Mike Evans is Pearson’s senior vice president for mathematics. In past roles at Pearson, Mike was responsible for Pearson Digital Learning’s Product Management and Publishing organizations. Prior to that he was Chief Operating Officer for Bigchalk, a K-12 library database provider. Before his edtech career, he held various senior management positions in both broadcast and cable television, including his role as Assistant General Manager of the Food Network cable television channel. In this interview, Mike discusses an exciting new middle grades math program completely written from and to the Common Core state standards by an advisory team of top mathematics education leaders. The program is a highly interactive and personalized learning experience that combines a comprehensive math curriculum, powerful best practices in teaching, and technology for teachers to deliver personalized instruction effectively and save valuable time. The product streamlines instruction and makes the tasks involved in teaching math much easier to juggle. “I believe we’re setting a trend for the future of math education with this one,” says Mike. Read on and see for yourself.
Victor: What is digits?
Mike: digits is Pearson’s new middle grades Common Core math curriculum. It provides anytime/anywhere web-based applications that address the individual needs of every student. digits’ point-of-use interactive whiteboard resources help teachers optimize effective time on task – intuitively. Basically, it’s a complete math curriculum package that provides personalized instruction with a fully integrated intervention component. It also manages homework, assessment, and student data – not to mention planning and grading on the teacher end.
Victor: Why did the people at Pearson create it?
Mike: We created digits because we realize that each learner is different – and with this program, we can literally personalize instruction. digits monitors achievement in learning early and often, so instead of remediating after assessments, we are actually intervening right away – or providing challenge opportunities as needed. The end result is that everyone in class is up to speed and engaged.
Also, we know teachers value, use and want interactive whiteboards more than any other technology. In fact, a recent study by PBS and Grunwald Associates, Inc., said that they are looking for more valuable educational content specifically designed for use with this easy-to-use interactive tool. digits was designed to incorporate the unique features of interactive whiteboards seamlessly into a curriculum that emphasizes problem-based interactive learning in a traditional classroom setting.
Mike: Great name for a math program, isn’t it? The name digits is a play on the digital dimension of this mathematics product, the main purpose of which is to help students understand the wonderful world of numbers – digitally learn about digits, that is.
Victor: What are the benefits of digits to schools, districts, states?
Mike: digits effectively uses technology to personalize learning with adaptive smart tools and personalized study plans. These resources provide need-based intervention and enrichment to maximize every student’s potential. Teachers optimize their time by using digits’ auto-grading features and responsive planning, cutting down on administrative tasks and increasing teaching time. These tools simplify planning and let teachers spend more time delivering effective, targeted instruction.
As a result, digits is able to improve mathematics instruction – and, by extension, achievement levels – for all schools, districts and states choosing to implement it.
Victor: How will learning with digits improve achievement in math for middle school students?
Mike: digits engages middle grades math students with a constant focus on real-world-based learning – not only with the structure of the problems within, but also with “student guides.” We call them our “Understanding by Design hosts” – they steer learners through each lesson in a humorous fashion and help deepen their understanding of mathematical concepts. For example, one host, Jay, pops up in videos embedded in the lessons, making jokes and explaining concepts to students. digits truly engages today’s digital natives, leading to increased homework completion and ultimately, to improved achievement in math.
Mike: Digital content is easily updated. Schools and districts don’t have to wait until their next adoption for a curriculum that is perfectly aligned to the Common Core State Standards and state content. With digits, software updates happen quickly and automatically, in real time.
digits truly personalizes learning for students. Writing in their accompanying workbooks and recording their thoughts gives students a sense of ownership in their learning. The write-in Student Companion becomes a self-created reference guide to help digits learners maximize their understanding.
Digital curriculum helps schools overcome a perennial problem: no more lost or damaged books with digits! Digital content is easily accessed, 24/7, whether online or via DVDs/CDs. And, consumable books eliminate residual cost since there are no damaged or lost hardcovers to replace. Write-in Student Companions ship automatically at the start of the school year (with content updates, as needed).
Schools don’t need to spend extra funds on intervention because digits comes pre-loaded with a robust RTI element, eliminating the need for additional intervention purchases. With digits, training, professional development, and implementation support are all included.
Victor: When was digits developed? What’s something interesting or relevant about its development history?
Mike: digits was developed in sync with the Common Core State Standards and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice, with the help of a distinguished author team that includes such CCSS influencers as Skip Fennell, Eric Milou, Janie Schielack and Helene Sherman. digits is the only middle grades math program on the market that is truly built to and from the Common Core.
Victor: What is unique about the technology behind digits?
Mike: The technology behind digits seamlessly integrates interactive whiteboard tools with anytime, anywhere web-based applications, such as the online homework feature, powered by Pearson’s award-winning MathXL, to create a complete educational package. Auto-grading ensures immediate and accurate skills-based reporting, fueling what we call the interACTIVE Learning Cycle – a data-driven approach to differentiated instruction, featuring a customized learning environment that supports all students while reducing time spent on administrative tasks by the teacher.
Mike: Since the digits curriculum is composed of digital lessons, teachers can teach the lessons in any order they wish, customizing not only to their students but also to their district pacing or applicable state-impacted standards. For the students, personalization in digits is driven by the results of the Readiness Assessment, which assesses students’ understanding of the unit’s prerequisite content. Results of this assessment are used to measure the need to deliver differentiated instruction. Readiness lessons provide enrichment to on-level and advanced students, and foundational support to below-level students. Simultaneously, personalized Study Plans provide each student with targeted, point-of-need online intervention for concepts missed on the Readiness Assessment. Homework is differentiated as well, to meet the needs of below-, on- and above-level learners.
Victor: Is digits a digital-only math program, or is there a print version, too?
Mike: digits is an almost all-digital program with some print components. The mix of print and paper components for digits was designed to be complementary and easy to use. We have a print write-in Student Companion book, and teachers receive a print Overview and Implementation Guide for reference. Homework can be delivered in three formats: online, via CD or on paper. Then, both teachers and student have their personalized online dashboards. For the kids, this means differentiated homework and access to their class lessons and personalized study plans. For teachers, the dashboard includes lesson content with point-of-use Teacher Guide, planning and assessment tools, data management, and so forth. Teachers also receive all the lesson content on DVD, and copies of the differentiated homework on CD.
Victor: How much does digits cost? What are the purchasing options?
Mike: Districts can subscribe to digits for their students for under $12 per year per student, depending on subscription length.
Victor: Who is digits for, who is it NOT for?
Mike: Since digits can be successfully taught with just one computer connected to a digital projector, the program can be implemented by pretty much any school. digits was designed to actually help schools grow with technology as they move along the path to more complete digitization – inevitable in today’s world.
Victor: Does digits align with the Common Core State Standards?
Mike: Absolutely. digits was built from the ground up to align to the new Common Core State Standards for Math. In fact, as I mentioned before, some of the leaders in the development of those new learning goals are authors of digits.
Mike: In a digits classroom, teachers use the traditional one-to-many model. They are at the front of their class, presenting the lesson material using the interactive whiteboard. Students are at their desks taking notes in the Write-in Student Companion workbook – or occasionally in small groups working on worksheets/journals, depending on the lesson format. Teachers show pre-existing digits lesson materials on the interactive whiteboard, which include video, animation and audio features – and other unique interactive-whiteboard-specific resources such as interactive/moveable problem illustrations and fully functional math tools. They may also choose to incorporate standard interactive whiteboard features, such as the pen layers so students can show their work at the board, or add Internet links or embed documents of their own choosing into the lesson at point of use. The possibilities are endless since digits was designed as a truly flexible and customizable curriculum, yet it’s easy to use from the very beginning because it is intuitive.
Victor: How does interactive whiteboard technology improve learning?
Mike: Interactive whiteboard technology is able to engage all three kinds of learners: visual (clean, sharp display, vivid colors and well-designed, uncluttered lesson screens are standard for digits); kinesthetic (interactive whiteboards allow digits lessons to come alive with moveable components and interactive math tools); and auditory (interactive whiteboards are able to play audio, whether it introduces new digits content or reinforces ongoing learning). As I noted earlier, an overwhelming majority of teachers believe in the unsurpassed power of interactive whiteboards to engage learners and deepen their understanding. Pearson understood the deep impact of this unique tool, and digits capitalizes on it for the benefit of students across the country and beyond.
Victor: What other kinds of innovative things is Pearson doing to use technology to change teaching and learning?
Mike: At Pearson, we believe in always learning – all kinds of learning for all kinds of people delivered in a personal style. We have a vision of effective education: a virtuous circle of learning where powerful technologies enable teachers to assess students unobtrusively and frequently, diagnose their learning needs swiftly, prescribe personalized lessons, monitor student progress and achievement, and provide ongoing feedback. We champion innovation and invest in models for education that embrace common core standards, teacher effectiveness, college and career readiness, school improvement, assessment-driven instructional programs, data-informed instructional improvement systems, and breakaway applications for mobile, virtual learning, and interoperability.
In keeping with this spirit, Pearson is currently engaged in many innovations that use technology to change teaching and learning in addition to digits. We are fronting an Online Learning Exchange (OLE) that will be a collaborative tool for learning communities to share educational content. We are at the forefront of the mobile learning revolution with numerous “portable” technology applications for tablets and mobile phones. And, we offer online tutoring options with many of our products through Tutor Vista, to name just a few.
Victor: What are some of your thoughts on education these days, particularly math education?
Mike: Clearly, our most pressing concern in this country is keeping up with the rest of the world in terms of academic achievement, especially in K-12 schools – and, by extension, to ensure college readiness. I believe that digits will help close the achievement gap not just because its intervention and enrichment aspects are stellar, but also because it speaks to today’s learners in a unique language – and that language is technology. We have to come to terms with the fact that we are teaching digital natives here, and digits is a great tool to engage these tech-savvy kids.
Victor: What formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating digits?
Mike: I suspect the best answer to that question is not for me to go on about the many hours I spent in math class listening to a teacher talk at me growing up – in what I perceived at the time as a situation completely removed from reality. I didn’t have many distractions then, but today, we have to compete with myriad channels of information and entertainment to get and keep kids’ attention in math class. To combat this, we took the problem-based interactive learning approach to create digits: keep their learning rooted in the real world, use humor and interaction to get them thinking and talking, and exploit technology for the behind-the-scenes framework to make sure they are on level, at target.
Victor: How does digits address some of your concerns about math education?
Mike: Math education is currently undergoing a major domestic shift in the form of the Common Core State Standards. I believe that narrowing and deepening the curriculum while focusing on key standardized Mathematical Practices will, in the end, bring our country closer to top-performing countries as defined by the PISA Test, for example. With products like digits, Pearson is doing its part to help American students learn math better – and, in the process also providing an opportunity for students abroad. Common standards of instruction, which are applicable internationally – such as the Common Core State Standards, which digits is based on – are helping us in the educational publishing business really make a difference in math education, hopefully on a global level.
Victor: What else would you tell educators or leaders in education about the value of digits?
Mike: Embrace the technology and know that we developed digits so it can grow with you. The administrator at one of our field test schools said recently, “You know what – last time I adopted a math program, the cutting-edge technology was VHS tapes. Now I have a closet full of videotapes I can’t even use – we don’t even have VCRs anymore!” What’s new today will be “old school” in one, three, seven years. Know that digits is flexible and can adapt to the advancements that your school or your district will make along the technological spectrum with time.
Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education, particularly math education?
Mike: Education is the one thing that is here to stay – as we like to say at Pearson, everyone’s “Always Learning.” And math, really, is very elemental to that lifelong learning process. As educators and publishers, we have to come to terms with the fact that things are changing on us – moving in a more techy, more mobile direction. The future of learning is in digital content, supported by print materials as necessary – this is the model we have followed with digits, and I believe we’re setting a trend for the future of math education with this one.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com