Pilot Program Brings Elementary Students up to Grade Level & Beyond


Success Stories with Personalized Math Learning:
Pilot Program Helps Bring Elementary Students Up to Grade Level & Beyond

While working as a research scientist at the University of California, San Diego, Sherilin Heise, PhD Candidate in Education (STEM) at Walden University, saw ALEKS used successfully in a bridge program with the University of California, Irvine, to help prepare incoming freshmen students for college math.

Having also used ALEKS herself as a graduate student, she saw an opportunity to extend her knowledge of the program and best practices of incorporating real-world context, and bring ALEKS to the McGill School of Success, a local (K-3) elementary charter school.

In this Q&A, Sherilin shares with us how the pilot was implemented and the results she experienced.

1. Hi Sherilin! Can you please tell us about the ALEKS pilot program you help set up at The McGill School?

The McGill School (K-3) is in my neighborhood of Golden Hill in San Diego. It was started 20 years ago as an experimental school for African-American boys by the Chancellor at University of California, San Diego and a local pastor. The school agreed to my math pilot in January 2015, using ALEKS as well as my program of presenting real-world problems to engage the students.

2. Prior to using ALEKS, what were some of the challenges that the school faced in math?

When I participated in an afterschool tutoring program in my neighborhood in 2013-2014, I had noticed that students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade in my neighborhood were two years behind in math.

So, it was not a surprise that when I tested the McGill School students in math in January 2015, the class average was two years behind by age and by grade. My objective with the pilot was for the students in the third grade to complete third-grade math by the end of the school year, in June.

3. Can you please describe for us how ALEKS was implemented in the school?

Students used ALEKS on one-to-one Chromebooks and other laptops that were available in the classroom. Many students had home access as well. We started with students using ALEKS 20 minutes, four days a week. As students got fired up, they went on ALEKS as often as three times during the school day. We saw at-home sessions of 4 hours.

4. What were some of the learning outcomes you’ve seen using the program?

From January to June 2015, students who had tested two years behind in math in the third grade, completed 3rd grade, 4th grade, 5th grade, and completed 45% of sixth-grade math by using ALEKS with my program of making learning math into a sport.

5. Do you have any best practices to share?

It helps students learn by talking about the math problems. We had them make up stories about their problems and present the stories to a partner and even to the class.  By working with a partner, students were thinking about the problem, spending more time with it, and learning the language of math. We wanted them to elaborate their stories and spend more time because this enhances the math learning.

6. What are the top 3 things you’d want people to know about ALEKS?

  1. ALEKS works very well, if the students use it. The problem is that you cannot just put a student in front of a computer and expect much to happen because the student will ditch it. For example, ask a student to spend 20 minutes on the computer and the student will do it, but will just click buttons and do no work.
  2. Make learning math into a sport. My program wrapped around ALEKS to engage the students, and then ALEKS provided the individualized, differentiated instruction so that a student could work at his or her pace. I turned learning math into a sport.
  3. Once the students were engaged, they were on fire. These eight-year-old students spent up to four hours a day on their own on ALEKS during Spring Break. I did not ask them to do this. The confidence built from learning math carried over into other aspects of learning. For example, the student who rose to the top in math class would not let anyone get ahead of him once he took the lead, and then he went on to win the Soap Box Derby for San Diego. He started off two years behind in math and went on to complete 3rd grade math with 100% mastery, 4th grade math with 100% mastery, 5th grade math with 100% mastery, and completed 45% of 6th grade math by the end of the school year.

7. In summary, how was your overall experience using the program?

ALEKS provided a core system to easily see where students were and what they needed. Students found it easy to use and found the frequent, small assessments seamless and tolerable. Students moved through math at their own pace, and we saw outstanding results from top performers and learning-disabled students, alike. Everyone made progress using ALEKS far beyond what they would have done otherwise.

8. Thanks so much for sharing your experience and best practices with us, Sherilin! Are there final comments you’d like to share?

The teacher (Ms. Betty Fletcher) is a 20-year, experienced teacher who had previously taught the 2nd grade. This was her first year teaching 3rd grade, and with the Common Core Standards implemented during this year in California, she had many new things going on. She was willing to take on another change to her classroom with this ALEKS pilot.

The intention of this pilot was for students to catch up and complete 3rd grade. It was unexpected that students would complete 4th grade and 5th grade math, and for some to get started with 6th grade math. When Ms. Fletcher was being asked 5th grade math questions by the students, which she needed to look up, I suggested that perhaps we had gone too far too fast and that maybe we should slow them down. Her answer was, No, let’s go with it and not hold them back. Her willingness to give students time to use ALEKS was the key to the success of this pilot. We created a bunch of independent learners who had fun learning math.

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