Review by Galen McQuillen, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016


Innovative combo of live small-group instruction and online math lessons

Subjects & skills
  • Critical Thinking

  • Math
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Teachers say (5 Reviews)

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Pros: Thorough scaffolding and reinforcement of learned skills, great resources for live instruction, and tons of useful data.

Cons: Could use more open-ended multiple-solution problems; practice is light on conceptual reasoning.

Bottom Line: If you're looking for the perfect balance of online lessons and in-person support, at home or in school, look no further.

Zearn is very clear about the intended use case for their program: Students should get in-class time working independently or with one or two partners on digital lessons, then work in small groups with a teacher to "deepen, extend, and remediate" based on detailed reports of student progress. In our experience, it's really best to stick to this plan -- there's not quite enough digital support available to expect kids to learn everything independently, and there's not quite enough content in the digital lessons to give enough practice, enough nuance, and multiple perspectives so critical to mathematical understanding. 

Use the provided instructional materials as a starting point for your small-group instruction, but throw in some additional solution methods or ways of looking at problems, and Zearn will serve your classroom quite well. As a way to get half the class meaningfully engaged while you're working with the other half, this is a sure bet. Think of Zearn almost as a pre-packaged solution to self-paced learning and individual differentiation.

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Zearn is an online math curriculum for grades 1 through 5, with supplemental skills practice activities for kindergartners. Students open up to a dashboard with tasks to be completed, which include a variety of fluency warm-ups that promote general number sense and lesson-specific skills, as well as guided practice with interactive video lessons that feature enthusiastic human teachers and school-age children ("The Zearn Squad"). Students will also find an independent practice and formative assessment activity rolled into one (called the Tower of Power) and a summative exit ticket. 

After students complete online activities, teachers can view copious amounts of data on their progress via a slick dashboard, which provides curriculum resources targeted at each student for use in classroom small-group instruction. Paired with the online lessons, Zearn envisions classrooms where some students work independently at laptops or tablets, while others work with a teacher to get strongly individualized instruction according to their needs and growth. 

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Zearn has two big strengths that set it apart from other elementary digital math curricula. The first is excellent scaffolding: All lessons build from previous knowledge and spiral from accessing learned skills, from modeling new content to guided practice, independent articulation, and demonstrated mastery. This occurs at the micro level and in overall curriculum arcs. For instance, multiplication of two-digit numbers starts with already mastered single digits and adds multiples of ten, offering practice until students demonstrate mastery before adding different values to the units place. Students are almost always locked into their zones of proximal development. 

The second is its reliance on live instruction to provide differentiation. Other programs use sophisticated adaptive learning algorithms to gauge student progress and provide appropriate content; Zearn requires a teacher to do all of this, which builds close teacher-student relationships and allows for much more nuanced individualized education plans. Even the best adaptive software can't capture what students truly need as well as their daily math teacher can. 

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

The online content is engaging, with good scaffolding to keep kids motivated despite a lack of flashy characters, bold graphics, or heavy effects. Best when it's coupled with the recommended small-group live instruction.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Extensive scaffolding drives the experience. Each lesson builds on previous skills, breaks work down into clear steps, and offers chances to go further. For a fairly direct instruction curriculum, it's solid teaching.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The primary support vehicle is you. Thankfully Zearn provides teachers lots of rich data to give students the support they need. Within online lessons, don't expect much help beyond "good job" and "try again."

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Joe R. ,
Juanita Elementary School
Kirkland, WA
How Zearn Changed My Teaching

Zearn has changed the way I teach math because it provides the blended learning experience I was looking for. Students get the fluency and initial practice needed that always took up so much of our class time. Now, I can spend my time planning higher cognitive demand tasks for small group lessons, so that all students get access to high level work. Zearn also provides my students an opportunity to work at their own pace through the lessons. My only wish was that the Zearn/Eureka materials provided more extension work for the learners who need more challenge, such as a collaborative space for team problem solving projects. Overall, I think the Zearn-Eureka combination is an incredibly powerful curriculum that I am confident will serve my students well.

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