Math Software Helps Boost Students' Proficiency at One Springfield School

Dec 8, 2017

If you walk through the hallways at Westport K-8 on Springfield’s west side, you’ll notice certificates or charts marking students’ progress in mathematics.

It’s part of a software program called DreamBox, which the school started using two years ago. 

Senior Vice President of Learning at DreamBox Learning Dr. Tim Hudson said it's not a "sit and get" program, it's a "think and do" learning experience.

"We put students in the driver's seat to really make sense of math," he said, "so their own mind makes sense of it and really be empowered by it."

According to Hudson, technology allows for new ways to interact with math concepts.  He said they’ve invented new ways to help students figure out and make sense of complex math concepts.

Students can access the program on their Chromebooks, administered to them by SPS, or on iPads.  Once they log in, they can choose from several lessons that are at the level recommended for them.  They are able to choose avatars and wallpaper to personalize the environment, and, along the way, they earn tokens to play games. As they make progress, new lessons appear.

Gaming elements the software uses help motivate students, according to Hudson.

DreamBox doesn’t replace teachers.  But it does help them see where their students are at and where they may be stuck so they can help them move forward.

Colleen Dorsey, math coach at Westport, said the software is a tool to make sure she and the teachers at Westport know where their students’ learning gaps are.

Last year at Westport, from the beginning to the end, the number of students proficient in math jumped 36 percent.  The school began the year with nine percent of students proficient in math and ended the year with 45 percent.

"Teachers did all that work with the help of their students," said Dorsey.  "They all were driving that force all year long."

Students set goals for themselves using DreamBox, according to Dorsey, and they are excited about working towards and meeting those goals.

In one fourth grade classroom, teacher April Roll was sitting down with a student showing her the progress she had made. 

She said when she shows kids where their gaps are, they want to close them themselves.

"So, it's not just something where I have to tell them, 'you don't have this' or 'this is where we need to work,' but they can see that, and it brings that desire and that drive to improve themselves as well," Roll said.

They’re very competitive and want to continue to meet standards on DreamBox, according to Roll, but they also help each other.

"It's that competitive edge but in a good way to where they're really pushing each other to strive to be the best that they really can," she said.

Trinity McDowell is a student in Roll’s classroom.  She says when the lessons on DreamBox become too challenging, it can be frustrating.

"It just makes me, like, kind of have an explosion in my brain," she said.

But when she finally understands the concept, she's happy.

"Because you, like, feel like you accomplished something really important," McDowell said.

Angela Jackson sees the motivation to learn new math concepts using DreamBox in her kindergarten students, too.  She has a chart on her classroom wall to show the kids’ progress.  And each child has a binder.  When they meet a standard, they get to color a balloon.  Those visuals, she says, motivate the students.

"'Oh, Johnny has three stars, and I've only got two.  I've got to work really hard to get that star,'" she said.

Kindergarten students Dixie Donovan and Robert Cole demonstrated how to use DreamBox.  They both said they’d rather learn using their electronic devices than using pen and paper.

And Dorsey said the technology allows teachers to know that students are getting what they need, when they need it every day instead of having to figure out if they’re getting the help and support they need.

"We know that every day that our students are on DreamBox, they're getting in-time learning that is meant for them instead of us wondering if they got that that learning today that was meant exactly for them," said Dorsey.

She said the district would like students to use DreamBox 60 minutes each week.  Students can log in at home, and Dorsey said many do.

According to Dorsey, they are continually finding new ways to use the software.

"The more we use it, the more we can see how it can benefit our teachers and our students.  It boggles my mind what we're going to get to do with it in the future," said Dorsey.

The software contains a professional development component for teachers so they can learn how the math concepts are being taught. 

April Roll said it’s been a great tool for her.

"If they took it away today, I don't know what I would do," she said, "because it does help so much with identifying those gaps a lot quicker than us giving an assessment and trying to go backwards to see exactly where they're struggling," she said.