“SERP field sites are structured as a set of three closely connected, and partially overlapping, groups: The Core Group, The Design Team, and the Research Team.”
From January 2008 to January 2010, the SERP-MSAN Algebra Assignments Working Group team consisted of three representatives from each of five participating school districts with researchers Julie Booth of Temple and Ken Koedinger and Turadg Aleahmad of Carnegie Mellon Universities. SERP and MSAN staff also supported the work. For a portion of the ongoing research, Andy Elliot from Rochester University has taken the lead on work allowing us to explore the relationship between these assignments, student motivation and self-image in relation to mathematics. The five participating MSAN districts are:
Partnering districts are:
- Arlington Public Schools (VA)
- Evanston Township High School (IL)
- Evanston/Skokie School District 65 (IL)
- Madison Metropolitan School District (WI)
- Shaker Heights City School District (OH)
Together the Working Group designed a bank of 24 Algebra I assignments that included worked examples with prompts for self-explanation interleaved with typical procedural problems. This bank of assignments was completed in February 2009, and has been tested for usability and feasibility with teachers in five MSAN districts during the 2008-2009 school year with promising preliminary results.
- Sample assignments can be viewed here (coming soon)
This work was guided by the idea that an intervention will be more successfully assimilated into practice increases if:
- the change fits into the regular routines of the classroom;
- the change is “digestible” for teachers, leaving enough of their practice untouched so that the changes does not become destabilizing and in turn unwelcomed;
- teachers understand the rationale for the change;
- teachers have a full understanding of what is expected of them and believe they can successfully meet the expectations; and
- teachers see positive changes in student achievement and/or in the classroom environment as a result of their efforts.
The SERP development process, as shown in the figure below (click to enlarge), creates a principled collaboration between practitioners and researchers designed to ensure that all of the requirements for assimilation described above are given close attention.
The timeline (click to enlarge) of the Algebra I work is represented here:
Research Background for Algebra Assignments Project
There has been extensive work in controlled research settings on the value of having students interact with partially- or fully-worked examples while explaining to themselves why the provided example demonstrates a correct or incorrect approach. Such research has shown this approach helps students learn new Algebra concepts better and move beyond old misconceptions without spending additional time. The figure below (click to enlarge) describes the model used to test the effects of the SERP-MSAN Strategic Algebra Assignments.
Our work has been grounded in the following research supported and reality tested ideas:
Students are not blank slates
- Each student brings a wealth of prior knowledge and experience to every new learning situation
Not all of this knowledge is helpful
- Students often hold deep-rooted misconceptions about course content, even before beginning a lesson.
- These misconceptions can actually hinder students learning of new material!
Typical instruction may not succeed in correcting these misconceptions
- Unless a student is forced to confront the misconception, it will likely persist.
How can we take time to correct these misconceptions without eliminating other course content?
- Research suggests two simple instructional techniques: Have students study examples of problem solutions and explain what happens in the example.
- An easy way to do this is to replace half of the problems in a typical homework or classwork assignment with examples of correct or incorrect ways to solve those problems, and include probing questions to make students explain features of the examples and why they are correct or incorrect.
- This practice has been shown to improve conceptual knowledge without sacrificing procedural skill!