As we have transitioned into the CCLS over past few years, it became quickly apparent that a source was needed for quality multiple-choice mathematics questions. Although I can make my own, generating questions from scratch is very time consuming, and to be honest, even as a teacher, I at times question just how consistently good the questions I write are, especially for an assessment. Is the question I wrote easier than I realized, or too difficult? Further, the NYS Modules we adopted have precisely zero multiple choice questions included, while the NYS assessment aligned to the CC is approximately 75% multiple choice questions. So, this was my first frustration, how do I make, or where do I find the questions my students need? The first year we taught the CCLS we did not have the NYS Modules, and we did not use Castle Learning in the Middle School. Therefore, I had to scramble all year long, pulling questions from various websites, on top of generating my own. Semi-surprisingly, my growth results were fairly strong. However, this was very time consuming. I was working hard, but I would prefer to work smart. My other frustration dealt with our implementation of interim assessments. Although we all give various assessments throughout a school year, as a district we made the decision to be more deliberate about assessments. Based upon the model described in Data Driven Instruction, we set about to pull as much information as possible regarding the progress our students were making throughout the year using interim assessments. I think using interim assessments can be very useful, but creating interim assessments is a job description in its own right. The first year we implemented this plan we had to generate our own assessments. Again, as a teacher I can and do generate assessments. However, people with brighter math minds than mine spend each of their working day generating assessments. It would be wiser for me to tap into their expertise rather than try to “reinvent the wheel.” Further, once the assessment has been completed, I would need to put together a spreadsheet in order to discern the results. This worked, but I knew there must be a more efficient way to get similar or better results. Enter, Castle Learning. The reports generated by Castle Learning are just that; efficient, easy to read, and thorough. Identifying instantaneously which student is weak in which standard is extremely useful. As a result of using Castle Learning I can spend more time focusing on ways to better engage the students with the content being presented, and less time creating material for homework, quizzes, and interim assessments. Rather than spend hours creating an assessment report, and then hours gleaning information from the report, I can begin right away with verifying where students are weak, or strong, and begin planning how to address these areas. I’m glad our Middle School chose to implement Castle Learning. Teaching will never be an easy profession. However, as technology continues to progress at an exponential rate, online resources like Castle Learning can make certain aspects of the profession easier. I look forward to using Castle Learning in the future in order to meet the ever demanding needs of the diverse population that is middle school.
Cathy Weaver is a Math Teacher at Batavia High School in New York. Castle Learning did not only offer Ms. Weaver an organized way to easily create quality review assignments, but it also helped her students solve questions with strategies they might have missed. “My students have become more successful since I started using Castle Learning. The continuous review they are getting has helped to improve their retention of the material.” When we asked Ms. Weaver about what tactics she tried before started using Castle Learning, she reported “I had to create my own review worksheets. This can be a tedious task, and it takes time to be sure that all topics are being covered.” Ms. Weaver also had difficulties finding the type of questions that she wanted to use with her students to meet the common core standards. She found that Castle Learning made it simple to create review worksheets that offered questions similar to the Common Core standards. Ms. Weaver also liked that Castle grades the bulk of an assignment. Grading is not always something she has time for; going over each individual question on every student assignment is extremely time consuming. When we asked Ms. Weaver if she has experienced any direct “big win” in her students’ results because of Castle Learning, she replied with a short story: “I live in the same city that I teach. At our local ice rink the parent of one of my students came up to me. She was talking about the difficulties her son has been having in geometry. She then began to tell me how much she likes the ‘new’ program I had started using. It gives her and her husband a chance to work with their son and has helped them to better understand where he is struggling. That ‘new’ program is Castle Learning. I am happy to say that I have seen this student’s grades and understanding of the material improve greatly since I started using Castle.”
“I’ve never used an online homework system like Castle Learning. It’s been a revelation. Before Castle, I’d assign worksheets or specific questions from a review book. This hand-written work was tedious to grade and led to wide-scale cheating. Castle enables me to set concrete deadlines and there is no uncertainty about expectations and consequences. Moreover, the Castle results allow me to communicate with parents continually. Student data is archived…so I’m always armed with feedback and analysis if a parent inquires.” I’m training my students to work together, communicate with me, stick to deadlines, and use all of their available resources to succeed. Patrick Nolan is a Chemistry teacher at Malverne HS in New York with 10 years of teaching experience. Review books had been a normal part of his methodology to introduce and review material in the past, but he found that “Checking homework in those books is inconvenient and cumbersome. The more Chemistry problems you practice, the better you get. The more problems I assigned, the more I’d have to check.” When asked how his experience has shifted since using Castle Learning, he reported, “Castle allows me to assign a high volume of problems and they are checked automatically. Instead of walking up and down the aisles of my classroom to check that homework has been done…I’m using class time for demonstrations, informal assessments, experimentation, discussion, and building relationships with my students. Win. Win.” Mr. Nolan is more than just homework and review. Empowering and engaging students to take ownership of their learning is an integral part of his teaching philosophy. “I want to teach kids how to respect assignments, work together, communicate with me, and conquer challenges. The chemistry is secondary.” In the spirit of taking ownership, Patrick found himself “sold” on Castle Learning when he became aware of the ability to set assignment deadlines. “Our students need to understand the importance of deadlines and the consequences of missing them.” How does Mr. Nolan incorporate Castle Learning to accomplish his academic and empowerment goals? “Homework numbers. Plain and simple. I create and assign work. Then, I use Remind (101) to make sure all my students know when the assignment is due and what it covers and how many questions there are. Students get feedback on incorrect guesses as if I was there to assist them. The homework numbers are a true reflection of their understanding and effort. Cheating has reduced significantly. Most every student has a phone or access to the internet, so the old excuses ‘I left my book in school’ or ‘my dog ate my homework’ don’t fly anymore. More importantly, I’m training my students to work together, communicate with me, stick to deadlines, and use all of their available resources to succeed.”
If you’re an educator, you can most likely relate to this knowledge assessment cycle (or something similar): teach; assess; differentiate; remediate; assess; repeat. Assessing students’ learning is a common occurrence in and out of the classroom, and it can require a great deal of time to assess students in a way that is relevant and effective.Time is a valuable commodity in the education world. It takes time to develop assessments, time to deliver assessments, and time to analyze assessment results. It also takes time to develop strategies to improve or modify a teacher’s instruction. We connected with Mrs. Bassett, a science teacher at C. W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, New York to learn about her experience using Castle Learning. Castle Learning has reduced my time giving, grading, and analyzing assessments. Too much time is spent on testing as it is. It provides ‘data’ which can then ‘drive’ instruction. The investment of time it takes to accomplish all of the tasks surrounding assessing student knowledge and comprehension was one of Mrs. Bassett’s frustrations before she started to use Castle Learning. She found that Castle Learning is a more efficient way to accomplish the tasks surrounding assessments and it simplifies real-time data analysis. “Castle Learning provides immediate feedback for teachers and students and can create reports that break down topics and benchmarks.” says Mrs. Bassett. “Castle Learning has reduced my time giving, grading, and analyzing assessments. Too much time is spent on testing as it is. Castle Learning provides ‘data’ which can then ‘drive’ instruction.” Creating multiple and/or personalized versions of assessments and meeting students individual needs are other features of Castle Learning that Mrs. Bassett appreciates. Castle Learning “can ‘scramble’ the test questions and allow students to create their own assessments based on data showing where they need to improve, giving them responsibility for their own learning.” In addition, having multiple versions of assessments helps to prevent cheating in Mrs. Bassett class. “[Castle Learning] has allowed me to better meet the needs of all students (including IEP students that get extra time or tests read), putting the responsibility back on the individual learner, and this year in particular meet the needs of a transfer student from Puerto Rico who speaks virtually no English (because most of the questions can be read in Spanish).” Providing students with review methods and study skills was another frustration Mrs. Bassett faced before she began using Castle Learning. With Castle Learning, each question provides students with relevant vocabulary and flash cards, hints for a second try, and an explanation of the correct answer. “I have used Review books, practice materials in note packets, and assigned review. The results were mixed and it was difficult to monitor and keep track of student progress.” When we asked Mrs. Bassett if she has experienced any direct “big win” students’ results for her class because of Castle Learning, she responded with “seeing students have success on written assessments, the New York State Regents, and their recognition of a new way to study, practice, and learn material, AND they liked it.”
As a classroom teacher at the high school and collegiate levels, and as a middle-high school administrator, I would like to take this opportunity to express my enormous satisfaction in the Castle Learning Program. To effectively demonstrate the impact using Castle Learning can have, I would like to tell the real life story of a Lyndonville student this past year. We had a student who was a senior at risk of not graduating and quite likely dropping out of school. This was a student who was not successful in the traditional classroom or school setting. He had experienced numerous failures and setbacks in school particularly with two NYS Regents Exams. Without passing these exams he would not graduate. With little hope of completing his senior course requirements and passing the remaining two Regents exams, he chose to leave school in favor of working. Together, our guidance counselor and I convinced him to attend our alternative education program to fulfill his mandated course requirements, which he completed. Our final hurdle was the two Regents exams in Algebra and Living Environment, courses that he took three years prior. His saving grace was Castle Learning. Each night he would use Castle Learning to review course materials and complete practice questions selected by our faculty members. He worked at home each day for six weeks preparing for the exams. I am happy to report that he passed both with flying colors and has since been handed his NYS High School Diploma. Over and above this accomplishment, was the sense of pride shown by this student reaching what seemed to him an unattainable goal. For all students, especially those that struggle, I highly recommend Castle Learning.