Sunday, April 28, 2013

Reflex Math Shifts Students' Attitudes Towards Math

Let me start off by saying I have never been a great proponent of math drills.  I really believe in a math curriculum that builds understanding of the relationships between concepts, allows for critical thinking problem-solving activities and hopefully engages students.

I do acknowledge the importance of understanding basic facts and by the time students arrive in Grade 7 it is my hope that they have mastery of those skills.  Nothing is more disheartening then having an algebra lesson stall over an entire classes' inability to figure out what 5 x 7 is.  As I look out on those confused and somewhat blank faces I realize that all their mental energy is devoted to figuring out facts and there is not much left over to master what I am teaching.

I spend a lot of time assessing my students - and I am not talking about math tests here.  One of the first formative assessments I carry out at the beginning of the year is a test of basic facts.  The results are often dire.  The problem I then face is remediation.  With access to a learning support teacher restricted to only those in desperate need, this is something that needs to be addressed in class..... and my students have never been inspired to go for mastery - the constant drills needed for this is disheartening and boring for them.  They don't see the point.

Enter.......Reflex math.  I stumbled upon Reflex math when I heard about a possibility to get a grant to use with students.  Reflex math is created by the Explore Learning - the organization responsible for Gizmos (an online site that runs Science  and math simulations).  I have used Gizmos and liked it, so I applied and was lucky enough to get funding for 35 students for a year.

How is it going?  Amazingly well.  Reflex assesses students and tailors their experience accordingly.  It focuses on enforcing fact families that are not learned.  It restricts the time students can spend on the program.  My students bought into the program quickly and have been motivated to use it regularly both at home and at school.  Reflex offers a lot of statistical information for teachers.  It tracks student progress, fact mastery and usage. 

In twelve weeks my students have solved over 238,000 math facts.  They have gone from a 26% fluency rate to 93%.   All of my students are now over 70% fluent.  Eighteen of my students have achieved 100% fluency in multiplication/division 0 to 10 and eight of those have achieved 100% fluency up to 12 and have passed their accounts on to younger students in Grades 3 and 4.

Even more important is their change in attitude towards math.  Instead of one hand tentatively rising to answer a question, fifteen will shoot up.  They want to know their fluency rates and they applaud for each other.  They call each other nerds and it is a compliment.  They are happier and more confident in math and are peer tutoring each other as we move through the curriculum.  They wanted to tell the school about their achievements and shared at an assembly.  Math is no linger something they dread.

Reflex has hooked my students and they are engaged.  I haven't seen that with other math programs offered.  And they are passing along their excitement and enthusiasm to the younger students as they help set them up on their account and offer encouragement.  This isn't the answer to all your students' math problems.  Reflex is about helping struggling students achieve fluency of basic math facts, nothing more, but it is by far the best program that I have seen that does this.