Malala Yousafzai, We Are With You!

Malala Yousafzai is a fourteen-year-old Pakistani girl.  In 2009, the Taliban banned girls in her region from attending school.  Malala expressed how the ban affected her and her classmates in a blog, but she wrote under a pseudonym because she recognized the danger this candid writing posed on her life.  In her blog, Malala expressed her fear of going to school, yet she continued to go because of her commitment to educational equality.


On Tuesday afternoon, Taliban militants shot Malala in the head.  Upon the the Pakistani President’s request, Malala will be flown out of Pakistan to get the care she needs to be saved.  As Mirza Waheed, the former editor of Urdu Website of BBC World service, states, “She was just the girl who wanted to go to school.”

Malala was a courageous young girl who was willing to risk her life for a cause she believed in.  The CK-12 Team believes in this cause and we hope you do too. If you would like to provide your support, please donate to Global Giving’s project to educate 1000 Pakistani girls.

Our heart goes out to you, Malala.  You are a hero.

Math Chat: What Does it Mean to be “Good at Math”?

The Never Ending Math Problem Some years ago, I taught an evening course at a community college that catered to working adults. The students varied in age from 20 to 60, but they all shared one thing in common. They all had a huge amount of math anxiety. They were all absolutely convinced that they were not “good at math.” This class, with the innocuous name of “General Mathematics for Non-Mathematicians,” was designed to bridge the gap between the skills the students were supposed to have mastered in middle school and high school and where they needed to be. After the mastery of skills in this class and two other prerequisites, the goal was for them to excel in their future mathematics classes and graduate to become clean-room technicians, health workers, machinists, electricians, and dental hygienists.

I remember one woman in particular who came up to me at the beginning of the school year and was literally trembling because she needed the class to graduate and she was so afraid she wouldn’t pass. I promised her that she would do well and would even grow to like math. She looked at me as if I were from Mars.

So what does it take to be “good at Math” and what can we do as educators and parents to foster this mastery in our children? The beginning steps to understanding any subject and to delve into its inner workings further is curiosity. Without intellectual curiosity and a desire to explore there can be no progress into a deeper level of learning. Adults who have had little success with mathematics have already labeled themselves with the “I’m NOT good at math label.” One of the keys is to explain to students that mathematics is challenging for everyone.

“Do not worry about your problems with mathematics, I assure you mine are far greater.” –Albert Einstein
Adopting a spirit of exploration by pulling numbers apart, going down blind alleys with trial and error, playing number games, and teaching students how to self-check their own work can help their fears subside. A student who has been shown varying techniques for skill mastery and concept understanding has a greater chance for success in mastering mathematics at all levels. Our job as teachers, educators, and parents is to help foster this type of high-level engagement and interest.

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s OK to make mistakes. The first time I tried to bake a loaf of bread, I did something wrong with the yeast. My bread turned out to be a lethal weapon instead of something palatable. The next week I tried again. The second loaf of bread was even worse than the first. But my parents and my teachers taught me not to give up so easily. With any new skill, my expectation was, and is, that it may take me some time to master it. The third time, I spent a lot of time focusing on the details of the proper yeast proofing. The resulting loaf was almost as tasty as my Mom’s home-baked bread. Those bites of bread tasted especially flavorful to me because the success was hard won.

The student who is “good at math” doesn’t give up too easily. He or she realizes that there are usually several different ways to solve any mathematics problem. If one pathway doesn’t work or is arduous, there might be a pathway to a clearer process around the corner. There are over 400 proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. They all achieve the same goal but they vary greatly in length and complexity. The details of each proof matter. Those details are what make that particular proof viable.

I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter. –Blaise Pascal

Just like Chinese, Italian, or the acronyms associated with a particular industry, mathematics is a unique language. The use of symbols in mathematics helps to communicate precisely and in a relatively short length. However, just as it takes mastery to be fluent in a language, it takes careful thought, time, and effort to become masterful with mathematical language. But here’s the joy in it…we can write “x + 7 = -25” and it will be understood around the world. Fluency in any language requires practice and the language of mathematics is rich in visual symbols. Once a student understands those symbols, they become second nature and a very complex thought or relationship can be summarized in a very short space.

So, let’s think about how we can represent what it means to be “good at math.”

a = intellectual curiosity
b = a spirit of exploration and play
c = persistence when faced with challenges
d = a toolkit of different techniques to try
e = the ability to pay attention to details
f = fluency in the language of math
g = “good at math”

a + b + c + d + e + f = g

The good news is that these are qualities that we can foster in our children and students. We can also work on these qualities in ourselves as we improve our own mathematical abilities as educators.

My adult student who was trembling at the beginning of our math class went on to become the best student that quarter. She said to me “I wish I had realized how much I could enjoy math. I never would have been afraid to try when I was younger.” That poignant comment stuck with me and influenced my view of the role of mathematics educator ever since.

CK-12 March 2012 Newsletter

CK-12 Foundation is introducing the next generation FlexBooks system in June. In addition to the current FlexBooks functionality, the new system introduces learning in the form of concepts. Concepts are small units of content that can be used to learn or review a particular topic.Click here to read the full newsletter.

Anoka-Hennepin School District

The Challenge:

The Anoka-Hennepin school district is the largest in Minnesota, serving approximately 40,000 students in surburban communities north of the Twin Cities. Similar to many districts across the country, Anoka-Hennepin has faced budget cuts that have forced the district to serve students with increasingly scarce resources. For example: the budget for curriculum adoption, which includes funds for textbooks and other instructional materials, has dropped to $1.5 million from a high of about $3.5 million. Typically, Anoka-Hennepin revises its curriculum and buys new textbooks every 7-10 years. In 2010, as it was nearing time to replace the Probability & Statistics textbook, district officials, led by Bruce DeWitt, the district Technology Facilitator, decided to try a new approach.

Rather than spend $200,000 on new texts for Prob&Stats, the district instead decided to write their own from open source materials. There was growing interest in integrating technology into the classroom and scarce resources with which to do so. DeWitt, along with teachers who also advocated a custom book, convinced the district to allow the math department to keep the cost-savings to purchase classroom technology, including tablet devices and wireless infrastructure. Using CK-12 Foundation’s Probability & Statistics FlexBook as a starting point, teachers began work on writing a custom textbook.

How CK-12 Foundation Helped:

Annoka-Hennepin decided to use CK-12 Foundation’s FlexBooks system to write their custom book. Since they had CK-12’s standards-aligned Probability & Statistics textbook to use as a starting point, the task felt much less daunting. The team put a plan in place to prepare a custom book for the 2011-2012 school year.

The summer before the school year, three teachers were selected to author the books. Additionally, six math teachers were chosen to be editors. The district budgeted for about 300 authoring hours, 100 per teacher, for the process of reviewing CK-12’s FlexBooks and making any additions/customizations desired. Each teacher authored two chapters of the final book.

As the group set to work during the summer, they worked closely with CK-12 Foundation’s support and content teams to address technical and other issues. Though they made significant progress, the customizing was slower than initially hoped. The authors found themselves adding many customized problems, solutions, and additional teacher resources to make the book uniquely suited to the district’s students.

The Results:

Anoka-Hennepin’s Prob&Stats book totaled just over 200 pages and debuted in the Fall semester to more than 3,000 students. Students were given various choices to access the book. The district printed and bound 1000 books – at a cost of about $5 per book – and made them available for purchase. Students had the option to access printed copies in the library. Digital access was provided online through a Moodle Learning Management System and on CDs given to those without internet access. Students also had the option of viewing PDF and ePUB files on laptops, tablets, and on mobile devices.

The reaction from various stakeholders – teachers, students, and the community – has been largely positive. The Associated Press covered the adoption, with many in the public lauding the district for its innovation. Most of the 12-14 teachers teaching Prob&Stats have been happy as well. “I like it a lot, especially the problems we added. I’ve heard mostly good feedback – some people just rave about it,” says Heather Haney, a 20-year teaching veteran who was one of the three authors. Teachers are already looking forward to next summer and the opportunity to make changes/updates to their textbook, something that would have been unimaginable in the prior 7-10 year adoption cycle.

Students have also benefited from the custom book. They had the option to purchase their textbook for only $5, as well as had unlimited free online access. In addition to cost and access, many students seem to appreciate that their book has more practice problems and examples, something that the teacher-authors explicitly decided to include. The generally positive feedback will be coupled with more robust evaluation. The district will be collecting and comparing data on formative assessments on performance before and after the implementation of their custom textbooks. DeWitt hopes that, with the initial success of this program, the district can try their hand at more subjects and take a leadership role in working with other districts to follow suit. “We need leadership from the state to bring districts together to create and share,” says DeWitt who has been presenting about the process at conferences in and around Minnesotta.

In the end, after factoring in various costs including paying teachers for their work, Annoka-Hennepin spent about $25,000 on its Prob&Stats book. This was a cost savings of about $175,000, as the district was slated to spend $200,000 on adopting a traditional textbook.

Lessons Learned:

  • Costs savings is important and, with the money saved, the district could purchase up to 350 new IPADs but…
  • Costs savings can’t be the only benefit:it’s important to have teachers on board who see the curricular benefits of a digital curriculum.
  • Start early and have small deadlines: once teachers at Anoka-Hennepin began customizing their books, they had a lot of ideas they wanted to incorporate in their text and it was a rush to get everything done in time for the school year
  • Teacher teamwork is essential - “It’s important to have a good team of 3-4 teachers, and divide up the chapters and help each others, says Michael Engelhaupt, one of the authors in the project
  • Involve multiple stakeholders: Anoka-Hennepin ensured that someone from every school was involved, either as a writer or on the team of editors. This assured broad buy-in throughout the district
  • Someone has to own the project: in the case of Anoka-Hennepin, technology facilitator Bruce DeWitt served as the project owner, coordinating efforts between district and teachers at various locations


To access the Probability & Statistics FlexBook created by Anoka-Hennepin, click here:

Anoka Hennepin Probability and Statistics

Leadership Public Schools and CK-12 College Access Readers

Leadership Public Schools (LPS) is a network of four urban charter high schools in the California Bay Area. The majority of our students enter 9th grade reading far below grade level but all participate in college preparatory courses. Given this reality, LPS leverages CK-12 not only to develop low-cost, tailored textbooks, but also to scaffold these to provide better access for our students. Specifically, we are embedding literacy scaffolds directly into CK-12 Algebra, Geometry, and Biology materials to create flexbooks we call College Access Readers. Students with higher-level literacy skills use the original CK-12 content flexed to our scope and sequence. The lowest readers will soon access the materials through text-to-speech versions or Spanish translations.

You can read full LPS case studies and access FlexBooks here

Leadership Public Schools and Riverside Unified School District – FlexMath and Algebra 1


Responding to low and historically stagnant Algebra STAR scores, Leadership Public Schools (LPS) instituted an intervention program on their Hayward campus during the 2008 – 2009 academic year. The program targeted all 9th-grade students enrolled in Algebra, supporting them with a concurrent enrollment math intervention class. Equipped with 32 computer workstations, this support class featured a discovery-based curriculum which leveraged technology to both facilitate open-ended exploration while also creating precise mastery of essential algebraic mechanics. Though only partially developed at the time, the results of this approach exceeded even the most optimistic growth targets for this population, delivering gains on a scale never before achieved with struggling Algebra learners. Since that initial pilot, with support from the CK-12 Foundation (, the FlexMath instructional program has been developed into a full wordpressmigrate release which was further piloted during the 2010-2011 academic year by LPS Richmond, Envision Public Schools, and even a middle school- Sierra Middle School in Riverside Unified School District. CST results in August of 2011 revealed each pilot produced consistent performance gains for targeted students at a levels that place these schools among the top 100 in the state for 9th-grade Algebra proficiency, and at the absolute top compared to demographically similar schools.

The Assessment

California’s end-of-year Algebra 1 standardized assessment, the “Algebra CST”, assesses students on the Algebra standards of Claifornia which are prescribed to be mastered. The exam is administered by the state to each enrolled student at the end of any Algebra course at a school which receives state funding. The exam divides students into five performance bands: “Advanced”, “Proficient”, “Basic”, “Below Basic”, and “Far Below Basic”. Students are considered to have passed the assessment if their score places them in the “Advanced” or “Proficient” performance bands. Normally, among all California’s 9th grade students, around 20% of students pass the exam. In a typical year, about 2% of 9th-graders will score “Advanced”, with an additional 18% scoring “Proficient”. While the scores of pilot schools have increased over the past year, it is worth noting that the overall passing rate on the Algebra CST has also been in the rise in recent years. Since 2007 the percent of California 9th-grade students passing (scoring “Proficient” or “Advanced”) the Algebra CST has trended upward at a rate of about 1% per year, reaching an all-time high of 23% in 2011.

Target Population

The students targeted for intensive support in each pilot were 9th-graders enrolled concurrently in Algebra. Sierra Middle School presents the solitary exception, where target students were 8th-graders taking Algebra. The goal of this intervention was to produce a solution to the intractable and destructive pattern of summative failure among the vast majority of California 9th-grade Algebra students. Consequently, with the exception of Sierra Middle School, the most informative cross-section of data will compare targeted students to other 9th-graders taking the Algebra 1 CST in California. Further insight might also be possible by examining students of similar background either economically, ethnically, or both. An examination of student results from schools in close proximity to the pilot schools could offer a reasonable demographic control, though such an examination would exclude factors like self-selection bias, teacher efficacy, school culture, etc. Since perfect control cannot be accomplished, the results in this report focus on longitudinal data at the pilot schools as well as a simple “apples-to-apples” comparison examining pilot 9th-graders enrolled in Algebra, contrasted with all California 9th-graders enrolled in Algebra. These students represent California’s most urgent academic crisis, as they linger just one year behind grade level, and at the doorway of educational enfranchisement, but they fail at extraordinary rates, with reverberations across their entire academic futures.

Initial Results- 2009

The initial pilot campus for the FlexMath program was LPS Hayward. The initial pilot year was 2009. The pilot followed a year of intensive staff development, which is a mitigating factor worth mentioning, so that background follows. In 2007 LPS Hayward had never seen even a single student achieve a score of “Advanced” on the Algebra CST. That year 13% of LPS Hayward 9th-graders scored “Proficient”, making their total passing rate 13%. Between the 2007 and 2008 CST results, LPS Hayward embarked on an intensive faculty-based intervention which included retention of excellent teachers and retraining focused both on pedagogy and classroom management. The result in 2008 was that LPS Hayward improved to 23% passing , while the California passing rate remained idle at 18% passing. This was the first year LPS had ever bested the state average, and also the first year LPS had students scoring “Advanced”, in that 3% (two total students) achieved this distinction. The jump from 13% in 2007 to 23% in 2008 represented a significant gain for LPS Hayward, but even at that, so depressed was the overall passing rate that intervention remained a top priority. As before, key staff was retained, but the next year’s intervention would be student-based. With a goal of improving the passing rate to 30%, and a few even expressing outside hopes of possibly approaching the 40% range, the FlexMath program was initiated. That year all students enrolled in Algebra were concurrently enrolled in an intervention class with technology as its centerpiece. In August of 2009 California published the CST results of this intervention. That year 25% of LPS Hayward 9th-grade students scored “Advanced”, with another 31% scoring proficient, for an overall passing rate of 56%. The gain from 13% passing in 2007, to 56% passing in 2009, with a full quarter of the population scoring “Advanced”, remained absolutely without precedent in this data segment, until it was duplicated in 2011 by new pilot schools. In 2009, among 9th-grade Algebra students, 79 other California high schools outperformed LPS Hayward, but none shared similar demographic characteristics, and none made the kind of achievement gains this passing rate represents. Among students scoring “Advanced”, only 20 other high schools in the state outpaced the 25% mark achieved by the students of LPS Hayward. Regarding demographic control, in this same year (2009) a comprehensive high school immediately across the street, drawing from and serving an identical student population, achieved a 3% Algebra passing rate.

Secondary Results- 2010

During the 2009-2010 academic year no further pilot studies were initiated. This time was spent developing the FlexMath program into a more complete curriculum appropriate for scaling to a larger community of users. LPS Hayward continued using the FlexMath program as development progressed, though this year without he benefit of experience teachers. A formal study might have sufficient control to conclude that the gains from the 2008 faculty-based intervention could be now subtracted from the overall Algebra 2010 CST results as a result of staff turnover. This examination lacks any control over such factors. In 2010 the LPS Hayward passing rate on the Algebra CST increased slightly to 58%. While the passing rate that year did notch up by 2%, the rate of students scoring “Advanced” fell to 20%.

Results of Expanded Pilots- 2011

In 2011 LPS Hayward was joined in the FlexMath pilot by a sister school in Richmond, CA: Leadership Public School Richmond. Another Hayward charter high school, Impact Academy of Arts and Technology, also elected to pilot the FlexMath program in 2011. Finally, Riverside Unified School District asked teachers from Sierra Middle School to informally incorporate the FlexMath program into their instruction. All four schools saw noteworthy increases in their Algebra passing rate. LPS Richmond saw the greatest single-year gains at a 152% improvement from 2010 to 2011. In 2010 LPS Richmond had a passing rate of 29%, with 3% of those students scoring “Advanced”. The challenging environment in which this campus resides made this rate already among the best compared to similar schools. But in 2011 the LPS Richmond passing rate for 9th-grade Algebra students increased to 73% with a full 30% of students scoring “Advanced”. Compared to all schools in California, this passing rate made LPS Richmond 10th-best in the state (out of more than 2500 high school). Despit another year of all new teachers, LPS Hayward saw their passing rate increase again from 58% in 2010 to 68% in 2011. Compared to all schools in California, this passing rate made LPS Hayward 20th-best in the state. This latest gain brings their total increase since the beginning of the FlexMath program to an overall gain of plus 423%- from 13% in 2007 to 68% in 2011. Impact Academy of Arts and Technology (a member of the Envision charter network) had the smallest single year gain of any pilot school at 89%. The passing rate at Impact Academy increased from 28% in 2010 to 53% in 2011. The number of students at this campus scoring “Advanced” increased nine-fold over the previous year. Sierra Middle School in the Riverside Unified School Distrct presents a slightly different picture, since their target population was 8th-graders. 7th- and 8th-graders taking Algebra tend to pass STAR testing at significantly higher rates than 9th-graders, possibly because those students are at or above grade level. If we exclude the 7th-graders from the data (97% of whom passed the exam- up from 88% the previous year), we are left with a class of 8th-grade students whose passing rate increased 119% over the previous year. At Sierra Middle School, the Algebra passing rate for 8th-graders increased from 31% in 2010 to 68% in 2011.

Utah Open Textbook Project

CK-12 Biology
A study in Utah where teachers used CK-12 to create a custom science textbok found that open textbooks did not negatively impact learning outcomes and schools could save over 50% in costs using CK-12 rather than proprietary material. Learn more from the project website.

Introducing CK-12 Foundation’s version 2.0

CK-12 Foundation version 2.0 which provides the component missing in version 1.0 – a focus around learning. At CK-12, we believe that learning is an individual activity requiring many things – multiple modalities, interactions with other human beings (such as teachers, peers, and parents) as well as collaborations. Hence, in this version of the system we combine student-centric learning with teacher-centric tools and materials to create a dynamic system that can be used by anyone. Our belief is that this will help in reducing “gaps” and provide the ability to fill these gaps.

Users will continue to find high quality, national and international standards aligned content in K-12 Science and Math subjects. As before, that content can be used to create customized books or courses. New to the system are concepts, smaller chunks of content that can be used to learn or review specific topics. The concepts are supported with many associated modalities as well as interactive and automated exercises and assessments allowing for students to see where they are and how they are progressing. Interactive learning objects as well as simulations from entities such as Wolfram will support these concepts. In addition, we will be providing a guiding system allowing students to learn at their own pace with purpose. This navigational system at the same time, will allow for teachers to mentor their students.

Version 2 of CK-12′s system is the next step toward the foundation’s mission to increase the access of high quality educational materials for all.

Read full details about 2.0 
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