Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Online Algebra 1

This school year, I have committed to using an online Algebra 1 curriculum developed through the Iowa Communities of Practice initiative. It has been a most interesting endeavor so far.

Forty teachers met in Des Moines at the end of July and modified an NROC online Algebra 1 course. We felt that the online materials were very traditional in their approach and we wanted to add some problem-based instructional tasks and real-world problem-solving to the curriculum.

Nancy Movall, our IaCoPi leader, then had our curriculum uploaded onto a Moodle-hosting site called Resource Iowa. There were many issues with getting the classes onto the Moodle server. I'm not sure what was wrong, but the curriculum was not yet available for us to use when school started in August. I used a variety of materials to review the Unit 1 topics. At Springville, we had some issues with student Google accounts. We needed to change our domain in order to give students email access through Google. This has been a great thing to have because students often need an email account to sign up for web 2.0 tools, such as Wikispaces and the Resource Iowa site. We use the kids' Gmail account information as their log-in information for the site.

I am somewhat frustrated that not all students are using the site at home. Kids will tell me that their web browser blocks pop-ups, which is fixable. Some parents seem unwilling to help their kids gain access to the website because they don't want to modify the pop-up blocker. Other kids now have excuses such as one I received today: "My dad did something and it knocked the internet out at home." Seriously.

I am also frustrated with some of the problems the kids are given in the practice problems and review problems. Some of the questions seem really hard; others seem really easy. I've found that I am much more satisfied with the worksheets I'll type up and give the kids with problems from our old textbook series. The materials I've really liked are the lessons people added when we modified the curriculum this summer. There are so many great resources to use.

Will this move help student scores? Will my students be better, more independent students? The jury is still out on that. I hope so. I know I much prefer not using a textbook daily. I know the kids prefer not to lug such a heavy book around each day either. I don't like the paper shuffle. I wish there was more work online so the kids could have immediate feedback through the computer. But, I have at least looked to do things differently that I have done them before, and that is progress.

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