K-1 kids learn math online

Online learning produced significant gains for young students at three Rocketship charter schools, according to an SRI analysis.

Kindergarten and first-grade students who used the DreamBox Learning program to practice math skills outperformed the control group by 2.3 points on the NWEA test, the equivalent of moving from the 50th to the 55th percentile. All students received 100 to 110 minutes per day of math instruction in the classroom. Half spent 22 hours on DreamBox over the 16-week period; the control group used DreamBox for only five hours.

Rocketship’s hybrid model combines traditional classroom learning with individualized instruction through online technology in the Learning Lab and intensive tutor-led small groups. Because the Learning Lab is supervised by aides rather than teachers, Rocketship saves money that can be used to pay teachers more, hire tutors and extend the school day.

It’s a big win for edutainment software, writes Venture Beat, which notes that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings bought DreamBox last year.  A long-time charter advocate who served on the state board of education, Hastings is a Rocketship backer.

DreamBox has created math software that is “adaptive.” That is, a child can log into the online game and solve problems and the game can react to the skill level of the child. If the child does well, the game adapts the lessons so that they are harder. If the child needs more help, the game adapts the lessons so they are easier.

Teachers don’t have to worry about being replaced by computers says Andrew Elliott-Chandler, a Rocketship math teacher who’s moving up to the principal’s job.

“A lot of the grunt work of teaching is switched out for getting to know kids,” he says. “That’s one of the exciting changes. As learning the math facts shifts to the Learning Lab, there is a whole array of activities and programming that I no longer have to do in the classroom and instead, I’m able to spend more time looking at my kids’ needs . . . really exploring more high-engagement, high-leverage lessons with my kids.”

Rocketship’s Chief Schools Officer Aylon Samouha says the organization is planning further studies to compare the effectiveness of the available software programs with additional tutoring and class time for teaching given concepts.

Though most Rocketship students come from low-income Hispanic families, test scores are much higher than the California average. The network is opening four new schools and wants to have a 29-school network by 2018.