So the second (and final) session I’m able to blog at the annual Virtual School Symposium was one of the research sessions, delivered by a fellow Michigander. The session was described as:
At-risk Elementary Students in a Hybrid Mathematics After School Program: A Service Learning Opportunity for College Students Using Free Online Resources
Robin K. Dickson, Michigan State University
At-risk fifth and sixth graders in an urban elementary school participated in an afterschool program that used free online resources to improve their understanding of critical mathematics concepts. Part of the First Serve Program of the Todd Martin Development Fund, Michigan State University honors students supported student use of a curriculum assembled by a talent development specialist. Data suggest that this unique collaboration increased access to mathematics for at-risk students.
Robin began the session with some background on African American students achievement, with a specific focus on males, looking at drop-out rates, graduation rates, post-secondary participation, etc.. She indicated that in her opinion the best option available to us now is not necessarily to increase school time, but to focus on what can be done outside of school time.
In describing the four ideas that kind of converged (i.e., time, computers, mentors and math) that also included the use of open resources – one of which was the PhET Interactive Simulations resource (http://phet.colorado.edu).
One of the main constraints to creating this kind of program is to make sure that it isn’t the same as school. This involves choice for the students. Project-wise, scalability is always an issue that needs to be taken into account.
The program ran from, I believe Robin said, 3:00pm to 6:00pm and the students would be involved in mathematics, physical activity (i.e., tennis) and life skills activities. The mentors involved in the program came from local universities and committed to three hours at a time in the program for three days a week. The project received some funding from the Todd Martin Development Fund.
At this point, Robin began to focus on the mathematics portion – as that was the portion she was responsible for. She created the content in a free course management system (CMS) called EDU20 – which is a very basic, but quite functional, open source CMS. The mentors would work with the students as they moved through the curriculum, and Robin seemed to perform the role of “online teacher” (for lack of a better way to describe it).
The evaluation of the project used a pre-test and post-test model. Robin mentioned that while the mentors were supposed to help the students locate the quiz,they weren’t supposed to help them complete the quiz – although some did (and this was a bigger problem during the pre-test, at least that was the appearance based on Robin’s discussion).
While the overall difference between pre-test and post-test was only about a 4%-5% gain, the data broken down into the eleven students that completed both the pre-test and post-test was quite interesting. Four of the students posted losses, which may be accounted for the fact that Robin stressed to the mentors at a greater level not to help the students complete the test. There was one that showed no difference. There were seven that showed an increase between pre-test and post-test, including two that had 40%+ gains. While not part of their evaluation model, I would have been quite interested in there was data to drill down on those seven students – and particularly the two 40%+ gainers – to find out what factors contributed to their success.
Some of the limitations that came out during the question and discussion period included the fact that while there were 19 mentors identified from the post-secondary institution, there were only a handful that were reliable – although there were generally four or five in the laboratory at any given time, which was often a one-to-one ratio with the K-12 students.