Monday, August 25, 2014

Introducing Automatic-Algebra.org

Here in New York, it's back-to-school starting next week. Of course, if you're in the teaching profession (or really just know about it), you've probably been doing academic work and preparing for the fall semester throughout the summer and year-round. I'm in the very fortunate position that I'll have a new permanent position at CUNY this fall, so here's how I've spent my August:

I've developed a new website for practicing basic numerical skills that are prerequisite for algebra and other classes like statistics, calculus, and computer programming: Automatic-Algebra.org. I've written a few times in the past about the need for certain skills to be automatic, skills that have been taught but not mastered by most students who arrive in a remedial community-college algebra course, and therefore causes continual disruption and frustration when we're trying to deal with actual algebra concepts (links one, two). Like, for the algebra course itself: times tables, negative numbers, and order-of-operations. Or for a basic statistics course: operations on decimals like rounding, comparing, and converting to percent.

So what you get at the new site for each of these skills is a brief, 5-question quiz for each of these skills. Here's how I designed them:
  • Timed, so that students get a very clear portrayal of what the expectation is for mastery of each of these skills (15, 30, or 60 seconds per quiz). For example: sequential adding and counting on fingers for multiplications will not suffice.
  • Multiple-choice, so the site is usable on a variety of devices, including touch-screen mobile devices. For example: you can stand on a bus and drill yourself on a smartphone by just tapping with your thumb.
  • Randomized, so once you take a quiz you can click "Try Again" and get a new one, and drill yourself multiple times in just a few minutes each day.
  • Javascript, so the quiz runs entirely on your own device once you download the page the first time. The site doesn't require any login, accounts, server submissions, recording of attempts, or any transmitted or collected information whatsoever after you initially view the page.

This is something that I've wanted for a few years now, that no existing website really implemented and consolidated the way I wanted as a reference for students. Thanks to the new full-time track I feel I'm in the position to warrant developing it myself and leveraging it for numerous classes of my own in the future.

Feel free to check it out, and offer any comments and observations. If you feel it might help your incoming students this fall semester, give them the link and maybe it will lift a whole lot of our boats all at the same time. Do you think that will be of assistance?



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