Online math should be a highly qualified teacher

I have a teacher friend who is very smart. I often call on him to help brainstorm ideas and problem solve. I would without question want my own personal children to be in his class. In order to be allowed to be a STEM teacher he needs 6 more math units. He has written a letter to his instructor with his opinion about Pearson MyLab and has given me permission to publish it.

A Letter to the Instructor

As an elementary educator of 15 years, I’ve learned a lot about student engagement and effective strategies for teaching and learning. As I spend 30+ hours a week in the program MyLab Math by Pearson, I have some concerns that I would want to know about if I was using this tool as an instructor

I am not dumb. I am a leader of my peers. I have always done well in school. I work hard, I put in 110%. However, Pearson MyLab is making me feel dumb. I am experiencing extreme frustration. It is my opinion this is the lack of engagement and effective mathematical course design that is the root of this, not my ineffectiveness as a student.

The Pearson MyLab Math website claims, “Personalize the learning experience and improve results for each student with MyLab.” But giving students access to textbooks, videos, and examples, is not personalized. It’s a library of resources, which students can and get from other places, free and paid. As far as improved results, I don’t feel like my improvement is coming from MyLab– many times, it feels like MyLab gets in the way of my success– without clear purpose or context, I just get lost in the formulas and cannot connect math to real-life.

The website also says, the program can, “Engage students with immersive content, tools, and experiences”. There’s been some great research on student engagement by Jim Parsons and Leah Taylor, “Improving student engagement.” (2011), https://cie.asu.edu/ojs/index.php/cieatasu/article/view/745/162. Some of the mentioned elements for student engagement are context, relevancy, collaboration, and multimedia. Pearson MyLab fails on every single thing mentioned in this research article.

My aim for taking this class is to be a STEM instructor. As such, I have studied and worked with Math and Science teachers on how to effectively teach math and science. I have read Dr. Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets which states that math is creative and visual. Research shows being fast is not the same as being smart. Math should not be timed, yet the quiz I took was timed. This research article from Stanford includes some of the issues with timed tests. https://www.youcubed.org/evidence/fluency-without-fear/ Timing causes stress and then we are in a fight or flight situation our brains literally shut down. Thinking through and explaining a math problem should have more value than doing it quickly. In a math class students should be doing the 8 mathematical practices. Pearson MyLab does not have us engaged in any of the 8 mathematical practices. The 5 E’s lesson plan model of Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend, Evaluate was specifically developed for math and science. Pearson MyLab fails to utilize this structure and instead relies on blind memorization without conceptual understanding.

I consider myself to be very innovative. To be able to connect unlike things and create new ideas. However, with this lack of context or conceptual understanding I am unable to translate how these math problems will be of any use to me. If we are not able to utilize these math concepts outside of math class what is the purpose in learning them? The business statistics course at Fresno State opts to ditch the textbook and instead do all of the problems using spreadsheets, a very tangible and practical application of mathematics. This course would be better with a teacher, such as yourself, instructing the class and creating meaningful lesson plans rather than just abdicating the teaching role to a poorly designed online program. I do not want to just pass this class, but come away with a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and be able to apply them in other contexts. Pearson MyLab fails to do this. So why are we using it? The purpose of a math class can not be to crank out numbers to write on a line, but rather to develop critical thinking and provide skills that would help me to be a better STEM teacher.

Dr. Normal Webb developed what is known as Depth of Knowledge, DOK. This is a measure of critical thinking that the student is engaged in. When math instruction starts with the teacher (or Pearson MyLab) doing the thinking for the student, telling them the formula and telling them the steps and procedures without a regard for developing number sense, this reduces the critical thinking of the task. Almost all of the problems in Pearson MyLab are DOK 1. This is the lowest rating of DOK. These problems are hard, but not complex. I was given the directions to memorize and utilize. Robert Kaplinsky is an expert in DOK for mathematics. His website http://robertkaplinsky.com and his blog http://robertkaplinsky.com/blog are excellent resources. In this blog post (https://robertkaplinsky.com/depth-knowledge-matrix-secondary-math/) he has a matrix of some DOK 1, 2 and 3 level math problems. DOK 4 is the highest level. Robert Kaplinsky is the founder of http://openmiddle.com a website for K-12 DOK 2 and DOK 3 level math problems. You will find that these are engaging and critical thinking.

Worse than the low critical thinking and low student engagement of Pearson MyLab is the poor wording of some of the questions. I was dismayed to find a question on the quiz that was missing information. It was poorly written. This caused me to spend time struggling and feeling dumb and frustrated to try to find a solution only to realize there is no solution and this is not one of the multiple choice options. This caused me to run out of time to complete the rest of the timed quiz. Poorly constructed questions have a negative impact on student grades. If I fail this class I will not be able to get a promotion at work and this adversely affects my ability to provide for my family. My current grade does not reflect my effort or mathematical ability. It simply reinforces what research study after research study has concluded; the most important element in a classroom is a highly qualified teacher. The course design, the quality of the instruction, the relationships developed, and the quality of feedback all contribute and are responsible for student success. Pearson MyLab is not a highly qualified teacher.

In summary, my review of Pearson MyLab is it not an adequately designed resource and a different course design should be considered.

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