Using Illuminations at Home
Marie Zweirs is a single-parent of two daughters, Kylie (7) and Layla (2), living in San Antonio, where Kylie just graduated from kindergarten. Marie believes that parents play an integral role in the education of their children, sharing the responsibility with teachers, to ensure that learning occurs at home just as it does in the classroom. Although Marie notes that her daughter excelled in all subjects in school this year, she says that Kylie particularly likes problem-solving activities and puzzles. Her daughter recently expressed that she was "tired of the games on the computer" because "they didn't require her to think." Kylie asked her mom to find "new, better, more challenging learning sites" that had "games that weren't so easy and so boring." Her daughters request and voiced interest prompted Marie to come to Illuminations, on a quest to find exactly that - educational resources to maintain Kylie's attention and offer opportunities for her to engage in more critical thinking while at home, especially with the advent of summer vacation.
The first activity from Illuminations that Marie presented to her daughter was the Balancing Act lesson. She printed out the activity sheet and decided to talk through it on paper with Kylie before presenting her with the online applet. Marie was impressed with the way that her daughter compared the shapes not only by describing the larger shape as being equal to some number of the smaller shape but also as describing the smaller shape as equal to some fractional part of the larger shape, the cylinder in this case.
In Marie's debrief of her daughter's experience with the Pan Balance - Shapes applet, she shared that Kylie performs best when assessment of her understanding is based on her solution rather than on her answer, quoting "Kylie gets nervous for tests when she knows that each question will be marked right or wrong." Kylie herself said she'd rather have "a harder test, but where she can explain it." Marie said that she was able to help her daughter reconcile the two kinds of assessments by using the applet to demonstrate that the process is indeed valuable in that it produces a 'right' answer. Interacting with pan balance visuals helped Kylie make sense of the problems and attend to the process of reasoning, but in the end, she still 'guessed the weights' and 'checked' them, just as her teacher might check her answers and mark them right or wrong. Marie concluded by applauding the applet for valuing conceptual understanding rather than memorization of facts and procedures, and was impressed that the challenges could provide instant feedback to Kylie while still encouraging critical thinking skills.