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Technology Tools for Success

posted Nov 18, 2017, 12:17 PM by Shayla   [ updated Dec 2, 2017, 1:59 PM ]
The internet is filled with resources for both students and teachers. While this is a great advancement in education, it can also be a bit daunting. Having students spend their time site-hopping takes time away from quality studying and deeper comprehension. 

However, we must also consider the type of resource that best fits the situation. Is the student looking for a refresher on what their instructor covered in order to complete homework or gain a better understanding of the topic? Are they looking for how to solve a specific type of problem that maybe wasn't covered as in-depth as they needed in class? Or are they searching for additional practice to get a firm grasp on a topic? Below we will look at resources for each of these situations plus a few more.

1. Online Calculators
While calculators have become a powerful tool. I do not recommend them for struggling students. This is because getting the "answer" is not the primary goal in mathematics instruction. This may seem contradictory. One of the reasons I enjoy math so much is because there is a set answer that is correct verses subjects like English that are more open to interpretation. However, in mathematics instruction our goal is to provide students with the tools and knowledge they need to solve not only higher level classroom problems, but applications in the real-world. Consider the following example:

A teacher asks their students to solve 3x+16=64 for the variable x. The student uses an online equation solver to find x=16.

Learning how to manipulate this equation is essential for subsequent topics. But, if a student goes onto an online mathematics calculator website they will have found the correct answer, without gaining any insight into the process. Then, when faced with a real world problem they are unable to re-create the above equation into a form that can be entered into such an application. For instance:

A homework problem asks, "Mary wants to make sure she drinks 64 ounces of water a day. She normally drinks 16 ounces or 1 bottle of water after her soccer practice. How much water should she drink at each meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner) to meet her goal?"

For this problem, we would have the same equation. However, without the skills and knowledge to set it up, an online calculator would be useless. Thus, I recommend the use of this resource for checking or verifying work already completed. This can be a good gauge of your understanding of the material and can help you get back on the right track if you find your answer to be incorrect.

I prefer Symbolab. This website offers a multitude of resources for students including a step-by-step calculator. Seeing the actual steps, rather than just the answer is a valuable tool to understanding the method of solution. In addition, the site offers solutions to advanced mathematics questions including integration and differentiation making it a site that one can use for almost any math problem, if able to set it up correctly. They also have a practice section where students can work on problems and quiz themselves in a variety of mathematics topics.

This brings us to our next topic:

2. Additional Practice
Completing practice problems outside of homework or assigned work can be a valuable tool for math students. Often teachers only have time to go over one or two examples in class and try to give the student homework questions that mirror this format. However, math problems come in all shapes and sizes. One of the most important mathematical skills is the ability to manipulate an equation into a form you are familiar with. This will also aid in understanding subsequent, more difficult problems and how they relate to what we have previously learned.

There are a ton of great websites that allow for this. As a homeschool teacher, I use these a lot because purchasing materials can get expensive. Also, I find that children and students of all ages find additional enjoyment completing work in a new manner. Incorporating technology into a mathematical concept is a great way to increase interest.

I use Tenmarks and Matific. Tenmarks offers a variety of mathematical topics up to Algebra and Geometry. In addition, there are helpful videos if you are stuck on a topic as well as hints and the ability to try again. It also uses games and rewards to add elements of gamification (read more about gamification and mathematics here) making it fun and rewarding to complete additional practice. Matific has a service charge, however it is great particularly for younger children. With videos, games and fun assignments with rewards, it creates a safe environments for kids to play and learn. Below is a screenshot for an example of a second grade Matific game.

3. Topic Refresher
Sometimes the limited class time is not enough for a student to fully comprehend a subject. While individual tutoring can be great for this (sign up for a consultation today here!), there are also a plethora of online resources that may help to clarify an idea for a student that just needs to hear it again.

One great place for this is YouTube. However, there are millions of videos and finding the right one can be a challenge. I have begun creating mathematics videos which you can find here. I am constantly adding and perfecting content. If you have a topic that you would like to see, make a recommendation here. Below is one of my YouTube videos on how to solve equations that involve absolute value.

Another great place to look is Khan Academy. These videos are sure to be well developed, contain reliable information and offer a great insight to the topic of your choice. However, there are limitations. I have often found that when looking for an answer to a particular question even after watching a full video I am still unsure. This is why having an individual tutor can be such a great asset. You can get an answer to your specific questions with confidence that afterwards you will have a much greater understanding.   

Lastly, I enjoy BrainPop. However, while they have some free videos, in order to access the full content a subscription is required. However, their animated videos are fun to watch and well produced able to easily capture a students attention.

4. What do I do?
This question is probably the biggest issue in math. Students see a problem and just don't know where to start. While practice makes perfect, students must first understand the steps to solution before they can practice them to gain full understanding. As Bloom's revised technology states, we wish to take students through the following levels of understanding (I have used alternate terminology that applies best to mathematics):
  1. Memorize (formulas, methods, steps)
  2. Translate (change everyday English into Mathematics)
  3. Solve (understand how to find the "answer" being asked)
  4. Examine (harder problems that are not as typical)
  5. Justify the path to solution
  6. Develop real world connections

We often see the first 3 steps in classrooms and homework assignments. However, for a student to really master and understand a subject, preparing them for subsequent mathematics topics and course, they must also work through the second half of the taxonomy. Even if they did the first 3 steps in class, they might struggle trying to recreate on the homework. This is where tutoring can play a big part. Having one on one guidance that doesn't tell you how to solve a problem, but steps in when a student gets lost can be a great confidence booster as well as an aide for mastery of the topic.

However, there are some online tools that can be great to nudge this along. Often students get stuck in the second step above, turning English or everyday problems into mathematics. Using manipulatives, such as GeoGebra, can help students to visualize the problem making it easier to solve. MathPlayground is another great tool for younger students (though 6th grade) as it provides games that connect concepts students are more familiar with to new math topics. It also incorporates gamification which is a great tool for success (for more on gamification click here).

I would also like to add, that for educators, I would recommend that if possible, assigning students to create a PiktoChart, or creating one on your own as a handout for the class. Infographics are great tools particularly for this problem. Students have different ways of remembering information, and while some or even all may take notes during the class, it is rare they will be able to pick up on all the key information and record it in a productive way. This website offers easy to use format and you can write out each important step for students to quickly reference at home. This does not need to be in place of note taking, as it is an important skill to be developed. But, especially for tricky topics, providing one at the end of the lesson or even having students create their own as an assignment can be a great asset to mastery of a topic. 

Overall, the web is full of great resources to help students excel in mathematics. Finding the right one greatly depends on the issue the student is having and what they wish to accomplish. In addition, with so many resources it is often hard to narrow down. Referrals from educators is often the best choice. Tutoring can be a great tool for all of the above issues and as Logical Learning provides virtual tutoring, we are able to screen share and visit or introduce students to some of these great resources during our sessions (for more on the benefits of virtual tutoring click here). Also, tutoring provides a one-on-one catered plan to ensure you or your student is getting the correct information and focusing on mastery without a lot of wasted time as with activities not catered to the needs of the individual.

I would love to hear from you! What are some of the online resources you love? Have an experience with one of the resources listed you would like to share? What are your thoughts on online resources verses tutoring, is one enough? Or is a combination the best choice? Comment below!

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