solve a problem and interactive math programs that enable learners to explore a variety of solutions can help to cultivate curiosity, build confidence, and reinforce critical thinking skills.  

Of course, not all edtech is created equal. If the solutions you’re considering just replicate digitally what’s already been done in textbooks (and year after year after year in classrooms), then you’re really not taking advantage of the medium. Digital programs like DreamBox offer learners an interactive “think-and-do” math experience rather than the same old “sit-and-get” approach.

Using virtual manipulative tools, students engage with mathematics in ways that can only exist in a digital environment. Based on learners’ strategies and independent thinking, DreamBox then adapts in real time, constantly assessing progress and building on prior knowledge to provide personalized learning pathways that meet students right where they are.

If you’d like to learn more about what to look for when choosing digital curricula, you can read a quick recap of the topics Tim covered in his EdWebinar here, courtesy of the nice folks over at EdScoop.  We also encourage you to watch the 60-minute recorded session, now available on demand.

Finally, when you do watch the EdWebinar, you’ll see that Tim refers to a number of white papers and guides throughout his presentation, several of which are included in this toolkit. Feel free to download and share these essential resources with your team as you prepare to evaluate, select, and implement digital curriculum in your district.

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