Math+ Adds Up

by Priscella Rodriguez

Math is hard.

Some people don’t like math. They don’t understand it. Because of that, it is one area schools struggle with teaching and helping students meet or exceed state standards.

This is the problem Math+ seeks to solve.

Math+ is a program that Epic added last year to give students an opportunity to have a certified math teacher teach them math.

It is different from the traditional go-at-your-own-pace approach many online math curriculum providers offer. With Math+, you can’t go at your own pace; you have to follow the pace that teachers have set.

“I struggle with math, so it’s definitely helped me because it’s very engaging and you work with other students and it’s really like a fun thing,” said Elizabeth Disney, an Epic junior. “It makes you want to keep doing it, so you definitely have a love for math after you take Math+, for sure.”

Disney is in her second year in Math+, and is like many students who started with the program who may not have liked math much, but have seen the program change their academic outcomes.

“I definitely noticed an improvement – I started noticing things I never noticed before in certain math problems, vocabulary, stuff like that,” Disney said.

Math+ currently is only offered for fifth through 12th grade. The program offers two options: live and unplugged.
In Math+ Live, students attend live classes via Zoom two days out of the week. Math+ Unplugged is for sixth grade and above, for students who can’t or don’t want to attend live classes.

In addition to the live classes, students use another online platform called Aleks to help with their homework.

Aleks doesn’t just give the weekly lesson, it can provide up to two years of remediation.

This means if a student doesn’t know how to do a certain skill or math topic, the Aleks program will identify that and then provide them those lessons so that they learn those missing skills and can complete the grade-level work.

“That’s something that, yes, it’s going to add time to what you’re spending in Math+,” Erica Nilsson, Epic’s Math+ director, said. “I mean, we have kids who maybe spend 8 hours a week on math, but that’s because they have missing learning gaps and they’re having to spend extra time in Aleks to fill those gaps; but next year, they won’t be spending as much time because they’re filling those gaps this year.”

If math is about numbers, then the numbers show something is working.

In the state of Oklahoma, only 20.4% of sixth, seventh and eighth graders mastered math last year. Epic’s pass rate on the state tests was around 9.3% for regular math students. But for Epic students enrolled in Math+ who took the state tests, their pass rate was 34%, exceeding the state average.

The pass rate shows there is still work to be done, but getting students to math mastery is not just about passing. It is also about growth. Nilsson said many Math+ students who didn’t pass the state tests still showed a lot of growth. Students may have entered the program, or the school, behind two or three grade levels and are now testing on grade level or even above grade level.

“We had a lot of students who didn’t pass, but moved a performance band. Maybe they [went] from unsatisfactory to limited knowledge or even, you know, within a band, like from the low end to the high.”

“And, if you look at our Staar growth for sixth through eighth grade, the Staar growth was really, really strong for Math+ students,” Nilsson said.

Students who didn’t like math or struggled with it started understanding and noticing improvement.

Nilsson said one of the keys to success in Math+ is consistency. That means committing to either the live classes or the unplugged. Both options are more structured than traditional online curriculum options, which means students have to work a little each week rather than doing a lot all at once.

“It really is best if we can get the right students who want to join a live class twice a week, who want to stay on pace,” Nilsson said. “To some people, it just doesn’t work; they need more flexibility.”

Math+ Unplugged doesn’t leave students on their own. Students still have to follow the same pace and they have to meet with a teacher for tests.

“We have students who sign up for unplugged, but they still don’t want to follow that pace. So you still have to have the motivation to get your work done and keep up with the math all the time,” Nilsson said.

With both Math+ Live and Unplugged, students can meet with their teacher for one-on-one help tailored to their individual needs, regardless of how much they’ve struggled with math in the past.

“If a student is really behind, they can join Math+, as long as they have the work ethic and the support to keep them on pace and kind of keep them encouraged whenever they’re feeling overwhelmed with Aleks, and the extra time they’re having to spend,” Nilsson said. “It’ll pay off in the long run – and then the next year, things should be much easier.”

Math+ continues to expand, and next year, third and fourth graders will get an option to attend.

The program is also adding honors classes for high school students. The honors classes are for Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2. The program will also offer a personal finance course offered next year.

“I think between the live classes, the honors classes, the unplugged – I mean, I would like to see every student participate in Math+, but find the right fit within Math+,” Nilsson said.

Above: Elizabeth Disney works on her Math+ course at her local coffee shop. Former ENN photography student Bekah Disney provided this photo. More of her work may be seen on Instagram and Facebook .

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