Blog Archives

Intermediate Algebra Castle Learning Review Activity

Mrs. Magin, Mrs. Lagana, Mrs. O’Brien, Mrs. DiVirgilio, and Mrs. Benz engaged their Intermediate Algebra students in a review lesson on Castle Learning.  Students worked hard on finishing 12 multiple choice and 3 short answer problems that helped them to prepare for their final exams.  For more information on Castle Learning, visit

Well done teachers and students!

Differentiated Circle Geometry Lesson Video

Lisa Gross and Monica O’Brien co-taught an engaging review lesson for a Geometry unit on Circles.  In this lesson, Gross and O’Brien differentiate using a combination of the parallel and alternative models of co-teaching.  Students were grouped based upon their most recent formative assessment.  The groups were as follows: an independent Castle Learning group, a mostly independent worksheet group, a guided worksheet group, and a highly guided worksheet group.  The guided groups were assisted by Mrs. O’Brien and a student in the class who has mastered the material.  Mrs. Gross rotated throughout all groups to ensure high quality work and to answer questions that came up.

A video summary of this highly engaging differentiated lesson is below:

Algebra Students are Back on Track

The Athena math department continues to ask the question “What happens when a student is not learning?”  In response to this question, we have created a response to intervention (RtI) system (see diagram below).  This system consists of 3 tiers, with the 3rd tier being the most intensive.  A Tier 3 intervention that we recently implemented was a combination of after school and February break sessions.  This program was titled the “Algebra Opportunity Academy” (AOA).

As a result of this program, 12 out of 12 students earned credit back for at least one quarter.  The average student increased each of their course quarter grades by 7 and a half points!  Also, most students liked it, were engaged, and gave positive feedback about the program (see data below from a survey given on the last day).  These 12 students are now on track to pass Integrated Algebra.

The following sections are a brief outline of the program:

Screening Process

Students that have an average of below 65% should be placed in this Tier 3 intervention support class. 1st and 2nd quarter grades will be examined, along with teacher recommendations.

Assessments/Progress Monitoring

As a goal of this program is to recover credit that was not earned in quarters 1 and 2, students will be assessed on AMSCO chapters 1-8.  They will be assessed through Castle Learning and written tests.  Using Castle Learning, students will have the opportunity to complete extra work at home/off-campus.

Instructional Arrangements

Two math teachers with algebra experience will co-teach this program (Maillet & Shoemaker).  Teachers will be in close contact with the students’ current Integrated Algebra teachers.  Maillet and Shoemaker will select, monitor, and schedule these students in this support class (with assistance from assistant principal).


Teachers will use GCSD approved Integrated Algebra curriculum.  In addition, teachers will prepare additional activities that will engage our targeted students; Students will participate in problem solving groups and the Castle Learning program.

Desired Results

Targeted students will increase their average in Integrated Algebra to at least a 70%.  These students will build confidence and ideally pass the course and Regents exam (not take this course/exam in summer school).


Algebra Teachers Differentiate

For the past two weeks, algebra teachers have been teaching their students the concepts of greatest common factor (GCF), difference between two perfect squares, and factoring trinomials using the grouping method.  Recognizing that these topics tend to be difficult for students to master, they tailored the design of their unit to accommodate for these multiple levels of understanding.  They accomplished this by using the computer program Castle Learning.

Most days of this seven day unit, students went down to the library and worked on several Castle Learning Problems.  This worked well for students because they were given instant feedback and explanations for any incorrect answers by Castle Learning.  Teachers examined the data from Castle Learning after every lesson.  A sample of a data analysis is shown below.  A check means that the student was correct on his or her first attempt, a check with an X means that the student was correct on his or her second attempt, and an X means that the student was incorrect for two attempts.  Based on those results, some students were pulled into a small group for a reteach lesson.  Student learning was increased as a result of teachers ensuring that what a student learns, how he/she learns it, and how the student demonstrates what he/she has learned matched that student’s readiness level (Tomlinson).  If a student was not ready to move on to the next lesson, immediate intervention took place until he or she was ready, and then he or she was able to continue with the rest of the class.

High Levels of Learning

For these first ten weeks of school, I have had the opportunity to work with Mrs. Esposito, a great math and special education teacher.  The uniqueness of one of her classes this year is that it is multi-grade level (Half 7th graders and half 8th graders in the same class).  In other words, she is responsible for teaching both 7th and 8th grade math curricula in one class.  She has tackled this challenge in a number of ways ensuring that each child is experiencing high levels of learning.  For some topics that overlap both curricula, she instructs them in a large group while offering many opportunities for individual questions.  For topics specific to a grade level, she utilizes a core extension period, Castle Learning, and the alternative teaching model of co-teaching.  Cook and Friend (1995) describe alternative teaching as one teacher teaching a specific topic to one group, while the other teacher teaches or reviews a different topic with a second group.  Although I have had many opportunities to alternative teach with Mrs. Esposito, I credit the teaching assistants, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Halligan, for taking on this role to help meet the needs of each child in their classroom.  For example, one of the teaching assistants will take the 7th grade students and work on one-step equations, while Mrs. Esposito will work on multi-step equations with the 8th graders.  This is a great example of the high levels of learning that place at Athena Middle School.

Algebra Students are Engaged in Castle Learning

Although a highly effective math teacher, Mrs. Lagana has always tiptoed around the world of technology–until now.  Mrs. Lagana engaged her students in a review lesson on the online program Castle Learning.  Teachers typically find Castle Learning Online helpful as it supports instruction and assesses students throughout the school year.  Mrs. Lagana and her Integrated Algebra students found that to be true.  After a presentation by the high school media specialist Mrs. Rounding, Mrs. Lagana’s students quietly walked down the hall to the library.  They all logged onto the computers quickly and successfully (which is not always the case with high school students).  Mrs. Lagana’s students worked on 15 polynomial questions in which they had to not only provide the correct answer on the computer, but show detailed work on paper.  If the students imputed the incorrect answer, the program would coach them to the correct response.  Mrs. Lagana and her students will continue working hard and using Castle Learning to support learning.  Well done Mrs. Lagana and her students!

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The Queens of the Castle

Mrs. Stowell (Dodge) and Ms. Mullen are the queens of the Castle!  In searching for ways to engage kids in a Core Extension block, these teachers have ventured into the world of computer technology.  Athena Middle School students have the opportunity to receive an extra period of math, science, social studies, or English instruction through Core Extension.  Mrs. Stowell and Ms. Mullen have decided to dedicate part of this time for the Castle Learning computer software.

Stowell’s 6th grade students and Mullen’s 8th grade students came into the library where they immediately logged on to access Castle Learning.  Each teacher co-taught the login process with Mr. Haines, the middle school library media specialist.  Students were highly engaged and worked hard on finishing each problem.  Many other Athena teachers have had positive experiences with Castle Learing including Mr. Smith, Mrs. Schreiber, Mr. Titus, Mr. Ingerick, Mrs. O’Brien, Mrs. Salamone, Mrs. Cannito, Mrs. Dionisio, and Mrs. Gross.  Please let me know others!

According to, students are achieving higher levels on raw scores, growth scores and state testing.  Teachers find Castle Learning Online helpful for supporting instruction and assessing students throughout the school year, making them more effective educators.  Administrator access provides assessment reporting to assist in making decisions and meeting district, state and national objectives.  Parents can mentor and be engaged on a regular basis in their child’s education.

Practical Strategy: Use a variety of computer technology, such as Castle Learning, in your math instruction.  Seek out the help from a colleague or coach for implementing this in your classroom.

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