Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Math App Makes a Difference for Students Who Fall Behind

on June 3, 2014
Students at Greenbrook Elementary School in Kendall Park, N.J., are catching up in math with the help of a tablet-based app. Photo courtesy of Lori Woods

A math app has helped close the skill gap for New Jersey students who have trouble staying on grade level.

At Greenbrook Elementary School in Kendall Park, N.J., instructional support teachers have been trying different techniques to help students who are trying to catch up to their grade level. Over the last year, they've piloted a math app, called Tabtor, that a local New Jersey company developed, and it's helped bring students nearly on par with their peers in kindergarten through fourth grade.

In one first-grade class, students who used Tabtor scored an average of 8.6 percent on a number sense pre-test compared to their peers' average score of 33.2 percent. That was at the beginning of the school year, and by March, they scored 92.1 percent on a post-test. 

"They think they're playing, but they're not. They're working really hard on Common Core-based activities that are strengthening their number sense like nothing I've ever used before," said Lori Woods, an instructional support teacher for kindergarten through second grade who's been teaching for 21 years. 

Designed for 5- to 12-year-olds, the iPad-based platform takes students on a learning journey where they receive immediate feedback on their math answers. Through the program, students write directly on the tablet, and teachers can write back to them, send audible messages, assign new work and accelerate them, all without touching a piece of paper. 

The app allows teachers to choose what each student will work on and pick between adaptive and linear learning methods. The adaptive learning mode automatically gives students practice on the same skill that they had trouble with on the last exercise, while the linear mode allows teachers to work with the student in between. Students can also click on a short video that explains the concept they're working on.

"Personalization has a place, and that's the only way everyone learns everything in life," said Raj Valli, founder and CEO of Tabtor.

Throughout the classroom, teachers and students hear one sound if they get an answer correct and a different sound if the answer is incorrect. This allows teachers to pinpoint who got an answer wrong and provide additional help if needed.

After the assignment's over, students see a color-coded bar graph of their success, which shows the questions they answered correctly on the first try, second try and the ones they didn't get after trying twice. A field of green shows that they've mastered the skills they were working on. The immediate feedback allows students to analyze their performance and set goals.

"To have kids setting such high goals for themselves and then reaching them, it's the most exciting thing I've see in education in all my years," Woods said.

She started using the app with six students last May, and by summer's end, more than 97 students were using the app with school-issued iPads. The pilot continued this school year, and Woods said she has seen a difference for the students in her math club.

Woods attributed the improved math scores at Greenwood Elementary to three factors:

1. Students receive immediate feedback on whether they got the correct answer and can reflect on why they didn't get it right.

2. Students compete for trophies that the school gives out based on the number of points they receive from completing problems using the app.

3. Students hear an audible sound when they answer a question correctly and enjoy working on technology.

The Greenwood pilot has been so successful that the South Brunswick School District expanded it to Brunswick Acres and Cambridge elementary schools in January.


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Tanya Roscorla

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.

E-mail: troscorla@centerdigitaled.com
Twitter: twitter.com/reportertanya
Google+: Gplus.to/reportertanya

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