Podcasts help Blaine High School math teachers hit the mark

At the root of education are the questions: what do students need to learn and are they learning the information. To make expectations clear, “learning targets” have been written for all secondary math courses.

Blaine High School math teachers Jonathan Kell, Beth Dorsing and Mark Ziegler created podcasts to help students meet Algebra with Quadratics class learning targets.Photo submitted

Blaine High School math teachers Jonathan Kell, Beth Dorsing and Mark Ziegler created podcasts to help students meet Algebra with Quadratics class learning targets.Photo submitted

Anne Roehrich, an Anoka-Hennepin School District 11 teaching and learning specialist for secondary math, said teachers are asked to post their learning targets in their classroom and align their quizzes and tests to meet them.

“With learning targets, when a student does poorly on a test teachers don’t have to be vague about what went wrong,” Roehrich said. “They can name the learning target the student had trouble with and give specific feedback to kids. Research shows feedback is critical in student achievement.”

To help meet learning targets, teachers are asked to provide interventions for struggling students. For a group of math teachers at Blaine High School (BHS), this took the form of creating podcasts for their Algebra with Quadratics class.

The podcasts are broken down by learning targets, such as, “I can use order of operations and simplify expressions,” and “I can graph a quadratic equation when written in vertex form.”

Over the summer, Beth Dorsing, along with Jonathan Kell and Mark Ziegler, created the five-minute or shorter videos for the Algebra with Quadratics learning targets.

A new class last school year, Algebra with Quadratics is an intermediate math class that combines Algebra I and Algebra II. It does not have a text book. During the last school year, students looked to teachers, student tutors and a website for help with this class; the podcasts provide another resource for the class, especially for those students who are struggling.

The videos are posted to the district’s Moodle site. To give students fast access to lessons, Dorsing created “quick response (QR) codes” for each learning target. Like a bar code used in a grocery store to look up information, a student scans a QR code with a smart phone or iPad and the code takes the student directly to the lesson she/he wants to review.

When the student accesses a lesson, the screen looks like a white board in a classroom. A teacher’s voice walks through the lesson as the work plays out on the screen. It’s possible for a student to pause and rewind a lesson.

Dorsing’s goal for the podcasts is for students to get the help they need. It’s also a way to engage students.

“More and more, students aren’t going to text books,” she said. “They want something that is more hands on. The goal is to help struggling students and provide them another resource to help them succeed.”

Being able to review the lesson online is also helpful to students doing homework who have a question. They don’t need to wait until the following day to ask the teacher to explain something. It’s also helpful to students who miss a day of school and want to stay caught up on classroom work.

If BHS students don’t have a smart phone or Internet access at home, computers are available at the school’s after-school tutoring program and at public libraries. Dorsing also provides the lessons to students on thumb drives or CDs.

For Roehrich, the biggest advantage to using learning targets is that students take ownership of their own learning.

“So many times people feel powerless in math,” Roehrich said. “Kids don’t understand it and sometimes parents have a hard time helping their children because they don’t remember the math they learned in high school. The podcasts for the learning targets are a tool that lets students know they are not powerless; there are steps they can take to learn.

“It’s powerful when students can verbalize what they know and what they don’t know.”

Parents also have ownership in that if they go to A-H Connect and see that their child is missing an assignment or did poorly on a test, parents can access worksheets and podcasts so they can help their child.

“Our teachers are working hard and doing neat things,” Roehrich said. “We are starting to see the effects of the learning targets and students understanding they have ownership of their learning. It’s pretty cool.”

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