Proposal for a Student-driven, Blended Learning based, Common Core aligned Algebra 1 Course

Yesterday, I attended a free workshop offered by Khan Academy (“KA”).  The workshop provided me with the opportunity to check out their latest functionality and soon to be released features, to listen to how a few power-user teachers have integrated KA into their classrooms, to volunteer to test out the beta of their upcoming release, and to network with teachers in the area.  All in all, the workshop was very insightful; KA has evolved since I created my first teacher account two years ago.  I’m glad I attended.

As a result, I’m seriously considering integrating KA into my algebra 1 common core curriculum in a big way.  I wish I could go even bigger, but that requires changes in how students are certified to receive their high school diplomas.   I believe public education needs to adopt a more flexible, personalized model using a cafeteria-style approach to stay relevant.  There are all sorts of issues there matching supply to demand, attaining validity for credentials, etc.  Its going to happen sooner than later. But that’s for another day.

For now, my thoughts on how to use KA are in the proposal below. I spent all day writing it up, so I hope my principal can find a way to provide the technology needed to make it a reality.

My big ask of my principal is whether I can have 15 dedicated iPads, MacBooks, ChromeBooks, or PCs in my classroom each day throughout the year.  Everything hinges on their availability.

If anyone has any suggestions for me after reading this proposal, please let me know via a comment.  Thanks!


Proposal for a Student-driven, Blended Learning based, Common Core aligned Algebra 1 Course


As the 2013 – 2014 school year approaches with the need to implement an algebra 1 curriculum based on the new Common Core State Standards (“CCSS”), it is an opportune time to create a blended learning based curriculum that provides students with ownership of their learning.

1.1   THE NEED

A decade into the 21st century, in the heart of Silicon Valley no less, most students experience learning in ways all too similar to their grandparents, or even great grandparents.  While document cameras and LCD projectors replace overhead projectors, and YouTube videos replace 16 mm film, the delivery and reception of the content conveyed over these media largely remains unchanged.  Likewise, the “sage on the stage” model perseveres as the primary, and oft sole, approach.

With teacher-centered pedagogy, most students of mathematics passively receive content in a one-size fits all production line model.  It is a very efficient system that is not very effective, as significant percentages of students fail to reach proficiency in algebra 1.  While this approach works for a select segment of students, it does not work for a growing number of students today.  Many students struggle to stay focused on a teacher’s lesson, much less understand the content.

Additionally, in today’s heterogeneous classrooms, student understanding of algebra 1 may range from far below basic to advanced, challenging the abilities of the most skilled teachers to deliver differentiated instruction.  In many cases, students who scored proficient or advanced on their algebra 1 California Standards Test (“CST”) are moved into geometry shifting the bulk of the incoming student CST score distribution to basic, below basic, and far below basic.  These students historically struggle with algebra.

A 2012 study by the California Department of Education and UC Davis titled “What Do the California Standards Test Results Reveal About the Movement Toward Eighth-Grade Algebra for All?” (Jian-Hua Liang, Paul E. Heckman, and Jamal Abedi; 2012) finds that “students who score below proficient in the eighth-grade CST have a lower chance of successfully passing the following year’s mathematics test (CST for Algebra I) compared to students who passed the CST for General Mathematics.”

My experience teaching algebra 1 these past three years is consistent with this report’s findings.  In the 2011-2012 school year, 16% of my algebra 1 students failed the second semester while 28% received a D.  This past year, nearly 40% of my algebra 1 students failed the course second semester with another 10% or so receiving a D.  These results bother me tremendously.  While I did everything in my power to help my students learn the California algebra 1 content standards, it was not enough.

Given this reality, I am committed to bringing my students a curriculum that engages them more deeply in the learning process.

1.2   THE PLAN

My plan for the 2013-2014 school year for my three algebra 1 sections is to follow the Khan Academy (“KA”) student-driven implementation model where students take ownership for their own learning within a curriculum I provide using KA, Google Apps, Geogebra, CPM, Educreations, Edmodo, and other resources TBD.   Students will work towards subject-mastery by attaining proficiency on specified “playlists” of online exercises tied to Common Core standards.  A remedial / intervention, standard, and extended set of playlists will be available for each unit.  Guided by these playlists, students will select an individualized, differentiated learning experience.  The use of KA exercises enables students to get feedback quickly and to be less likely to hold on to misconceptions, misunderstandings, or self-defeating beliefs.  It also enables a teacher access a range of data specific to each student, and for the entire class.  The data are intended to inform instruction, intervention, and assessments.

The course will include a mixture of in-class online work (mostly KA exercises with some videos), traditional lecture, guided inquiry, group work, individual work, journaling, reflections, surveys, and projects.  It will have elements akin to the blended learning pilot ran this past year without the dual teacher approach and other differences noted below.  Students who partook in that pilot may not be the best candidates for this approach if they have internalized any opposition to this learning modality. At the same time, those who embraced blended learning may serve as great advocates for their classmates.

As with all of my classes, now formalized by the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) standards for mathematical practice, I will emphasize conceptual understanding along with procedural fluency so students develop the ability to approach problem solving more positively and ideally succeed in that area.  While all students will not master all content, processes, or practices, all students will be encouraged to give this approach to learning mathematics a concerted effort so they may develop skills that are critical to success in life.

Over time, I’d like to evolve towards a flipped classroom model if students buy-in to KA and have access to KA outside of the classroom.  This should free up time for more Q&A or other in-depth discussions in class as well as more targeted interventions.


KA has an upcoming software release in beta testing, of which I volunteered to test out this summer.  A few of that release’s features are needed to carry out some of the diagnostics, assessments, exercises, etc. I envision.  If that release is delayed, I will scale back some of my plans, as necessary.


While my wish is to have an airtight experience for students with this curriculum, it is abundantly clear that this implementation will follow a trial and error model where challenges arise requiring changes to plans, activities, etc.  A reasonable amount of planning will occur before the new school year; however, KA’s experts and all of their teacher super-users present at the workshop repeatedly said not to be disheartened if reality does not meet our expectations when integrating KA into our curriculum.  They also said to start in whatever fashion is possible and build from there.  They even likened use of KA today to the outset of cellular phone service in the 1980’s where handsets were large and clunky.  They went so far as to say KA is similarly clunky, yet it offers capabilities that could help many students improve their learning and self-efficacy.  Using KA in a student-driven implementation model enables “students to take ownership over their learning by driving their own progress.”

One teacher who uses KA stated “we ask our students to take risks all the time, so we should be ready to do the same as educators.”  I’m committed to taking risks to make this a successful experience for my students this year knowing full well that this may be a bumpy road.  Yet, as any new trailblazer will tell you, there is no paved path to follow and detours are aplenty; the key is to keep moving forward making adaptations as necessary to increase your chance of arriving at your intended destination.  At the same time, many a fulfilling journey ends somewhere short of the final destination with significant experiences gained and one all the wiser for the next sojourn.


The curriculum will align with the district’s Common Core algebra 1 framework.  KA has aligned its exercises and videos to Common Core.

I have yet to define the curriculum in detail, or to create the specific assignments or assessments within the curriculum.  Investing further in these items depends upon whether the technology needed will be available to make this a reality.

If the needed technology will be available by the start of the school year, a complete curriculum outline will be defined to the extent the district’s Common Core algebra 1 framework is complete.  Detailed activities, projects, etc. will be created for the first marking period at the same time.  Subsequent items will be created on a rolling, weekly basis afterwards.


I am considering the following approach to grading categories.

  • 30% KA progress (against a required playlist),
  • 20% other assignments (projects, journals, reflections, etc), and
  • 50% assessments (quizzes, tests, final) – apportionment TBD

Students will work at their own pace.  At the same time, as we still are constrained by our district course structure (i.e., a student’s grade reflects their proficiency level in the subject and determines whether they receive credit for the algebra 1 course), students who fall far behind will have their scores adjusted to show their percent completion of the curriculum.  In other words, if a student only completes two-thirds of the course’s units, whatever score they attained would be de-rated by one-third.


Each two-block period in a week will be divided into three thirty-minute segments as follows.  There will be a five-minute rest break after segment 1 and segment 2 for students to move around, snack, etc.

  • Segment 1 (30 min): Whole class lecture / Socratic inquiry / Q&A focused on conceptual understanding OR small group / 1:1 intervention
  • Segment 2 & 3 (30 min each): most days the class will be split into the following two sets, switching at the end of segment 2
  • Group Work (activities, projects, peer tutoring, etc.) in a specific area in the class
  • Independent Work (KA online exercises & videos, activities, projects, journaling, reflections, etc.) in a specific area of the class

The Monday fifty-minute period will focus on review of the prior week’s progress and planning for the current week.  This will be a mixture of whole-class, small group, 1:1 intervention, and individual student efforts.  It will also be when most formal assessments occur.

2.3   PACING


Students will set their own pace for much of their work.  They will be provided a “playlist” of KA exercises aligned to the district’s CC algebra 1 curriculum framework which they need to complete within a specified time period (TBD); the specified time period will correspond to someone “on schedule” for completing the course.   Students will also be provided a schedule for other assignments and assessments in advance; they will have some flexibility on these, however, others will be date-specific.  Playlists for prerequisites will also be provided for students who need to remediate some of their skills and/or knowledge.  There will also be options for students to do extended work for those who advance rapidly or are looking for greater depth and/or experience.


Some assessments will be taken based on a student’s pace, others at specific times; the content of the latter assessments will vary for each student based upon where they are in the curriculum.  For logistical reasons, students will need to complete a specific “learning segment” or perhaps “unit” for the time-specific assessments; otherwise, creating, implementing, and scoring the assessments will be prohibitive.  Already, this approach requires the creation of multiple assessments ahead of time spanning multiple units.  I plan to investigate as an online assessment resource to help in this area.

2.4   DATA

Data available from KA consists of student progress against a planned set of playlists.  Both the results and the plan, itself, serve as critical data for teacher, student, and teacher alike.  Providing students and parents transparency to the curriculum enables them to plan best given their unique life circumstances.  Offering teachers a big-picture view of an entire class, as well as a student-specific view enables teachers to address needs as they arise, rather than days or weeks later.


One of the key benefits to using KA is the ability for a teacher to assess student progress in a near-instantaneous fashion.  KA offers a variety of reports for teachers intended to inform instruction, intervention, and assessment.  It is not clear at this point to what extent all the data will be used, in specific.  Nonetheless, the data offer tremendous insights previously unavailable.  As an analytics geek, I suspect I will make great use of the data.

Students and Parents

Students and parents also benefit from the data provided for each student.  They can check their progress, decide where they may need further support, and plan their upcoming week’s efforts.

It should benefit student-athletes as well given their need to plan around their team practices and games.



To make sure all the technology simultaneously works on our network in my classroom, I may need support from district IT and/or our local tech support person periodically.  The success of using KA in the classroom depends upon a student’s user experience.  If the user experience is problematic, the use of KA will not be successful.

As the iPads or other computing devices need to be stored in my classroom, some means of charging them overnight, as needed, and securing them will likely be needed.

Special Needs

Any class that has a concentration of RSP students will benefit from a SPED instructional aide, if available.  Additionally, I’d like to have two math proficient TAs per section to help with technology glitches, keeping students on task, providing as-needed math tutoring / support, etc.  Perhaps they could receive community service hours in addition to any TA credit?


Additionally, I hope to have as many parents as possible engaged in their students learning via a parent account on KA.  This will enable them to check their student’s progress.  Additionally, it might help transition students over to a flipped-learning model if parents can make sure students set aside time at home, if possible, and if access at home exists.


Lastly, as this may be very different from most students and parents experience with public school, I will need your support, along with all other administrators, in dealing with any parents who may object to this approach to learning.

I’d also like a budget for discretionary funds to cover composition notebook costs per student and supplies needed for projects; this can be an expense reimbursement approach.  I’m thinking $10-$20 per student for the year as an estimate.


For my plan to work, I need dedicated, in-class use of 15 iPads, MacBooks, ChromeBooks, or PCs with headphones (maybe ear-buds for the iPads with sanitary wipes to clean after each use) for each along with power and internet cabling and adequate bandwidth (~1.5 Mbps per user); the exact number of iPads etc. depends upon whether the algebra 1 class is limited to 30 students.  I am not beholden to any particular hardware platform.

Before the new school year starts, I would like our district IT to assign Gmail accounts to all of my rostered students (it was mentioned they could easily do this via our district Google Apps for Education account when we last met) as well as use a KA partner named Clever that synchronizes rosters from Infinite Campus with KA (helps in the KA student account creation process).


To the extent other algebra 1 teachers in the department wish to follow this approach, I am open to collaborating with them on the creation of specific activities, projects, assessments, etc.  As a matter of necessity, however, I need to outline the entire curriculum and create the first marking period’s activities and assessments prior to the start of the upcoming academic year.


While another KA workshop is not planned anytime soon, I have online access to the materials provided by KA via Edmodo.  I am willing to explain these resources to other algebra 1 teachers and help them understand various features.  However, the best way to understand KA is simply to start using it.

Reader Feedback:

So what do you think?  Any suggestions for additions, deletions, edits, etc?

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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19 Responses to Proposal for a Student-driven, Blended Learning based, Common Core aligned Algebra 1 Course

  1. Jack Dieckmann says:

    Hey Dave – I am still reading through the proposal, but I would suggest that before you describe the solution (KA, technology, etc), you make the unmet need more vivid and explicit.


  2. Dave says:

    didn’t read it all yet, but you are a brilliant hard working creative guy so you ask the mfrs of these devices for a donation. Maybe even see what the advantages of each device would be, if any. make an individual pitch but also say that you are pitching the others but will take the best offer as it is about the student learning not a particular platform. There are so many organizations that would love the publicity of donations. So maybe pitch them too. Might have time to help.


    • Great suggestion, Dave. I’m not that hopeful for the mfrs to pony anything up, however, their might be a few private donors willing to contribute.


      • Dieckmann, Jack Alfred says:

        I think it reads better with the needs section. Maybe just my bias, having worked with many, many funders over the years.


        From Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher []
        Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 7:42 PM
        To: Dieckmann, Jack Alfred
        Subject: [New comment] Proposal for a Student-driven, Blended Learning based, Common Core aligned Algebra 1 Course

        Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher commented: “Great suggestion, Dave. I’m not that hopeful for the mfrs to pony anything up, however, their might be a few private donors willing to contribute. “


  3. Dave, I love that you are working toward a blended classroom, and KA is an awesome resource for doing that. I teach my Engineering class this way, with a significant amount of time working in the computer lab. A few suggestions for implementation:

    1. While it is important to have the technology available for your students to use, encourage students to bring their own devices (BYOD). If your admin does not support students using their own phones, tablets, etc. in the classroom, there is lots of literature out there that supports this. Students using their own devices are more apt to do work at home, become more comfortable with the educational uses of their devices, and in general, like using their own stuff. I realize not every student will have their own, but so many do now that using them in class to supplement what the school does give is both practical and beneficial all the way around.

    2. Have a good set of expectations (we don’t say “rules” anymore) for using the Internet-connected devices. Kids will be playing games, logging in to Facebook, checking their email, texting their mommas, etc. Part of what I teach my kids by letting them use their own devices is when it is appropriate to answer a text and when it is not. Heck, a lot of adults don’t know that. It is more difficult to keep kids engaged with the distraction of an electronic device linked to the Internet, so think about how you want to handle those distractions ahead of time and lay down the law from the outset.

    3. Find an online way of communicating to your students. I use Edmodo, which I highly recommend, but there are lots of others out there that work. Edmodo looks and works very much like Facebook, so the kids are comfortable with it from the outset. You can post assingments, quizzes and tests (which the computer grades and gives them instant feedback), surveys, supplemental material (like websites, files, videos, etc.), set up a resource library and give students access, and have students turn-in assignments electronically (and you can grade them and post feedback electronically). The two things I like most about Edmodo–the parent access (Edmodo generates a parent access code for each individual student so parents can see their child’s assignments and their work, but only their child’s), and the “Backpack” feature which acts as an online Dropbox, allowing students to save their work from school and access it from any Internet device anywhere. You can set up small groups for collaborative projects. You can set it up to text message you whenever there is a new post (though that gets annoying with 175 students). Edmodo also has additional apps like the calculator and the graphing program. Oh, and did I mention it’s free! Check it out I do everything on here–I can’t remember the last time I used the copy machine!

    Good luck with your proposal. I think what you are doing is right on track.

    Patti Harris


    • Thanks, Patti. I used Edmodo last year without requiring students to use it (frankly, not sure how to require them to do anything outside of class without negatively impacting their grades). A small set of my AP Calc students were willing to use it as a resource. Hardly any of my algebra or intervention students even created an account. 😦 I think it has potential though…


  4. xiousgeonz says:

    I would want to know whether or not the Khan Academy has “evolved” so far as to edit their instructional videos, which would be a major undertaking.
    The videos are procedural — and he jumps back and forth and pulls in advanced skills into basic lessons without teaching them — no, not advanced to you or him or me, but more advanced than the students who are watching the videos. This looks like a great plan for building in lots and lots of practice of math procedures, which will probably get them passing tests. Sal Khan believes that students learn concepts by doing lots of problems (he says so in the videos). KA has *great* sales folks and tech guys. Good pedagogical content has, simply, not been anything like a priority.
    I honestly don’t think I’m expecting too much when I think that describing averages as “sort of representing a group of numbers” is inadequate, and tossing in equations with fractions and variables into the introductory lesson is pushing things a bit. I had to just turn the video off when he calmly told me that two plus itself times one was what two times one meant. Then I took a break and went back… hey, all these happy users couldn’t be wrong… welp, I don’t know, call me a geek, but I think they are. He *very* frequently pulls in as, say, the second or third example, an example that includes a quirk or exception that yes, is fun and fascinating to those of us who’ve mastered the concept but confusing to those who haven’t. HIs second “average” problem has us figuring out what grade Jack needs to pull his test average up to an A… and the numbers mean you can’t. That’s the *second* example in the introduction. There is no, zero, zilch nada discussion of patterns in averages (how a high score ‘balances out’ a low one, etc or, for that matter, any practical use of averages except exam scores). He generally d oesn’t address the misconceptions, though in his exponents lesson, he does state fervently and frequently that we shouldn’t multiply the base times the exponent. He actually never figures out the answer to the problem he presents — just says it’s a huge number… so the only problem students have seen figured out is the wrong one. Again, your mileage may vary, but in my experience showing students what not to do isn’t particularly effective (yes, I’ve tried it). and are, IMHO, much better.
    Good luck in your endeavors, and good luck to your students.


    • Thanks, Sue. My plan is to rely on the KA exercises and not the KA videos. I agree they are not cognitively accessible to many. I still believe the KA platform offers unique, free capabilities that allow me to offer a richer curriculum. And there are changes coming in their next release that will improve things considerably.


      • xiousgeonz says:

        Whew 🙂 I completely agree. I do like the practice exercises and that whole set up a lot — and I know lots of people who have successfully learned from those movies, so I recognize that some of my hairpulling is like that English teacher who screams at a split infinitive, when it really might be time to boldly go where no one has gone before 🙂


  5. xiousgeonz says:

    Oh, and one more thing.
    All that talk abotu “sage on the stage” not working… but…
    do you call
    a guy lecturing and writing out the problem on the board?

    Give students a Livescribe pen, have them record your lessons as they take notes, and then they can go “at their own pace” and hit the pause button.


    • Yep, I get that Sal’s videos replicate the old model. But they do offer benefits for some. And they are not even required for how I intend to use the KA platform.

      BTW, I was very reluctant to use the “sage on the stage” phrase. A little too cheesy to me. But, I wanted to sound like a hip ed person. 🙂 Not!


  6. Kiera says:

    Great point about needing to take risks and needing to move pedagogy forward. To help with the risk management for yourself and your principal (not to mention students and parents), is there a way to build an offramp in the event that the KA-integrated approach isn’t working? This probably presupposes identifying critical path milestones, taking measurements, and figuring out which values indicate go/no go — but the work may be worth it if it helps ease the sense of risk. People always love hearing that they aren’t the only ones to do something, so if you can provide examples of other schools implementing a similar approach, that will also lower the psychological barrier to saying “yes.” By the way, I’m applauding your ceaseless pursuit of finding and doing things that work better!!


  7. Tal says:

    This plan looks incredible, exciting, and inspiring! Of course your classroom isn’t going to transform magically overnight and it’s extremely respectable that you recognize that. I’m excited to read about follow ups from you once you begin implementing Khan Academy. Good luck!


  8. Pingback: Thievery, Technology, and Access | Reflections of a Second-career Math Teacher

  9. Pingback: Think Through Math – problema resolvido – Blog do Enio de Aragon

  10. says:

    going thru stuff; whatever happened with this. reply directly. btw I am retired, hooray.


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