In the finale of season one, you’ll hear a round table discussion with founder, Josh Britton, and 3 Get More Math team members: Robin, Shelly and Jeff. While we cover a lot of ground in this discussion, what is most evident is the heart for seeing students learn, retain, and get excited about math.
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Hello and welcome to the Get More Math Podcast! Today we decided to try something a little bit different. We have here at our table three folks who work for Get More Math, all of whom are former educators and experts in the area of math education. And today's topic is going to be, "what's unique about Get More Math? What's our basic idea? And how do we offer that to math educators?" We're going to start with me telling a little bit about my own story, and then I'm going to introduce you to the guests at the table. So at the beginning, we began with the issue that all of you are very familiar with, which is kids tend to forget almost everything we teach them. I like to say it like this, "math ideas, they go in one ear and then the next day or the next week, they've already gone right out the other." And so the question becomes, how can we make it stick? I first encountered this issue as a first-year teacher. I went in thinking I would change the world for my ninth grade algebra math students. And actually, I did see lots of good results for the year. Kids were paying attention. They were passing tests. But then came the final exam. And unfortunately, most of my students failed the exam. This despite some fairly intense last-minute cramming. That was my first, fairly negative experience with the issue of long term retention and it launched for me a career-long quest. How could I change that? How could we make it stick? The podcast today then we'll address that. How do we at Get More Math proposed that you make it stick? We're gonna dive into that with my special guests today. We have three folks here at the table, and I'd like to kind of go around the room and introduce them. Of course, they're not in the room with me as we're all isolated. A couple of us are in Texas and a couple of us are in Pennsylvania. Shelly, why don't we start with you? Could you introduce yourself, please?
Absolutely. Josh, my name is Shelly Pelton.. I live deep in the heart of Texas, east Texas, in the Piney Woods. I have close to three decades of experience in education. I spent the bulk of my career in the classroom, in the math classroom, always middle school level grades 6 to 8. I was blessed to be able to teach in three schools that were quite different in structure. One was a small 3A school. Another was a medium-sized 5A school and then a large 6A school. But I ended my career in education as a district math specialist at the middle school level for Lufkin ISD.
Thank you, Shelley. We also have Robin. Robin, could you introduce yourself, please?
Hi, everybody. I'm Robin Allen. I was also a math classroom teacher for 29 years, taught a variety of grade levels from second grade, so primary age, up through middle school, loved every minute. I did that for a long time and then moved into District Math Specialist, also really enjoyed this part of my career. I got to work with lots of teachers on various campuses. I've worked with 10 campuses and really focused on second grade through fifth grade trying to align those grades and make sure the transitions were good for the students as well as the teachers, and then worked really closely with middle school and high school math specialists in order to align that as well. So lots of experience working with students and teachers.
Thanks, Robin. And how about you, Jeff?
Yeah. Thanks, Josh. My name's Jeff Becker and I taught for a little over 10 years. I taught a variety of subjects anywhere from sixth-grade math up through high school, including AP Statistics. I spent some of my time as an instructional technology integration coach where I would help other teachers plan and figure out ways of including technology activities and resources into their lessons as well. So I spent a lot of time teaching various level students and also just thinking through the concepts of how we can use technology best even in classrooms that weren't math classrooms. I don't have quite as much experience as our other guests here, but I do have a variety of experiences in student levels and also technology usage.
Thank you, Jeff. At a quick sum, I think we have at the table then about, including myself, 90 years of experience to draw from, so surely will have a few stories, a few things to share. Let's start by exploring the problem a little bit more. You know, I said after that first final exam, I was really, I was devastated. My kids hadn't retained the math that they had learned. So "what use was it?" was kind of my take away. Let's explore that problem further. Shelly, you said you taught, I think 20 or 30 years in the education world. So can you tell me a little bit about your quest during those years, where you encountered this kind of problem and what you tried to do to change that?
Well, Josh, let's go back to the beginning. When I came out of college, I hit the ground running. I was ready to make an impact, and I feel like I did make an impact. I created engaging lessons. I was determined that my classroom was going to be hands-on self-discovery. I was great at building relationships, but there were still some elements that were lacking, and I could not for the life of me decide what was going on. I taught. I taught well, my kids were engaged. They seem to be getting it. But then towards the end of the year or later on in the year, I would hear, "Did you teach us that?" when I needed to bring a concept that was necessary for what I was teaching at the time. So I was constantly going back and re-teaching. And I struggled with this for a couple of years, thinking, Okay, well, do I need to totally restructure my lesson? What do I need to do differently next year so it will stick in their minds? And I struggled with this for a couple of years. I even talked our principal into letting us try block scheduling. That was way back when it first became an idea, and that helped as well because I had more time with the kids and I could do more hands-on. But still, something was lacking. And I'll tell you when I discovered what it was. In the third year I taught, we decided to restructure our campus. I was on a 7th-grade campus with over 600 7th grade students, just imagine that! And they decided we're going to put all the at-risk kids on one team. "Do I have a volunteer to teach that team in each discipline?" And of course, my hand goes up. I'll do it. And so this next year to follow I had all at-risk kids. They were smaller groups, but very, very challenging. Most of them had received and experienced failure year after year after year, leading up to that seventh-grade day that they walked into my classroom. I learned so much that year. One thing I learned was that I had to constantly nonstop revisit the things that I had been teaching earlier in the semester. And so there I began creating a spiral review before the term "spiral review" or "mixed review" was even coined. I would do this by hand. It was laborious. I spent hours and hours and hours doing this and lo and behold, the atmosphere of my classroom began to change, and even the following year, teachers would come back and they would say, "What did you do last year?" Everybody in the class says we don't remember that, and then your students will refresh their memories, and I thought, man, it worked! And so from that point on, it became a necessity for me that I had to spiral in the previously learned material in order to gain that long term retention. It was tough. It was tough. It was time-consuming. I could not individualize it because there were not enough hours in my day, but I did the best I could.
That's a great story, and I think it really tees up what Get More Math offers and our fundamental idea. It sounds like before you and I ever met on that faithful day back in Texas, you already had the same idea that I had, but you were using paper, and I imagine many late nights. Let's take that story and that core idea of addressing old content even as you were pushing out into new content and let's spell it out a little bit more. We have this idea at Get More Math, you'll hear us say it a lot, it's the idea of mixed review, and I feel like Shell, you just introduced it a little bit. Maybe Robin, we could move over to you? Could you tell us, to somebody who's never heard that phrase before, what is mixed review?
Oh, my goodness, I started realizing the power of it. I could relate to yours and Shelly's stories from my very first year of teaching. I remember being in college, Josh, and hearing the professor say, "Now, when you start teaching, the students are not going to remember what they learned the previous year," and I was sure that that was not going to be the case. And I started out in the second grade, Josh, and I thought to myself, "how behind can the students be they're only in second grade? They've only been in school since kindergarten or first grade." And yet as we began to move through the year, I saw exactly what you all were describing. So, of course, I began to do the same thing, creating spiraled reviews even with second graders. And that's exactly what mixed review is in Get More Math. It's that cumulative, powerful mixed review that I was actually trying to create myself, but it was only for the class. It was never totally individualized and prioritized for every single student, that's what Get More Math does for us. I was certainly doing all those things Shelly was describing. I was using scissors and paper and cutting apart different skills and taping them down and making copies every single day for my students to review, creating songs and rhymes and poems, trying to help them retain. But until you get that cumulative spiraled review, thats daily, that's individualized, you're not getting to the heart of the issue. And that's where Get More Math stepped in and it just felt like an answered prayer to me when I discovered it. And thank you, Josh, so much.
You're welcome. Yeah, probably, it's funny if we were to be able to examine a moment by moment analysis of what you were doing and what I was doing, there's probably a lot of late nights when you were putting tape on a piece of paper and I was writing the next line of code.
The first time I watched your video, the eight-minute 38 second video where you describe Get More Math and how the mixed review piece works. My husband and I were driving around the 16 loop in Houston, Texas, and normally I'm gripping and holding on because I'm nervous, but instead I'm watching your video on my phone and I was getting chills because everything you were saying validated what I had been struggling with my students for over 30 years. And I was like, "Oh, my goodness, this is the answer that I have been looking for!" and it really has been.
Can I also drop in on that? I know that spiral review is what I really think sets Get More Math apart and it took me back to my first year of teaching. Also, I have maybe a little bit of a different background. Going through college, we learned about, you know, individualization and differentiation. And then I finally got my first teaching job and we were using a text series that would assign 30 homework problems every night with the idea of spiral review in mind. So I was thrown in kind of no preparation into this idea of spiral review. But the thing that didn't work about it was the dynamic nature of it, and I feel that you hit on that kind of perfectly that Get More Math does not only have is that spiral review that keeps ideas and concepts fresh and students minds, but it's dynamic and individualized. And it actually focuses on what each individual student needs. And I think that's the real power of Get More Math.
Thanks, Jeff. It's fascinating for me to hear that all of us were kind of on the same quest for finding ways to get spiral review to be a regular part of every class. And really, that is the core idea of Get More Math. Let's deliver students on a daily basis sessions of practice that contain content from prior lessons where what that content actually is will depend on each kid's needs, each kid's data trail. In short, I say mixed review every day. That's the core of the idea with, of course, an eye to long term retention. Let's not just keep learning new things. Let's make sure that we're also paying attention to a brain-friendly practice of bringing in old things. So some of the kinds of early questions that I often hear from teachers are "Okay, when should I do this? And how much should I do this now?" Jeff, I know you used to Get More Math in your classroom for a little bit. Could you address that?
Yeah. I feel like when I first started using Get More Math, it was at the mid-year point. We were using a different math instruction technology and the teachers on my team, we all kind of got burned out by it because it just wasn't delivering the results we wanted. So we switched to try this new Get More Math that we had heard about. And I felt like at first I was still trying to follow the model of the previous technology we were using. So I would give large assignments and wouldn't spend a whole lot of time in mixed review. And it's still, it felt like I was trying to still teach the same old way, but once I started to kind of transition to more and more time spent in mixed review, the results that I was seeing started increasing so drastically. The one thing that kind of stands out to me is using our previous software students would talk about, "Oh, yeah, that's that problem that has, you know, three squares and an upside-down pyramid." But then, after we switched to Get More Math, students would actually talk about the concepts. So I think that Get More Math does a great job of delivering variety and the questions that are asked. So that way students aren't seeing just one iteration of a problem, but they're actually thinking through a concept. So I know that as I was using it, the more and more than I used it, the more and more that I switched to a model of less time in assignments, more time in mixed reviews. That way, students would kind of see a wide variety of the topics that we've learned not just that day, but also over the previous days and weeks. The more I feel, like the more I used it, the better the results that we got were.
You've all seen, now that you've worked for Get More Math and been in communication with other teachers using Get More Math, you've seen folks really invest some time and energy into adopting this idea of mixed review every day. Can you report back? What have you seen change? What of the long term, at the extent that we have long term with Get More Math, where maybe a teacher's used it for three years or two years, what are some of the long term benefits? Shelly? Robin? Maybe one of you could step into that.
Well, I"ll certainly address that. I've seen amazing changes. Let me talk about how the classroom has changed. When I implemented Get More Math, it was not in my own classroom, because at that time I was working as a District Math Specialist for the middle school, but I closely monitored the classrooms where I was piloting the program. The atmosphere of the class began to change because the student confidence was building. Now they're doing math that's not always brand new to them every single day, but it's math that they're comfortable with their reviewing. They're having some success. So I actually saw a transformation in the classroom from the teacher dictating and direct teaching for the majority of the classroom. So it goes from teacher versus student to, "Hey, we're in this all together." As far as the teachers, their dialogue was being increased. I saw more conversations taking place between teacher and student about, "what is this concept? What can it do?" The application level soared from the basic knowledge level to the higher level where they can apply it and analyze it and really use that math in a meaningful way. And all of that together, the long term retention just exploded. It was positive all the way around.
So Robin, as you've been training folks, what have you seen? In particular, do you have any stories that sort of pop for you that do a good job of expressing what can happen?
I'm gonna tell you, Josh, the enthusiasm is almost immediate with the students because they're suddenly getting immediate feedback with the smileys and the crowns. And even when they miss it, they know immediately, they're not waiting on the teacher to get around to their desk with that lime green pen or whatever to put a check so they can proceed. They know they got it, or they know they need help. It's also a time when teachers feel comfortable to allow students to actually do some peer tutoring because none of the students are seeing the same problems on their screens like Jeff was talking about. I love that the problems are dynamically generated, so if a student misses and the teacher is already in the middle of an engagement with another student, they can actually turn to their neighbor and get them to help. And then you got great peer tutoring. You've got interaction. The student is having to work a brand new problem they haven't seen and then explain it to their friend. And so that's very powerful. I will tell you. I noticed students when I'm in classrooms, slowing down. They're actually, showing their work, going back, double-checking it because they want that immediate feedback of "Yes, I got it. I earned to the point. I move forward." So that has been really powerful because so many times with elementary and middle school students, they want to look at you and say, "I've got it right up here, Miss Allen. I know it in my head "and no, they don't and suddenly Get More Math was encouraging them to do that, and I wasn't having to stay on them as much for it. So I love that piece. I will tell you very quickly, I have noticed students also coming into class, and rather than talking only about games that they might be playing online or whatever they came in talking about Get More Math and how many points they had earned. So that was very exciting! There's, like a low Get More Math hum of excitement.
I like that hum! You know that actually, that does spur a story from my own experience. You know, I wrote, Get More Math, started writing, Get More Math about 15 years ago,. and prior to that, I'd use books, used worksheets, maybe trying a little bit of other software. There wasn't much at the time, but one of the things that happened after I really start started taking the deeper dive, is my classroom got a little noisier. Isn't it funny? Like it it actually, was louder because more kids were talking about math with each other that I had been able to achieve in the past. That was a happy home. Well, and then to, the old version of Get More Math had sound effects when you got problems, right. I had to turn that off, but for a while it was really fun.
Josh, something else I'd like to put in there is, you know, I get excited when I think about what I saw happen when we implemented Get More Math because I've always had the philosophy that success breeds success. And when these students started to feel successful in math, I saw students that normally were shy and withdrawn and definitely would not have ever willingly participated in a math conversation, they started offering input to the class. Not only that, but students that would walk in the door at the very last minute and they were the first one out of the door, and they had this dreaded look on their face the whole time they were in the math class. They started coming in early for touring for help, staying late, and asking for extra work to take home.
That's lovely. Yeah,
Those types of things just lifts the teacher's heart.
I'm gonna call this student "J" because I'm not gonna use his real name. But J was a challenging fourth-grade student, and I want you to know that he could not get off the bus without getting into situations that were not good. And so he had begun to go to what we called Quiet Start in the mornings where he would sit with the counselor, and then he would be able to make it to first period, which was math without getting into any incidents. And so one morning, J is entering the classroom and we're, greeting all the students as they come through the door. And they're all talking about who's got the most points on Get More Math. And suddenly I hear J pipe up and say, "No. I took the lead." And of course every student looked at him because math was not his, school in general was not his favorite, but certainly not doing really well and being at the top of the class. And we all looked at him and I was like, "Really?" and he said, "Yeah, while I was in the counselor's office this morning, I convinced her to let me get on, Get More Math, and I took the lead." I remember tears swelling up in my eyes. And he looked at me and he was like, "Mrs. Allen, are you OK?" And I'm like, "this is happiness, J. This is happiness!" So yes, we are reaching kids with this program, Josh, that I had no idea we would be able to reach.
Those were really nice stories. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. Let's try to summarize, just coming back to the basic idea when we talk about Get More Math at core. We're talking about aiming for long term retention by giving kids mixed review every day with the software. When you present that to people, when when you first kind of communicate that idea or even as people first try to really, adapt the system, I'm curious to know if you could comment on some of the challenges that teachers face maybe just as they think about the idea or even as they push forward in implementation.
Well, Josh, when you implement a mixed review, there are quite a few challenges. One that every teacher can attest to is time. I don't have time for this. I used to race the clock just to squeeze in enough practice on what I was teaching. How in the world am I going to also put in an element of mixed review? That's where you just have to have confidence that a consistent spiral review will actually save you time because it's gonna alleviate the need to constantly revisit concepts when that long term retention starts taking place. Another challenge is knowing what in the world do I put on the mixed review every day, and if I'm going to individualize it for every student, how am I gonna find the time again to do that? How am I gonna grade the papers to know what to put on my mixed review? That's where Get More Math comes to the rescue because it takes care of all of that for you. It's going to analyze on a regular basis and shoot out problems to the students based on exactly what they need in their greatest area of need at any given time. To me, using Get More Math for my mixed review does what was humanly impossible for me to do because there's no way I could have individualized it and Get More Math does that in an amazing way.
Thanks, Shelly. You know, I'm thinking also, Jeff, about a challenge. I think that was implicit in an answer you gave earlier where you started using our system. But at first, you carried into it a mindset that was still sort of "new material centric" is my translation of what you said. Does that sound about right?
Yeah, I think you have that spot on. I think as I reflect back on that time, I think I had the mindset of the more that I am in control, the more my students will learn. Or the more that I talked and the more that I explain this concept, they're gonna have immediate mastery then. Well, and obviously that was just an incorrect philosophy. But as I started using Get More Math and started to follow more and more of the model that I believe it's intended for, I started to see the students having more time spent talking about concepts. I found that I was up in front of the classroom less, and instead, I felt like I was wearing out the soles of my shoes as students would reach concepts that they couldn't quite wrap their heads around. And then I went from what I felt was, you know, instructor, I believe the saying is "sage on the stage" to the guy inside, and I was able to help students just work through problems and concepts instead of trying to be the master of the curriculum and give them all the information they needed in a 20-minute lesson and then give them some time to practice. It kind of reversed, and I would start to speak less. I would give them, what I felt were the key pieces of information we needed and then let them start to kind of discover the connections that they needed in order to truly become the masters of the content that I wanted them to be.
I think it really allows the teachers more freedom to get to the students who need their attention. And the other students are able to begin working when they're ready, rather than how many times did I teach a concept and then students would be like, "I got it. I'm ready to go" and I said, "Oh, but no, no, no. We're gonna do a couple more examples. Everyone's not ready." With Get More Math, you can gradually release your students to begin practicing the new skill, and then they can immediately transition into that powerful mixed review. And that allowed me to help the students who really needed me and the others to keep moving and not have to wait. I think it also changes the teacher's focus. It's no longer today's skill. It's all skills. And so that was great because I had spent so many years tally marking weaknesses and strengths for my class. And now I could trust that Get More Math was running that data, continually adapting and adjusting for every single student in my classroom. And so that alleviated the worry for me that they were getting what they needed. Josh, I will tell you one challenge that teachers have that we had was devices. Possibly not having enough devices to be one on one. So we had several computer carts and we would sign up to check them out for our students. But there were days when we couldn't get the cart and our students would moan if they came into the room and saw that we did not have access to devices. And it was so such a big deal to them that we began to go to the teachers who had checked out the carts just to see if they weren't really using all of the computers or the tablets, and we would actually gather up enough to be able to continue with them. And the students would just cheer because they absolutely wanted to be on Get More Math. That was just incredible to me.
I have, kind of connected to that, I have an interesting question that none of us will really know till the next year comes, but about a future challenge for using our system or really any software-based system. Just imagine, if you will, that students are back in the classroom and it's day two or day three, and the teacher says we're all going to use computers. I wonder if there's gonna be a little bit of a pushback where kids are finally in person, finally, sort of in the physical classroom and they have had enough of computers. I can see that as a potential challenge. I don't really know how that will manifest, but something I'm curious about. Well, let's move to my next question. The main topic of this podcast series, which we are concluding by the way with this roundtable, has been math education in a time of the COVID pandemic. So we've been asking ourselves, what are teachers going through, or students going through, and how can we support each other? So I'm curious to know what you've heard from teachers about using Get More Math in this particular moment in time?
Josh, one teacher, in particular, comes to my mind. This was at the very beginning of when remote learning began. And remember, it was forced upon schools and teachers and students in a way where they did not have time to prepare. This teacher let me know that her administration decided we are not going to try to teach new concepts to our students because we had no time to prepare and to have them readily available. And it's just not in place to do that. But what we want to do is reinforce the previously taught material as much as possible., She said the schools and campuses started brainstorming and scrambling and "oh my goodness, what are we're going to do?" She said, "our campus will set. We were ready to automatically begin implementation of that. The students has already been using Get More Math. The previously taught content was already in there because Get More Math is synonymous with mixed review. And so we were ready to start and we began. Then we ran across the struggle about we had some other kids at home that just did not have access to the Internet or they did not have a device. What are we gonna do now? And that's where our first trouble spot appeared." And she said, "But then you came to the rescue because you released the printable worksheets that we could customize for these students. So once again, you were the answer to my prayers." She also said, ",y kids really and truly didn't miss a beat." She said, "just to be able to interact with them when I would happen to catch them online working with GMM, they absolutely love to get hints and messages from me." She said that it was her saving grace and her campus' saving grace. The other campuses were very envious.
Well, that's wonderful. It's really special to me and to us to have been able to help this teacher. One of the topics we've been talking about with our guests is just to kind of forecast what's ahead. Let's just assume we will have our kids back in the classroom in the fall. I realize there's some uncertainty there. But as seasoned teachers thinking about the fairly significant gap between when the kids were last in the classroom and when they'll be coming back, do you have any advice for what teachers could expect or what steps they can take to prepare for that season?
Well, Josh, I can speak to that as far as what the training team is working on to assist our teachers. We're actually creating diagnostic level tests. We know that our students will have missed about two months' worth of information and content for the rest of this school year, and so there are definitely going to be unexpected gaps in their learning. So we're actually creating diagnostic tests that will be available for the teachers to use at the beginning of the year. They will be able to go right in to Get More Math, access those diagnostic tests, and have their students work through it and then analyze that data to figure out exactly where the strengths and struggles were gonna be for those students coming in. A lot of that we can anticipate, but there are going to base some areas that we don't know about, so this will give the teachers some confidence in where their students need them to get started and also the fact that the teachers have access to every grade level within the skills bank so they'll be able to definitely reach down and pull in skills that are lower level to build that foundation back up for those students and scaffold those skills.
Josh, I would just like to add that teachers are going to have to walk into that classroom armed and ready for battle. Assuming that no new material was covered during the last nine weeks and the material that was previously taught, there are going to be significant lapses. That retention is not going to be a strong as it normally would have been. If there's time this summer, you really need to familiarize yourself with the vertical alignment for your state standards. Become comfortable with what was taught in the grades below the assignment that you have for a particular year you're going into. And you know, those may be areas that you are not quite as confident in teaching. But I believe you're going to find yourself having to drop down quite a bit. Robin spoke to pre-assessing. I would even say, pre-assess before each unit that you begin and see where those weaknesses are, because there's not gonna be time to spare in teaching a concept and realizing, "Oh dear, my kids were not ready for this. I need to back up." You need to know where to begin before you walk into that unit. Once again, please recognize that the students are going to be struggling too. Foster opportunities for success. Reward and put your focus on those successful moments so that you can create an atmosphere of success. Vocalize what the students can do rather than what they can't. And if you let success breed success, you will get buy-in from the students and you will have a successful year and I wish you all the best. I know it's going to be a tough year, but I know that you're going to be ready for the challenge.
Well, Shelley, hearing you offer those words of encouragement, it makes me wish that it had you as my math coach back in the day. That's fabulous words of wisdom and experience and thanks to all of you for joining us at this round table and kicking around, Get More Math as some of the basic ideas of mixed review. Robin Jeff, Shelley. It's been a pleasure.
Thanks for having us.
I'd also like to take a minute just to say thank you to Jessica Campbell, she's been our producer for this season. And Derek Maxson who you've heard from time to time, the President of Get More Math, Thanks to both of you for your work at making this podcast possible and thank you to you, our listeners for tuning in and listening to us and our conversation. Why we wish we could have you right here with us. We love to talk about math. We love math students and we love math teachers. We wish you all the best, and we look forward to doing this again.
Thank you for listening to the Get More Math Podcast. We would like to invite all our listeners to visit our website at GetMoreMath.com where you'll find helpful information about how Get More Math can help you transform the math education experience through targeted mastery and cyclical review. We would welcome you to take advantage of our free trial, which is good not only for the remainder of this school year but also for the 2021 school year. If you think this podcast would be helpful to others, please share it, post on social media, or leave us a rating interview wherever you listen to podcasts. If you have any comments or suggestions for future episodes, please send an email to podcast@GetMoreMath.com. See you next time on the Get More Math Podcast.