Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Implementing MLCS: MyMathLab

MyMathLab is a wonderful online homework tool that provides an excellent way to practice skills to the point of mastery.  It also allows students to see extra examples and work problems multiple times.  But with all technology, it isn't perfect.  Not every problem in math should be algorithmically regenerated.  Problems should remain problems:  difficult and thought provoking.  To me, MyMathLab excels at exercises.

To that end, we use MyMathLab when it is superior and we use paper when it is more appropriate.  Here are some ideas for use of MyMathLab:

1.  Practice skills in MyMathLab.

As part of the book I am writing with Heather, we will have a MyMathLab course with assignments for all skills addressed.  We have a working MML course that can be used when class testing.  But the final course will have many more problems and bells and whistles.

2.  Build self-checks for students.

One of the downsides to MML is the ease of misusing the help aids.  Students like to mimic View an Example, which is not learning.  This course is about understanding, not mimicking.  To help students better assess where they are learning and where they have deficits, we have quizzes regularly on skills without help aids.  These quizzes are done in MML.

Additionally, we have a few questions on every homework assignment in the book with a MML assignment.  These questions are on paper, mirror the MML problems, and do not have help aids.  So students get a feel of what it would be like to be tested on skill problems without using a computer.

3.  Use paper when it is more appropriate.

To push students to connect ideas and apply concepts, we have paper homework with problems.  There are fewer problems and students are expected to do all of them.  Again, they are not exercises.  The odd numbered problems aren't like the even numbered problems with numbers changed.  Each problem is unique and requires students to push past skill-based understanding.  They don't have the typical "word problem" feel because they are like problems students have already been working with in the lesson, and they are realistic.  That doesn't make them easy, but it does remove the "story problem" feel, which causes instant anxiety in many students.  My students find the paper homework is harder, but necessary.  And thus, it's not their favorite.  They prefer MML problems because they are rote and prescriptive.  But since the goal of the course is to think and solve problems, we push students past the skill problems alone.  And unlike traditional algebra classes where skill problems encompass 80-95% of the course, skill problems only take up 50% of the course.

This approach marries technology and traditional methods for doing homework in a math class; it's a happy medium between paper only and MML only.  Similarly, we assess in a similar pattern:  skill quizzes are done in MML and conceptual/applied problem quizzes are done on paper in class.  Because we do not have the facilities for testing online, our exams are done on paper and have both skill and applied problems.

Next up:  Training

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