09/01/2014  |  David Joo

Across the United States, school districts are spending large sums of money purchasing hardware such as tablets, laptops and desktop computers. Although hardware is an important component to the positive evolution of education, it is critical that schools and districts carefully determine which software applications to integrate with the hardware to maximize student achievement. The strategic benefit that certain software applications provide is the facilitation of a personalized approach to math education.

According to the study by Wang and Woodsworth, an adaptive, personalized platform for mathematics instruction can lead to improved student learning. The proper combination of hardware and software applications can foster a personalized approach that increases student engagement and retention, and improves learning outcomes.

Math teachers face a constant barrage of students with varying skill levels and individual gaps in learning that make personalizing math instruction simultaneously impossible, and imperative. Technology significantly expands a teacher’s ability to address these challenges and succeed in personalizing education. The discussion that follows provides practical technology implementation ideas to address three common challenges that teachers face in trying to personalize learning in their math classrooms.

Challenge One

One of the most common challenges math teachers face is having a classroom full of students with varying levels of comprehension.

Solution A: Teachers can use math technology to split their students into groups and provide smaller group instruction. One way to accomplish this is to split the class into two groups. One group works with the teacher receiving direct instruction, performing project-based learning, or participating in other teacher-facilitated activities, while the other half of the class is working on hardware in the classroom. Students working on these devices, along with the integrated software solutions, are then able to self-pace. Those that need to view instructional videos multiple times or work more slowly through a problem can do so, while others who are ready to move on can proceed without restriction. If access to technology is limited, students can also strategically pair up to work through the lessons together.

Danielle Kostevich of DCP Alum Rock in San Jose, California uses her math technology program to do just that. Ms. Kostevich splits her class into two groups with one on the computers with headphones and the other with her. This set-up allows her to effectively reduce the student-to-teacher ratio by half, which means more personalized attention to each student. The program itself provides data to Ms. Kostevich so she knows how her students are doing on the different skills even though she is not able to watch them solve the problems herself.

Alternatively, math software can also be used to address the needs of even smaller groups of students. In this scenario, teachers can have an entire class working on the program at the same time. Using the real-time formative assessment data generated by the software, teachers can pull students for small group instruction and review in 10 to 15 minute increments.

Solution B: In any class there are always students who finish their work earlier than others. Creating or finding meaningful, rigorous and supported “done early” work is always a challenge. If there is technology access in the classroom, the math program can serve the role of the high quality
“done early” work these students need to stay challenged.

In the Honors Math classroom of Rosaline Williams at Castle Dome Middle School in Yuma, Ariz., technology makes it possible for her to easily meet the personalized needs of students who are ready to move on to new material. Students work on particular lessons within their computer program each day for 15 to 20 minutes at the end of the class period. Although Ms. Williams is there to provide support and answer questions, the main goal of this time is to allow students to develop independent learning and note-taking skills. The cloud-based math program includes instructional videos students can watch to learn the content and lots of practice questions where they can practice what they learned.

Challenge Two

Another common challenge facing teachers, especially given the pressures of high stakes testing and large class sizes, is keeping track of each student’s areas for growth. Once again, when leveraged appropriately, math technology can support targeted and personalized instruction by enhancing a teacher’s ability to keep track of student achievement data.

Solution A: With so many students, the data collection process can be cumbersome and time-consuming, especially because it requires too much energy to be put towards collection, leaving little time for analysis and data-driven planning. In order to lessen the burden on the teacher, technology programs can be useful for collecting formative assessment data, in real time, while students work. There is no need to interrupt the flow of the classroom work while teachers can save countless hours.

Paul Payne of Los Angeles River School in Los Angeles, Calif. chose to use education technology as a supplement to his concept-driven curriculum. Mr. Payne conducts his lessons with his students one day and then has them further practice the skill on the computer the next. The program Mr. Payne uses collects and reports data as the students are working, which allows him to pull students for intervention and re-teaching right away. The data also allows him to see when a student is able to move ahead. Leveraging the benefits of technology, Mr. Payne is able to guide student learning by simply assigning a new lesson or activity within the online curriculum with a few clicks of his mouse.

Solution B: In addition to providing real time data, math technology programs can be used to monitor student progress over the course of the school year. Data stored and organized in the program will remain accessible for teachers long after the lesson has ended. This is very useful when it comes to targeting state test preparation activities. Using the stored data teachers can assign students program-based lessons that focus on their areas of need.

Challenge Three

The final challenge we are going to explore is absent students and teachers. When a student is absent it is very difficult to find the time to catch them up on the material they have missed. Leveraging math education technology in this instance is ideal.

Solution A: Many technology programs are web-based, which allow students the ability to access their content from anywhere as long as they have Internet access. For students who have access at home, teachers can assign the missed materials for them to cover before returning to school. For those who do not have computer access at home, teachers can have students complete the material during lunch, study hall, or before or after school.

Solution B: It is very difficult to create effective and easy-to-follow substitute plans. Rather than just hoping everything turns out all right, teachers can assign lessons in an online curriculum for when they are absent. Given their familiarity with the program, students will automatically know what to do and teachers will have access to all of the data they need in order to know what their students did and did not understand during the lesson.

These examples represent just the beginning of how technology can be leveraged to personalize learning. Successful use of technology in any math classroom must be predicated upon the effective integration of hardware and software solutions. The most important elements to this integration are teacher buy-in and training, a powerful and accurate adaptive software program, and a clear technology roll-out plan. It is important for teachers to have the opportunity to explore various adaptive programs on the market to ensure solid implementation and thereby maximize the technology investment.

David Joo is currently the Co-CEO and a Co-Founder of KnowRe, an online adaptive learning software program for secondary mathematics.
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