Meeting Individual Needs in High School Algebra and Geometry

A case study of Senn High School in Chicago, Illinois

How do you address individual needs for math students at the high school level? Michael Meadows, a math teacher in Chicago Public Schools, was looking for an easier way to differentiate instruction for students in his high school Geometry and Honors Algebra classes and to improve performance on the SATs.

Addressing the Needs of Students from Diverse Backgrounds 

Michael teaches three sections of 9th grade Honors Algebra and two sections of 10th grade Geometry, including one section targeted to students learning English as a Second Language (ESL). His students have a broad range of academic backgrounds. Some students may be working a year or two ahead of grade level standards, while others enter high school missing a large number of the foundational skills for algebra and geometry. 

“We’re a large district, and our school has students coming from all across the city. The different schools have different curricula and teaching approaches, so our students may come to us with very different backgrounds and skill sets. We needed a way to determine whether they have the prerequisite skills for our high school classes and get everyone on the same page.”

Working on Core and Growth Skills 

To solve this need for both his Geometry and Algebra students, Michael turned to IXL. After introducing a topic to the class, Michael assigns skills in IXL aligned to the standards he is teaching. Most skills are taught over a two-day period, with one day devoted to whole-class instruction and the next day spent in individual practice in IXL Math.

For Michael’s Honors Algebra students, the completion of IXL Math skills makes up 50% of their grade. All incoming freshmen use the Real-Time Diagnostic at the beginning of the year to pinpoint their current mastery levels and identify gaps in prerequisite skills. Students work on IXL both at school and at home. Each week, they are assigned what Michael calls “Core Skills” or skills in IXL related to the standards they are working on in class. They also work on “Growth Skills” which are skills based on the recommendations from the Real-Time Diagnostic. Students work on these during IXL Growth Days or after they complete their Core Skills for the week.

Instant Feedback and Accountability Lead to Mastery

While state testing and SATs were disrupted in 2020 due to the coronavirus, Michael reports that scores on in-class exams are on average 5-6% higher than in previous years. Michael attributes the results to two important aspects of IXL: real-time feedback and student accountability. 

“With IXL, they get instant gratification,” he says. “With worksheets, students get frustrated because they don’t know whether or not they are doing something correctly. IXL lets them know right away and provides an explanation if they get a problem wrong. And IXL holds them accountable for their learning in a way that worksheets can’t. The SmartScore tells the story—it’s not something they can fake.” 

Transitioning to Remote Learning with IXL Math 

IXL Math proved to be especially valuable in the spring of 2020, when coronavirus caused schools across the country to make a sudden shift to remote learning. Michael and the other math teachers at Senn High School used IXL Math in combination with teacher-made video lectures and video conferencing to keep students on track while learning from home. Michael says, “IXL definitely made the transition easier.” 

A copy of the full case study is available for download here.

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