There’s an App for That

Tip of the hat to Scholastic’s Math Hub for pointing to Common Sense Media’s helpful reviews of hundreds of educational apps.  As Math Hub reveals, over 52% of U.S. children have access to a mobile device of some sort (iPads, video iPods, or smartphones) and 29% of parents have reported downloading apps specifically for their children.  Given the size of the market, the availability of educational apps has, predictably, ballooned in size; and there are now literally thousands of apps from which to choose.  The abundance of educational apps is a positive step, but with so much choice parents are bound to be hopelessly confused by such a wide array of possibilities.

Thankfully, Common Sense Media offers detailed reviews for many of the available apps.  The reviews are quite candid and parents will find that Common Sense Media was frank in their assessment of what each app offers – and what they lack.  The reviews not only offer a written description, but also offer the appropriate age range and then rate the games on: educational value, ease of use, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking/smoking/drugs, and privacy/safety.  We applaud Common Sense Media for offering an easy way for parents to wade through a vast catalog of choices. 

It’s critical that student instruction extend beyond the school day.  We’ve documented the effects of shortened school days and summer slide across the socio-economic spectrum.  If students are to experience a lesser degree of learning loss, than it is imperative that parents keep students engaged in instructional activities as often as possible.  Educational apps are one way of doing that.  While many may be of questionable educational value, many others offer quality digital instruction in a fun, familiar setting.  Plus, by providing on-demand, easy access, app developers allow students access through the devices that students prefer.  Ultimately, that’s a good thing – anything that reinforces and supplements basic skills is bound to help foster a love of learning.

Digital Promise: Math for Every Student

Tip of the hat to Scholastic’s Math Hub for posting this piece on the state of technology in math education.  Though many math educators report still relying on a basal textbook, many more are employing a variety of digital resources to help reach struggling math students:

On average, math teachers reported spending more than one full class period per week using digital tools or content, and many spent significantly more time utilizing technology. Specifically, among teachers who report using digital content or tools during more then 26% of class time (high digital use), the highest percentages are remedial math teachers and grades 6-8 math teachers. The most commonly used digital tool is interactive whiteboards. Teachers considered interactive whiteboards to be the most important supplemental material in addition to textbooks. This demand for whiteboards is a change from 2008 when interactive whiteboards were not even part of the survey. Math teachers and educators value the “faster reporting” and “detailed student/class information” generated by computer-based programs, features that traditional textbooks and workbooks cannot provide.

What many math educators have discovered is that moving from whole-class instruction to differentiating for struggling students requires going beyond the textbook to solutions that harness technology to adapt and respond to a student’s learning trajectory.  Technology of that sort can take multiple forms, but some important features include the ability to individualize for a student’s needs, provide supplemental resources, and multiple explanations for math skills and concepts.  As many educators now understand, one size does not fit all when it comes to math instruction; and ensuring that students graduate ready for the mathematical demands of the post-secondary world entails matching student math ability to the level of the lesson. 

At MetaMetrics, we’ve attempted to harness technology to supplement and strengthen student math ability through Math at Home.  Math at Home serves as a portal for matching students to targeted math resources across a variety of mediums.  Because each student has a different preferred learning modality, Math at Home offers online resources, video tutorials, skill practice sites, literature guides, games, and hand’s-on activities – a wide variety of resources to keep students engaged in math activity.  But Math at Home is more than a mere portal.  There are plenty of activity portals widely available.  What distinguishes Math at Home from other student portals is the Quantile Framework.  Math at Home uses the student’s Quantile measure to establish the student’s math level.  The list of available resources differs for each student and is based on their Quantile measure, or math level.  Additionally, Math at Home utilizes a large database of textbooks to match students with resources of their choice based on their current textbook lesson, but at their own math level.  If you haven’t already tried it, be sure to take a look.

Changing the Equation

We’ve written before on Change the Equation, a non-profit, CEO-driven organization dedicated to addressing our innovation problem and committed to driving  “the U.S. to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade”.  Good thing too.  Only 43 percent of U.S. graduates in 2010 were prepared for college work in math.  And Scholastic’s Math Hub reports on a new study from the Gates Foundation and Harris Interactive noting that many students report feeling unprepared for college courses in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) areas.  That’s too bad, because as Math Hub documents, the US will have over 1.2 million jobs in STEM related fields by 2018.

We applaud the recent work of the Obama administration, and organizations like Change the Equation, for their efforts to prepare students for careers in math, science, and technology.  But parents will have to do their part as well.  It’s critical that parents foster an appreciation of math and science in their children.  The effort to keep students engaged in year round learning starts at home.  As Malbert Smith recently wrote:

What we really need is for parents to create an environment at home that supports academic achievement.  To accomplish this shift in parental expectations and involvement, we will need to conduct a comprehensive and concerted campaign of education and support of parents.  Through PTAs, PSAs, teacher conferences, pediatrician visits, community meetings, library sessions, and many other outlets, we need a crisp message for parents on what they can do to promote their child’s achievement.  The critical importance of school attendance, of devoting space and time at the home for homework,  of turning off the TV and reading, and the use of public libraries, to name just a few, all need to be part of the message.

Those are just basic steps, of course.  It’s our hope that schools and districts will do more to increase instructional time and work to keep students engaged in math activity even over the summer months.  Parents will have to do their part as well by attending to their children’s work and ensuring that their children have the opportunity to complete their assignments. 

STEM related occupations are one of the fastest growing career clusters.  For the U.S. to remain competitive, it’s vital that schools and districts bolster their focus in mathematics and science and that students embrace STEM disciplines as the gateway to college and career readiness.

Because Math’s Too Important to Leave at School

Scholastic’s Math Hub has a great new post on the importance of parental involvement in a child’s math education.  In fact, a recent study found that the higher the level of parental involvement, the greater the student’s understanding of cardinal numbers by the time they enter schools. Even more compelling, additional research indicates that a student’s math knowledge at the time they enter school is often a predictor of their math performance through at least fifth grade.   Here are some other findings worth noting on the connection between math performance and the early introduction of mathematics:

  • A child’s knowledge level is highly related to the complexity of early childhood parental instruction.
  • Findings show that children learn to recite the number sequence before they understand the cardinal  meanings of the number words.
  • Parents who talked more about number with their toddlers had children with a better grasp of the cardinal meaning of numbers at 46 months.
  • Researchers found a correlation between cardinal number knowledge at 46 months and performance on vocabulary comprehension task at 54 months.
  • Number talk that references present objects was more predictive of children’s later number knowledge, especially when talking about large sets.
  • We’ve written much on the importance of keeping students engaged in learning year round, particularly in mathematics where the pernicious effects of summer learning loss are felt across the socioeconomic spectrum.  But this recent research points to an equally important lesson on the importance of introducing students to math at an early age.

    Our own contribution to facilitating parental involvement in mathematics is our own online tool, Math at Home.  Math at Home allows students to locate targeted math resources to help review and supplement current or past lessons.  Because access is 24/7, students have access to math lessons at their own math ability level year round.  Though many of the lessons and activities are targeted toward K-12 students, a number of the resources can be used with pre-K students to introduce them to numbers and basic mathematical concepts. 

    With more studies showing the importance of pre-K math education, it’s our hope that more parents will begin introducing students to math conceps at an even earlier age.

    Keeping Math Fresh…All Summer Long

    Summer is just a few weeks away and, for many students, an extended break offers an academic hiatus – a pause from the rigors of academic life.  Unfortunately, summer break also means that many students experience a significant amount of learning loss.  And that loss adds up.  Over the years, twelve contiguous summers of learning loss translates into a significant gap between where many students end up and where students should be to be prepared for life after high school.   Which is why many educators encourage parents and students to stay engaged over the summer break. 

    Hat’s off to Jennifer Chintala over at Math Hub for recommending ways for students to stay engaged with math activities over the extended break:

    While most parents do not want to subject their kids to hour after hour of math drills during their break, many do want their students to continue to practice their skills throughout the summer months. We all know that math is all around us, but parents often have to make math more explicit to ensure their students recognize how they use math outside the classroom. Depending on the student’s level, parents can play counting games with kids, look for shapes in nature, or help children work with money during a vacation.

    Here at MetaMetrics we share the concern that students fail to stay engaged over the summer months, especially in math.  Which is why we’ve developed Math at HomeMath at Home is a free tool and provides access to fun and engaging resources – like websites, worksheets, and videos – that support textbook lessons that students have studied throughout the school year.  Best of all, Math at Home helps students practice specific math skills and concepts that are targeted to their individual level.  Students and teachers can even build customized lists of materials and activities.

    If you haven’t yet seen Math at Home, we encourage you to check it out and take advantage of this valuable free resource for keeping students engaged all year long.

    Planning Math Lessons with the Quantile Teacher Assistant

    Scholastic’s Math Hub has posted a thorough entry on our own Quantile Teacher Assistant (QTA) utility.  QTA allows math educators to differentiate math instruction by quickly identifying prerequisite skills for each state mathematics standard.  Furthermore, once identified, QTA helps math educators locate free resources that have been calibrated to that particular skill level – allowing a targeted match between a math skill or concept and the ability level of the math student.

    If you haven’t used the Quantile Teacher Assistant yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.

    Differentiating Math Instruction

    Scholastic’s Math Hub has a great post on using the Quantile Framework to differentiate math instruction.  Utilizing the Quantile Framework allows teachers to identify prerequisite math skills that students may need in order to be successful with a new math skill or concept and to then target students at the appropriate level:

    The Quantile Framework measures student mathematical ability, the curriculum and teaching materials on the same developmental scale. Quantile measures help teachers determine which skills and concepts a student is ready to learn and those that will require more instruction. Educators can then use this information to better focus instruction to incorporate the necessary prerequisite skills that may be missing and accurately forecast understanding.

    Math Hub does a nice job of summarizing the purpose of the benefits of the Quantile Framework.  Take a look.

    MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.