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The Wall of Remediation (Or: My Low-Tech Version of Khan Academy)

March 30, 2012

UPDATE! I have since posted a more comprehensive guide on how I use this wall in my classroom, where I get my problems, and strategies I’ve used with this in the classroom. Check out the update here!

This semester, I finally got my act together enough to make this (click for a larger picture – sorry that it’s sorta blurry):


The top row is themed on Integer Operations. The middle row is Solving Algebraic Equations. The third row is Graphing Lines. The last row is AIMS Prep (AIMS stands for Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards – it’s the big state exit exam that all my sophomores have to take in order to graduate high school. I’ve barely used this row). This is, by far, the best thing I could ever put in my classroom. It’s AMAZING!

I’ve had students all year who have needed algebra remediation. Having this board available lets me quickly walk up and grab the particular skill they need to work on (integer operations, algebra, etc) and get them started on it. It also lets students be self motivated and do the exact same thing for themselves! For example, last week we were reviewing some algebra concepts (I’ve been trying to pepper algebra review throughout this semester – a lesson learned from last semester) and some kids finished much sooner than others. I kept working with the students who still needed my help and was expecting to at least start another lesson halfway through class. But, with about 15 minutes left in class, I looked around and realized the class had not devolved into chaos – I hadn’t given them an additional assignment to do, so I was expecting that the volume of the class would tell me when it was time to regroup and move on to the next part of the lesson I had planned. Instead, I realized that most of my students had simply grabbed a worksheet on something they needed to work on and sat down with a friend to complete the assignment. It was perfect.

I’ve gotten some really positive feedback from students about this. They like the very targeted organization, that I encourage them to pick a worksheets they struggle with so they can get better, that I encourage them to work together to figure it out, and that I encourage them to come see me during tutoring if they get stuck or have questions. It’s also provided me with a starting point for every student who comes in to tutoring and let’s me easily jump around to figure out where a student’s holes are. Lastly, I like that it’s a dominating presence in my classroom – right on the front wall when they walk in, staring at them during every class. Anytime there’s an algebra problem that my students aren’t sure of, I walk over the board and point to the folder that has those types of problems in it and tell them they just need to practice practice practice.

I need to give some credit where credit is due – you might notice that there are little arrows connecting some of my folders together. I stole this from how Khan Academy sets up their problem sets – they are tiered so that you progress through a series of questions that build on each other and get progressively harder. For example, my Algebra tier starts with 2 step equations -> equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign -> equations with the distributive property -> equations with proportions -> literal equations (ie: y = mx + b, solve for m). The idea is that if a student picks a worksheet that is too difficult for them, they move back one folder and try the one below it. I also generated most of the worksheets via the wonderful website Worksheet Works and using the Kuta Worksheet Generator software. The Worksheet Works website is free, so there’s no reason you can’t make your own bulletin board too.

In the title of this post, I make the comment that I consider this my low-tech version of Khan Academy. I say this because I used Khan Academy last semester as a way to help remediate my students’ algebra and arithmetic skills, but only to small degrees of success. I feel like this bulletin board has accomplished much more and in a much more focused way. Further, I can control what goes on this board, whereas Khan Academy doesn’t let me control what types of problems they put on their website. I think it fits my needs better than what I was trying last semester.

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29 Comments
  1. Wow..awesome idea. Love it!

  2. Can you talk a little bit more about why you think your students are better able to remediate using paper worksheets than KA stuff? Do you think students understand better from working on these worksheets than KA?

    • You ask if I think my students understand better by working on these worksheets more than from KA. The answer is no, but it requires an explanation: I don’t think my students learn _anything_ from the worksheets as they stand alone (they are all just rote problems of the same type – drill & skill – no explanation). But, I don’t think they learn anything from the KA problem sets either – at least, not as they stand independent from the actual *academy* in KA.

      In KA, students learn by watching the videos and then working on the problems, sometimes asking for hints (although there is debate and ongoing research if that is truly how students are using the KA system). When students do this on their own, I feel like there is a clear feeling of ‘absorb and regurgitate’. Even when I used KA in my classroom, I couldn’t always shake that feeling.

      With my remediation board, students work with me or with each other to complete the worksheets. Since there are two physical people involved, the student is required to do some form of communication – ‘explain to me…’, ‘what were you thinking when…’, ‘okay – tell me the steps again of what we just did’. They are not simply absorbing the knowledge that a youtube video or textbook throws at them – by having a tangible worksheet that they and several students work on, I make the student engage more with the problems than I think KA does. Part of this is a social aspect that is lost when working with KA problems independently.

      I feel like I should say that I also like that having this board makes me feel more like this aspect of my classroom is still within _my_ control. I didn’t always like the questions KA had on their problem sets or how they grouped their questions together (for example: in my opinion, their algebra progression moves way too fast). Having the board makes me feel like I am still in control of this.

      Another part of why I think this is more successful is based on how I implement it – making them complete it at tutoring, making them explain to a friend, making them explain to me – these are all things that I do that the worksheets don’t. Another teacher may try this and not follow through with these things, which would be missing the point – the whole goal is to force students to have that conversation with you or their peers about where their weaknesses are. Avoiding that conversation is avoiding the point.

      • iMath permalink

        Thank you so much for posting this information. I needed something else to help my students out beyond the KA videos and setting up the wall seems like the perfect solution. I can imagine using this when someone gets stuck during an exercise in class, after school tutoring and other areas. What I particularly like about this is the layout and organization of it- I really strive to keep everything well organized so I don’t spend time searching for things! Have you any other thoughts to share about what you might add/change/modify? Have a great day.

  3. This is a cool idea. When do you use this? In class? Or mostly for tutoring?

    • It’s sort of a mix – I use it during class as a way to get students to tutoring or to realize where their weaknesses are.

      I’ve found myself addressing the class after a bellwork problem, saying ‘Hey – if you got stuck right around here… during this step… you should come grab THIS worksheet and practice it!’. This works really well for integer operation, fraction, or multi-digit multiplication/long division – those skills that can get lost in the wayside if a student has become addicted to their calculator.

      I also give time during the lecture for students to practice – it’s built in to their notes. As I’m walking around and looking over shoulders, if I see a student who is always stuck at the algebra step, or is always making subtraction mistakes, then I’ll walk over to the board – grab a worksheet – then quietly return to them and say ‘Look – this is where you’re struggling. Come in to tutoring – do this worksheet with me – and we’ll fix it’. This approach seems to work really well with students – “yah… I never really learned the rules for subtracting negative numbers”.

      I’ve also had some moments last semester where I’ve realized the entire class was weak on/missing some essential algebra/integer operations component (concrete example: teaching the distance formula without knowledge of integer operations; teaching pythagorean theorem without knowledge of exponents). Last semester, I wasn’t able to gracefully abandon the lesson and say ‘Well, I guess we’re working on this instead’. But, having this wall available and fully stocked, I feel more confident that if I encountered that kind of major roadblock again, I could pull worksheets from the wall and have all students complete those.

      Aside from that, I do use it a lot during tutoring to target specific skills a student may be weak on. If someone comes in for help and I realize they can’t do their algebra (which is why they’re also struggling with the geometry), then I’ll grab one of the worksheets and start using it to reteach that algebra concept. It lets me differentiate really effectively – if I realize a student is missing some essential piece of the puzzle, I can immediately target it and try to fix it.

  4. Hi Daniel

    I found your blog via Dan Meyer’s recent post, and I am really glad I did. Your headline mention of Khan Academy got me in to this post, having followed some of Dan’s posts on that, and written a couple of my own.

    Wow! What a buzzing classroom you have! I am truly impressed by how well you are managing the logistics of having students working at their own pace on “catch-up” sheets, while following your teaching program. This is really advanced pedagogy, and brilliant differentiation (I teach preservice student teachers in Australia, and these are two biggies for final-year students right now).

    I love the way you have given your students “permission” to get help when they need it, without any shame. And then how you have forced the practice of collaboration with you or another student, to get away from learning in isolation and missing key points.

    Will you be sharing the content of the worksheets? I’d love to see what they contain. Though from what you’ve shared here, it’s more about how they are used than what is actually on the page, is that right?

    • Prof,

      Glad you found meaning in this post! The worksheets I used were all generic worksheets from WorksheetWorks.com or using Kuta software. You’re insight that ‘how they’re used is more important than what is on the page’ is right on – all the problems on the page are drill and procedure.

      I can’t give you a concrete example of the worksheets I used because, honestly, I just generate new ones every time. But, here’s a link to one of the worksheets I generate fairly often: http://www.worksheetworks.com/math/pre-algebra/equations-like-terms.html

      Cheers,
      Daniel Schneider

      PS – I just explored your website a bit and it looks like you have a series of worksheets in the same vein as what I put inside those folders. It looks to me that if you were to implement this, you’d already have an arsenal of topics and concepts to contribute.

      • Daniel, thanks for the followup: you are right, I think. My focus in the worksheets on my site is on providing tools for good teachers to use, not foolproof / “teacher-proof” resources that will somehow magically work in spite of poor teaching.

        Good pedagogy will always rise to the top, and will take any resource available to reach students’ needs.

  5. Michelle permalink

    Love the idea! I just may borrow this and I already have all the Kuta sheets printed off for the math support class I ran last year. I might add a QR code onto each folder that links to a video for students to watch on their smart phones.

  6. I just wandered here from the mathtwitterblogosphere page. This is SO awesome – I love the organization & seamless integration into class/tutoring. I usually break each chapter down into “learning targets” and have set days when students can pick specific targets to review or relearn with a friend, but your system would allow for this type of continuous review & collaboration to happen all the time. Genius! I also love the emphasis on explaining, whether it’s to a peer or to you. Thanks!!

  7. I’ve got some online instructional videos for adding integers that break things down pretty far — link is at http://parkland.libguides.com/mat094cas I’m thinking that I’ll make a much shorter summary video — but including the visual interpretation.

  8. Love this idea! I’m definitely going to work on incorporating this in my class. Are there answer keys available to the students to check their progress while they are working?
    Thanks for sharing!
    Cindy Rosa

    Follow me @cgrmath

  9. Martha permalink

    This seems like an awesome idea. I will try something similar though smaller as my first attempt. Is this strictly practice… Do you offer an incentive or extra credit in any way?

    Thanks for sharing this!!!!

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