Tech Tips From Teachers: Math Apps

Hi and welcome to Tech Tips From Teachers. On this episode, we’ll be looking at mathematics apps. Our guest today is Melissa Kondrick of Pleasanton, California.

Melissa teaches middle school math, holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, and sits on the technology committee for her district. Melissa, thanks so much for joining us. MELISSA KONDRICK: Thanks for having me.

TIM ANDERSON: You’ve been teaching for a couple of years now. During that time, what sort of impact have you seen technology have on the way that students learn? MELISSA KONDRICK: Well the big buzz word these days is Common Core. And it’s something about these different standards that aren’t just preparing students for the classroom, but for everyday life. And technology’s one of those big parts of it.

And you’re going to see in the future, students aren’t going to have textbooks. They’re going to have tablets and laptops that they’re going to be able to get all their content with. And so it’s really important for us because now these standards are more student-centric. Students work with each other and technology’s a way for them to be able to work together, which is really great.

TIM ANDERSON: Nice. And then specifically with math– that’s the subject that you teach– what sort of impact have you seen technology have on the delivery and the consumption of those specific math standards? MELISSA KONDRICK: Technology makes it so much easier, especially for differentiation. I have different students that are on different parts of their math journey. Some are still a little shaky on those fractions, while others are ready to move on to the next step. And the technology allows them to do whatever they need at the pace that they’re comfortable with.

Also we can be able to scaffold by having them get information and feedback immediately, versus before you would go home, you’d come back, you wouldn’t know if you did it right until the next day. And technology helps be able to get that information out sooner. TIM ANDERSON: We’ve synthesized feedback for math teachers, and have identified a few key components for developers to prioritize when developing math apps. It’s important that these apps have content that’s highly scaffolded, that they have offline functionality, and that the content is mapped to the Common Core.

So you mentioned differentiation earlier. So why is scaffolded content something that’s so crucial for an app that’s going to be used in the classroom? MELISSA KONDRICK: Well, even though I only teach sixth graders, they need to know all the content from the previous years. And if students are able to access that in one app without being told, that’s really powerful.

Another thing too is that it gives instant feedback, so that when students are actually doing the different games and stuff in the app, they’re really learning old stuff, but they’re actually also teaching themselves new stuff. And let’s be honest– if you actually get it from a talking character besides a teacher, you’re more likely to be willing to remember it. So it gives students a little bit more of an independence of their learning, and they get to know what they don’t know and be able to make that stronger. TIM ANDERSON: Got it. And then, with offline functionality, why is that something that developers should be keeping top of mind when they’re going through and creating an app? MELISSA KONDRICK: Well we live in a digital age, but not all of our buildings and structures are at the area that we need them to be.

So personally, our Wi-Fi works about 80% of the time. So 20% of the time, I need a plan B. And so having offline capability is super important. Another thing too is that it limits distractions sometimes. Because if students do have access to the internet, they’re going to go online and do all the other things besides the math that they need to be doing.

And the other thing is if they can get it anywhere, anytime, they’re probably going to use it more outside of school than just in school where they have Wi-Fi. TIM ANDERSON: Got it. Makes sense. And then you mentioned Common Core earlier. So from a teacher adoption standpoint, why is it important that this content is mapped back to those Common Core standards?

MELISSA KONDRICK: We take, us teachers, a lot of time trying to create pacing guides and trying to find what’s important to actually be there for our students. We need something that’s going to be efficient and effective in a short amount of time. And so being able to be aligned to the Common Core standards, that right there gets me looking at that app twice as much as something that isn’t. And to be honest, parents really want to be able to know what they can do at home as well. And having at school those standards at home, it’s really powerful for parents to feel comfortable helping their students as much as they can. TIM ANDERSON: Let’s take a look at some exemplar apps for math– Slice Fractions, Desmos, and Matific.

Melissa, what makes Slice Fractions such a great app for the classroom? MELISSA KONDRICK: Oh my gosh, it’s so engaging. Have you seen this? There’s this little mammoth, and he’s just cute as a button. All I want to be able to do is just find a way to get him to the next step. And it teaches students whole and sliced fractions, which is great.

It’s highly scaffolded, so students can feel like they can try the puzzle over and over again and not have fear of failing. Which means that they’re actually going to learn. TIM ANDERSON: Nice. And then what about Desmos?

What makes that something that’s a good fit for the classroom? MELISSA KONDRICK: It’s a great powerful calculator, and it has that offline capability, where students can be able to use it anywhere and any time, which is really great for them– in the classroom when we don’t have Wi-Fi and also at home if they don’t have access. TIM ANDERSON: Nice. And then with Matific. What makes that an app that’s important for other math teachers to consider?

MELISSA KONDRICK: Well, it’s highly aligned with the Common Core standards. You can actually find the standard and work with it, which is really great. It’s developed by early age math experts, so it’s coming from math people, which is really important. And it also goes with some of the different curriculum programs such as enVision Math, Everyday Math, and Go Math, which is actually a textbook that we’re currently using. TIM ANDERSON: Very cool.

So something that could be a huge time saver for teachers, which obviously is going to affect adoption. MELISSA KONDRICK: Yeah and students don’t know they’re learning, because they’re playing a bunch of games. TIM ANDERSON: So to recap, for math apps in the classroom, it’s important the content is highly scaffolded, that the app has offline functionality, and the content is aligned with the Common Core. For more episodes of Tech Tips from Teachers, check out the Google Developers channel on YouTube. Thanks so much for joining us today Melissa.