For a lot of us, math can be scary. When we think of math we think of red marks on exam pages, formulas we tried to memorize only to forget mid-test, and the overwhelming sense that we just don’t understand. One of my first memories of math is standing at a chalkboard in third grade trying to do long division. Everything we had studied in class flew out of my mind as I stood there in front of the class. My legs began to shake. I drew a line on the board, and then dropped the chalk and walked back to my seat, not even trying to provide an explanation. It was like a bad dream, but it had really happened, and I couldn’t shake the memory for many years.
Experiences like this, where our mind goes blank, can make us decide to give up on math.
But learning math is actually much more clear-cut than learning other subjects. In math learning, when we talk about abilities we are talking about concrete skills. Acquiring skills in math can be compared to acquiring skills in a sport. There’s no ambiguity in whether someone is good at free throws or not—just look at that person’s stats. In the same way, math abilities can be measured and cut down to component skill sets that can be tackled head-on.
In a recent article in the New York Times entitled “In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than ABC,” a teacher named Scott Shirley underlines this point: “Math is really culturally neutral in so many ways.” Math does not require a certain background or set of experiences to be understood.
The point is that, unlike other subjects, math can be practiced. It can be drilled. No one expects to walk onto a basketball court and starting hitting three-pointers their first day. That would be crazy, right? In the same way, we shouldn’t expect our children to be good at math if we aren’t emphasizing practice.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways a student can practice these days. Blended learning programs, which emphasize a blend between automated tutoring sessions and in-person work, have begun to change how we can approach math learning in a fundamental way. Like an X-ray, a good diagnostic provided by an automated online program can reveal the exact concepts and skills that a student needs to work on in order to make progress.
Math can be hard, but the path to improving and helping our children improve is not mysterious. Automated tutoring programs, such as LearnBop, can provide students with the practice they need in order to be confident in class today, and prepared for the huge growth of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) jobs tomorrow.
Where most diagnostics just reveal knowledge gaps in the subject currently covered, LearnBop reveals all of a student's knowlege gaps. Taking the basketball metaphor again, you couldn't be expected to study shooting if someone hadn't first shown you how to hold the ball, and which hand should guide the ball, or which hand should push it off. In the same way, LearnBop's diagnostic allows teachers and parents to understand all of the skills and concepts that a student needs to work on, so students can address them through practice, and move forward with confidence.