Ready to learn about MAP® Accelerator™? Developed by NWEA in partnership with Khan Academy, it helps teachers differentiate math instruction for kids in grades 3–8.
I sat down with Joel Thomas, product manager at NWEA, to learn more about it and his upcoming webinar. Joel works with teachers and leaders to make sure MAP Accelerator solves real problems and helps students learn. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
You’ve worn a couple hats in education. Can you tell me a bit about your time as a teacher and what brought you to NWEA?
My background is heavily rooted in the school and classroom.
I worked as a middle school and high school English teacher in Indianapolis and eventually moved into an assistant principal role. I’ve lived the life of a teacher trying to facilitate the learning of 90+ students, and I’ve lived the life of an admin trying to find key levers in my school that would lead to positive change in culture and outcomes for kids.
MAP Accelerator is able to provide balance to a conversation that is often considered either/or. […] [W]e can give students learning opportunities that meet them where they are and opportunities that are at their assigned grade level.”
I administered MAP® Growth™ as a teacher as far back as 2009, using the data to set goals for students. Later, as an admin, I was responsible for parsing data and helping teachers learn to interpret and use it. So when I moved to Portland a few years back, I was extremely excited to learn that NWEA is located here. Now I get to be a part of the team making that growth data even more meaningful in the classroom.
Online curriculum and learning platforms have exploded over the last five years. As a whole, what are they getting right? What are they getting wrong?
I love that we’re finally using the power of technology to improve student learning. The flexibility of this technology allows us to equitably serve students across the spectrum in a given classroom. These technologies can also offer new ways for students to access learning. This is especially true for students who have traditionally struggled in school.
At the same time, teachers are heavily burdened, and sometimes the very systems that are supposed to use technology to improve our lives end up being a further drain on time and resources. The two biggest misses I’ve seen are these:
- Sometimes these systems that claim to help teachers differentiate—or to provide personalized learning—are really just providing personalized electronic worksheets for kids
- Sometimes these systems try to be everything for a classroom and require so much time that they’re replacing the teacher as the instructional leader
What sets MAP Accelerator apart?
MAP Accelerator is able to provide balance to a conversation that is often either/or. With this tool, we can give students learning opportunities that meet them where they are and opportunities that are at their assigned grade level. And it’s able to do this while reducing a teacher’s workload.
In short: MAP Accelerator is useful, relies on teachers’ expertise, and adapts easily.
How does MAP Accelerator enhance the experience of using Khan Academy for a student?
Khan Academy’s mission to provide learning resources to everyone was a key factor in developing our partnership. Khan Academy has become the most popular system for supplementing instruction.
MAP Accelerator continues to use the easy navigation in Khan Academy, leverages the learning and practices resources, and adds a layer of automation that is only possible because of our partnership. Students also benefit from their teachers having the flexibility to leverage auto-assigned practice and learning as well as manually assign resources based on their own knowledge of their students.
How does it enhance the experience for teachers and administrators?
We all know reporting is a double-edged proposition: it’s wonderful having data at your fingertips, but do extra reports also mean extra work for teachers?
Technology allows us to equitably serve students across the spectrum in a given classroom. This is especially true for students who have traditionally struggled in school.”
MAP Accelerator balances this by giving teachers just-in-time reporting. You can certainly drill into any data point in the system and learn more; however, the just-in-time reporting for teachers allows them to monitor student progress quickly and easily, without constantly clicking on charts and graphs.
For administrators, we’ve made MAP Accelerator really simple to use. It includes automated rostering, dedicated technical support, and flexible professional learning models. The easy-to-use reporting dashboards—previously only available to teachers—are a big help with lessons learned, either when celebrating wins or replicating best practices.
What have you observed in the districts currently piloting MAP Accelerator?
My first thought while watching teachers and students use this new tool was, “They’re naturals.”
Because MAP Accelerator uses Khan Academy, which teachers and students already know and love, the learning curve is almost flat. Students as young as third grade hop into the system and can easily explain what they’re working on, why they’re working on it, and what parts they find exciting.
It’s been especially inspiring to hear stories coming out of pilot districts like Clark County in Nevada, where teachers have directly noted how easy the system is to use. They have called out that knowing students’ learning pathways are directly tied to MAP Growth instills confidence. We’ve definitely seen teachers go into the system to make adjustments to a student’s learning path, giving them more or less complex content. For a large majority of teachers, there’s a high degree of confidence that the auto-assigned learning pathways are getting students exactly what they need.
Just-in-time reporting for teachers allows them to monitor student progress quickly and easily, without constantly clicking on charts and graphs.”
It’s also been fun watching students get excited about small things like confetti falling in the tool when they demonstrate proficiency, but also the big things, like increasing their overall mastery.
In the course of helping develop MAP Accelerator, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about learning and teaching?
Just like learners have diverse needs, so do teachers. Teaching is not a monolith, and multiple approaches need to be served. So we created MAP Accelerator to be flexible in its use. It’s designed to meet all teachers where they are. We recommend the tool be used for 30 minutes a week to see gains in student learning, which gives a lot of room for different instructional approaches.
What are some of the different instructional approaches you’ve observed?
In our very first prototypes, we saw a teacher who used the system as their bell ringer every day: students entered the classroom, grabbed a laptop, and worked on their learning path for the first 10–15 minutes of class.
We saw another teacher using the system to support small groups: the teacher worked with 8 kids on that day’s learning target while a different group of 8 kids did independent practice on that day’s learning target and a final group of 8 had iPads out and worked on their learning path.
And we’ve also seen teachers use it whole group: at the end of the lesson, students were given an assigningment in MAP Accelerator based on that day’s learning target, and once they finished that, they worked on their learning path.
What’s the one thing you’d like everyone to know about MAP Accelerator?
If you want to actually reduce teacher workload, you have to work with teachers enough to understand how they spend their time.
I remember my own experience vividly: hours spent outside the classroom getting ready for an upcoming lesson, or trying to use data to know what interventions a student needed, not to mention my time actually in the classroom working with students! My experience isn’t universal, and even working with dozens of teachers as an admin only provides a small window into everything teachers do. So we dug in.
Because MAP Accelerator uses Khan Academy, which teachers and students already know and love, the learning curve is almost flat.”
We did a full-year prototype experience with teachers in Chicago. We conducted interviews and surveys trying to capture a broad view of what teachers do. Among other things, we’ve found they spend a lot of time finding and tweaking resources for kids, making adjustments to those resources for kids working at different levels of understanding, assigning, grading, giving feedback, and providing interventions and help on the skills students are struggling with. MAP Accelerator helps teachers do all of this.
Hear more about MAP Accelerator from Sal Khan, and join us for our webinar on January 30.