Summer is the one time when teachers have space and time to reflect on the past year’s teaching practice. Memories flood through my brain with snapshots of daily life with students. It is a time to respond to reflections from the past year and plan or project for next year.
Last summer I was selected as a model technology teacher for my school district. This meant that I was given a laptop cart (containing 35 laptops) for 50% of the week for use in my classroom. What a tremendous opportunity, as at that point, the computer lab was used only for intervention computer programs. Students had no time to develop any technology skills. It was frustrating to say the least! So, I was honored to be chosen and very nervous about what the implications for my teaching would be.
It was a year of trials and triumphs, as the students and I changed our teaching and learning styles. As I stepped away from the front of the room, the situation went from “sage on the stage” to all of us being facilitators of learning. Student ownership for school community exceeded my expectations. The silent ones in the room suddenly thrived confidently and loudly as they gained their voices. As a veteran teacher of 15 years, It has been known to me that student voice is essential for learning because it fosters ownership, motivation, and a growth mindset. The entire year, I observed these elements growing in all students by using technology in a meaningful way.
Students that had just been drifting through the educational system since Kindergarten, slowly gained a sense of themselves as worthy members of a group of professional learners on a mission of meaningful educational pursuits. They smiled more, they mentored others, they shared about their passions and challenges. Their former teachers commented on how previously on campus, these students had been drifting from place to place like little ghosts, but now they were going about their business as confident as tigers, ready for campus challenges. It was remarkable, really.
One specific example is about a group of math students in my intervention math class. These students scored consistently far below grade level on pretty much every math test they had ever taken in school. It was difficult to motivate these students or even identify exactly where the gaps in learning occurred. Sadly, 1/2 of the grade level was in this group every year. I had been teaching the intervention math class every year for the past 10 years. I tried every trick and strategy I could find to help lift these students to a place of higher learning, but every year I felt defeated as all of our effort didn’t seem to have a lasting effect when test time arrived.
With the advent of this new laptop cart every day during math class, I was able to have the students use web-based math programs to fill in the math learning gaps that they had. I tried different game based apps that the students loved, but didn’t seem to effectively transfer the skills learned to general problem solving in math.
I soon discovered Matific, a web-based, common core aligned, k – 6 math program that had a unique way of introducing concepts and building strategies that students generalized when they problem solved. I was able to frontload months in advance 3 concepts that 4th grade students are always challenged by: double-digit multiplication, long division, & fractions/decimals. I began incorporating Matific into math lessons more creatively and interactively to increase use of the strategies for students throughout mentoring, group work, and partnerships.
In the Spring, immediately following the state tests, the students mentioned that the strategies learned on Matific gave them the confidence to engage in problem solving on state tests. That was something I had never heard before. Soon after, the Matific momentum just increased. Student confidence to mentor others increased. Struggling students were able to elaborate on specifically what they didn’t comprehend. Academic vocabulary use increased, raising the level of academic math discussion among student groups.
At this point, the students felt really confident about talking maths. One day, the intervention students mentored more advanced students using graph paper, traditional algorithm and a Matific episode called “Multiplication Algorithm”. This is something they would never have attempted before using Matific. The more advanced students struggled through as the intervention students were able to tutor them and help them achieve eventual understanding. In the end, it changed the attitudes held by both of the sets of students.
Students began sharing their unique way of struggling with concepts that they would have given up on earlier. Learning began to accelerate, resulting in lower performing students surpassing higher performing students in numeration, critical thinking, and problem solving. Using a district benchmark test (STAR Math, Rennaisance Learning), 8 out of 15 of intervention students from my homeroom improved grade equivalency by 6 months or more in a 3 month time span. In prior years, all of these students either remained the same, or the majority decreased in grade equivalency over the same time period.
Scores aside, the biggest take away as a teacher is that the success the students and I experienced from utilizing Matific filled the learning gaps for struggling students and my teaching practice. Math time turned into a place where student discussion using academic vocabulary was initiated by students and accountability raised the level of learning as students pressed each other for reasons and proof. More importantly, It allowed student voice to flourish, something that made last year a memorable reflection of success that will forever change my teaching.