For every triumph a teacher faces, there are moments of despair. One such moment came for me at the end of a math final I gave last semester, at the community college where I teach. As students finished their finals I sat at my desk, watching the stack of stapled pages grow. One student lingered, and I looked up to find Susan, a non-traditional student in her late forties, who was finishing her first semester in our community college. Her face was a window into her sadness and disappointment. Attached to her final was a handwritten note that read, “It’s not your fault. I just can’t do math.”
Unfortunately, as I looked over Susan’s final test in this entry-level developmental math course, the prophetic words in her note proved true. It was now my turn for sadness and disappointment. After all, I was her teacher. I was the one who had prepared the lessons, including manipulatives and technology, to help her understand the concepts. Almost every day, when Susan left class, she would thank me for being a great teacher or proclaim that she was finally understanding math. She believed that I was the one who would make all of her x’s and why’s fall into place, and so, when they did not, I knew that it was my failure as much as hers.
Susan was a great student. She was always in class, always had her assignments complete, sat in the front row, asked questions, remained totally engaged in each lesson—and yet she had returned once again to a painful place in education, a place that had stopped her before: her difficulties in mathematics. Maybe it was panic, maybe it was processing. But whatever caused her difficulties on the test, I found myself wondering what her math experiences had been in the classroom when she was younger, from kindergarten through high school. Forty years ago there was no technology in the classroom, and very little research had been done about how our brains learn best. Perhaps the only resources Susan had were other great teachers.
As the red ink—poor result of all my great teaching—stared back at me, it dawned on me that a great teacher sometimes realizes that a great teacher is not enough.
How different Susan’s story might be if she were starting school today. Now, there are so many safety nets in place in education, to catch students who are struggling and to remediate their knowledge gaps before their struggle becomes a battle. Technology alone is a powerful resource, that not only provides students with extra practice and remediation, but also allows students to explore important math concepts on their own. Technology can go home with the student each day, where learning becomes a continuum, not just something you do at school.
According to The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, current research demonstrates that computer assisted instructional (CAI) tutorials “that are well-designed and implemented can have a positive impact on mathematics performance.”
One instance of technology increasing the ability for a student to learn is the program LearnBop. LearnBop’s tutorials provide hints, encouraging students to think for themselves. In my experience, LearnBop has helped students:
Develop a deeper understanding of mathematics.
Develop procedural fluency.
Develop problem-solving skills.
Prevent summer learning loss.
Susan‘s battle was bigger than the great student or the great teacher could handle in one semester. But Susan and I are both going to try again next semester, and we plan to make several changes in our approach, including even better use of technology. My goal is to see a smiling Susan, turning in her final with a note attached that simply says, “I get it.” Nothing pleases a great teacher more.
- Want to incorporate technology in your classroom, but need help getting started? Check out our 5 tips for incorporating technology in the classroom.
- Interested in LearnBop? Click here to try a sample problem, or here to read about the LearnBop model.