Posted tagged ‘Algebra 2’

Comparing Khan Academy’s Mastery Approach to Shormann Math’s Fluency Approach for Teaching High School Math

May 25, 2017

This is the first in a series of posts comparing Khan Academy’shormann khan comparison memes online math courses to our new Shormann Math curriculum. Shormann Math is part of DIVE Math and Science.

When Sal Khan started tutoring his cousins in 2003 using digital whiteboard video lectures, my family’s small business was already in its third year of producing similar products. Since then, both Khan Academy and DIVE have continued to offer digital video lectures for learning mathematics and other subjects, leveraging the ever-improving array of digital content delivery methods. Today in 2017, both Khan Academy and DIVE offer self-paced eLearning math courses. So, while there are obvious similarities between the two, there are also some pretty big differences.

Khan’s Store-Bought Layer Cake vs. Shormann Math’s Homemade Pizza

To begin, it is important to understand that Khan Academy teaches a Common Core-based “layer cake” approach to high school math. Shormann Math, on the other hand, teaches an integrated approach pioneered in Europe and Asia (you know, the countries that always beat us on international math tests), and introduced to the United States by the late John Saxon. John Saxon believed in the common-sense idea that results, not methodology are what mattered most(we’ll explore Khan Academy vs. Shormann Math results in a later post).

With the layer-cake approach, high school math is taught in layers, beginning with Algebra 1. Geometry is next, then Algebra 2. Each course is typically covered in one school year.

With the integrated approach, students learn algebra and geometry together. For example, Shormann Math does not have a separate geometry course, because geometry is integrated into Algebra 1 and 2. A geometry credit is included in Shormann Algebra 1 and 2, so students can take 3 years to complete the two courses and be “on track.”

Using a food analogy, both a store-bought layer cake and a homemade pizza can be delicious. With a store-bought layer cake, everybody gets the same thing, which is not always a bad thing, but can be. With a layer cake, if you just like vanilla, you can focus on eating the vanilla and not the chocolate. Or vice-versa.

With a homemade pizza, at least the one my family has made for years, each bite is an integrated medley of cheeses, meats, and vegetables. It is unique, diverse, and anchored in an amazing story that originated on float trip adventures deep in the Alaskan wilderness. Our homemade pizzas are about more than pizza, just like our Shormann Math courses are about more than math.

homemade pizza

Shormann Math, like our family’s legendary pizza, is a savory recipe developed over time with proven ingredients.

From my experience, a layer-cake approach is good for reviewing a particular subject, or specific concepts within a subject. Our CLEP and AP test prep courses employ this method. In other words, the layer-cake approach is good for review, which means Khan Academy math is good for testing your math skills in a particular subject. Khan Academy can help you determine if you have mastered a particular concept for the short-term.

Shormann Math, on the other hand, can help you build fluency in mathematics, which means you develop mastery and you retain it for the long term because you keep using it. In the beginning of every Shormann Math course, we define mathematics as the language of science and a God-given tool for measuring and classifying pattern and shape. I am not sure how Khan Academy defines mathematics, as I couldn’t find a definition anywhere. When you learn a new language, you don’t just learn nouns for a year, then verbs for a year, etc. You learn a little of the basics of everything, then you start putting them into sentences, which you practice. And practice some more. And then you review some more. And practice some more.

Building on fundamentals is how you learn a language, or a sport, or an instrument, or just about anything that you, eventually, hope to excel at. Building fluency takes time. Up next, we’ll explore Khan Academy’s “math procedures” to Shormann Math’s “math story,” followed by real data from real Shormann Math students on how the fluency approach can turn a bad math student into a good one. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!




Shormann Math Builds Effective Study Habits

October 19, 2015

With Shormann Math, using 21st Century technology to create a math course allows us to obtain valuable information revealing that, regardless of skill level, students who want to learn math, can, and Shormann Math has the tools for them to do so.

For example, during quarterly exam week, students are provided with two full-length practice exams. Practice exams allow students to prove to themselves that they really do (or don’t) know the material covered that quarter. Besides the practice exams, they are given other guidelines on how to prepare for the exams. The guidelines are based on years of teaching experience, as well as observing university professors. Between my bachelor’s in aerospace engineering, and a PhD in aquatic science, I had a lot of professors and exams! And the best professors, the ones who really wanted you to learn the material, did two things: 1) they kept a file of previous exams in the library that students could check out and study, and 2) they had office hours so students could ask questions. Shormann Math provides both, with 1) practice exams that reward students for a good study effort and 2) free email Q&A any time.

But are the practice exams helpful? Well, see for yourself. The following graph displays the recent results of Quarterly Exam 1 scores for Shormann Algebra 1 and 2(beta) students.* The bottom line is that students with “Good” study habits made A’s on the exam. The graph is a display of the obvious fact that good study habits build fluency, resulting in good scores on the actual exam. Being fluent in math means you know how to use the rules to solve new problems. And the purpose of the Practice Exams in Shormann Math is to provide new problems so the student can prove to themselves whether they are fluent, and if not, what they need to review.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 1.08.03 PM

At some point in your life, you will be tested on a large amount of information. Whether it’s for a job you really want, a driver’s license, an SAT, ACT, MCAT, etc., sooner or later, test day is coming. And if you really want that license, or that job, etc., you are going to put the personal effort into it to study. Shormann Math is designed to help students build effective study habits in a less important setting where the stakes aren’t as high. But, as the results above reveal, the best curriculum in the world won’t make a bit of difference if the student doesn’t put that personal effort into following directions and studying effectively.

*Graph details: Scores are from Quarterly Exam 1 taken by students in Dr. Shormann’s live online Algebra 1 and 2 classes, October 2015. The three categories are based on student performance on the 2 practice exams take prior to the actual exam. The students are allowed to take the practice exam, review mistakes using the solutions manual provided, and then take it again. Students who put the effort into retaking each practice exam were rewarded for their effort with a higher grade. Students are also encouraged to show work on their paper, solving each problem by hand. For the actual exam, they are required to submit handwritten work on each problem. The practice exams were counted as one of their homework grades, providing further encouragement to complete them. The three categories were broken down as follows: “Good” students averaged 95% or better on the practice exams, all of which took at least one of the exams more than once in order to get a higher score, which means they took the time to correct their mistakes and study the problems they missed. “Mediocre” students took each exam once, but averaged below 95%, and showed little to no effort to try the exam again, missing a valuable opportunity to review and build fluency. “Poor” students did not attempt either practice exam. Of special note is the fact that the trend was consistent, regardless of which course students were doing (Algebra 1 or 2).  Also, because the students had the opportunity to retake each practice exam until they received a 100, study effort, and not skill level, was the main factor influencing performance on the actual exam. Not all students are equally gifted in math (or any subject), but students who are less-skilled at math can do better by studying harder. These results provide good evidence that, with Shormann Math, students who want to learn math, can, regardless of skill level!