Why Wolfram Alpha has a place in math and two more game-changing ideas for schools.

ECM 156: Alan November shares 3 essential elements for excellent education

Students who self-assess are the best? That’s what Alan November says. Research shows that students who self-assess their work become top students. What does this mean? Any school can improve with these three things.

Students who have self assessment skills are the strongest students. Alan November

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1. We need to check how rapidly students get feedback, especially in math.

Alan tells the story of the student who was struggling in math.

After she failed the first test, the math teacher insisted that a man's daughter move to the lower level math class. The dad refused. Instead, he taught his little girl to use Wolfram Alpha. She worked a homework problem. She checked it on Wolfram Alpha. The step-by-step instructions helped her learn math. Her score on the next test skyrocketed. She ended the year at the top of the class. The immediate feedback helped her teach herself.

A students should be able to work a problem, then quickly get the answer. Alan says,

[tweetthis]Feedback time for math problems should be as close to zero as possible. @globalearner #mathchat[/tweetthis]

How do we give instant feedback on math problems? Should we expect teachers to do what a computer could do? Should we teach kids Wolfram Alpha?

Many math teachers may view Wolfram Alpha as a threat. In fact, many teachers of young children still see calculators in this way.

We should reconsider math. Read more the Wolfram Alpha teacher portal and the SEDL Calculators in Schools research summary. Every single math teacher should look at Wolfram Alpha Pro and what it can do for them!
Self assessment research

Research by James H. McMillan and Jessica Hearn helps us understand self-assessment and student success.

2. We need to encourage student self-assessment.

Alan November says the most successful students have a clear means of self-assessment. In their 2008 report, James H. McMillan and Jessica Hearn say,

“In the current era of standards-based education, student self-assessment stands alone in its promise of improved student motivation and engagement, and learning.” (emphasis mine)

What is self-assessment? McMillan and Hearn go on to define self-assessment as:

“a process by which students
1) monitor and evaluate the quality of their thinking and behavior when learning and
2) identify strategies that improve their understanding and skills.”

Ann Oro  took this comment further on the Every Classroom Matters Awesome Educator Network Facebook Group. She says we need

“to have a clear system for self-assessment for teachers.”

We all need a means of self-assessment. Teachers should become masters of metacognition. Read the research.

3. Focus on having an excellent first five days of school.

Finally, Alan mentions the First Five Days of School. This program is fantastic. The First Five Days builds on what we already know from programs like Harry Wong‘s The First Days of School: the first days of school are important.

Start strong. Finish strong. Teach every day all year long.

Reminders for All Awesome Educators

If you focus on learning, learning happens. The test results show it.  Guest after guest on Every Classroom Matters say it.

When we focus on the test, nothing happens. (The test results show that too.) In fact, I would say not only does nothing happen, but frustration builds and students and teachers are less engaged. We're not focusing on the main thing.

  • The main thing happening in good schools is learning.
  • A good education gives students a strong start to a good life.
  • We all should be learning.

Want to be awesome? Examine yourself.  Level up a little bit every day.

This episode is a great show to share with your staff. Are you self-reflecting? Are you providing rapid feedback? Are you starting the school year strong? These three areas of can make a massive difference in every school.

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10 thoughts on “Why Wolfram Alpha has a place in math and two more game-changing ideas for schools.

  1. I am glad to see that you have finally come around to Wolfram Alpha and tools like it. Game and digital advocates like James Paul Gee and Marc Prensky were spreading this feedback gospel years ago. Welcome to the bandwagon.

        • I’ve known you a very very long time, Norman. 😉 So, I would say I have no memories. I do know that I tend to be skeptical until I see the research. It is how I operate. I don’t get excited about fads. Perhaps it was when it was all very new. Not sure. What I do know is at this point, I’ve seen enough feedback and research to know that it is not just a fad and something we should consider that has a place in math education. We all have to be willing to watch, examine, and change our minds – which you’re saying I did. I’ve certainly changed my minds before and I’m sure I will again. Glad I’m not the all knowing one. We’re all just doing the best we can to do what is right for students. Best wishes.

  2. Self Assessment is a most powerful tool which arise confidence in students.I am also a teacher and i see students perform well when they are confident of themselves.Teachers should motivate students to assess themselves.Seriously it has amazing results.

  3. I encourage all my students to use WolframAlpha for checking work, the step by step solutions require a subscription but the free model is still so useful for checking answers. I also encourage the use of the excellent (free) Desmos graphing calculator.

    I have a series of pages for each on my blog which may be of interest; these include slideshows on how to use each:


  4. Thank you so much for this article and the reminders I am a media specialist and the idea of self reflection and immediate feedback is so important– even in research. Students must stop process of copy/paste. They need to provide feedback– is this what I need to know, is this source helping me, what do I think about this information– I know it’s a bit off the main topic but it got me thinking which is a lovely thing.

    • Self reflection and immediate feedback is important in every single area! I’m so glad that you’ve shared this thought. You are so right. How can we help give them feedback more quickly?