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Technology helps fifth and sixth graders with math problems

About 45 future teachers at Iowa State University are using technology to help fifth and sixth graders at Nevada Middle School better understand math concepts that give them difficulty.

Students in Christa Jackson’s CI 523 Teaching Mathematics to Struggling Elementary Learners class and Mollie Appelgate’s CI 448 Teaching Children Mathematics class this semester developed modules — or online tutorial videos — to encourage student collaboration and increase conceptual understanding of mathematics ideas.

These videos will offer our students a selection of alternative problem-solving strategies on a variety of math topics,” said Kate Wieczorek, a sixth-grade math teacher at Nevada Middle School.

Self-paced teaching using technology

The new partnership comes just as Wieczorek and Nevada Middle School teachers Allison Ingham and Kathy McCaulley are designing and implementing self-paced and blended mathematics teaching approaches using one-to-one Chromebook technology.  technology-helps-fifth-and-sixth-graders-content

“Since many schools are going one-to-one and using self-paced instruction, the modules the Iowa State students create are designed to incorporate technology so that the students (fifth and sixth graders) are able to complete it without teacher intervention,” said Jackson, an assistant professor in the School of Education.

Jackson said the modules focus on teaching a mathematical concept so that students develop conceptual understanding and mathematical reasoning, incorporate multiple means of representations, encourage collaboration, and incorporate at least one instructional support strategy for students who struggle in mathematics.

“The teachers provided fifth and sixth grade standards from the Iowa Core that their students struggled with and/or had difficulties understanding,” Jackson said. “The mathematical content focused on the greatest common factor; least common multiple; fractions; converting measurement units; addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division of decimals; and negative numbers.”

Developing a relationship

The Iowa State and Nevada Middle School students came together today for a face-to-face meeting so the future teachers could implement the online lesson they designed for the younger students.

Aaron Hauser, an Iowa State jtechnology-helps-fifth-and-sixth-graders-content3unior in elementary education from Chicago, worked with fifth graders Allison Kruzich and Stephanie Lopez on fractions. The module put the math concepts into word problems.

“We did a whole bunch of visualizations, which were like diagrams that we made into pizzas, or long sticks they made into candy bars,” he said. “We would show that by dividing them up into different amounts, you could do the same with the other one and make an equivalent denominator.”

The lesson encouraged students to collaborate with one another to share their ideas. Hauser said as a future teacher, he’s already seen proof of how helpful technology can be in students’ learning — whether it’s using a laptop or an interactive white board that connects to a computer.

“You see first graders who wouldn’t be able to sit still just love looking at this thing,” Hauser said of the interactive white board. “They like it a lot. It’s something different than listening to just the teacher talk. It’s having them guide you with it, but they could also do some things on their own.”  technology-helps-fifth-and-sixth-graders-content2

To prepare for the day, the Iowa State and Nevada Middle School students became mathematics “pen pals,” getting to know one another by exchanging two sets of handwritten letters. It was an early opportunity for the future teachers, who have not yet completed their student teaching, to form a relationship with students.

“Within the letter, the students included information about themselves: hobbies, favorite color, and why they want to be a teacher,” Jackson said. “They were also encouraged to ask the Nevada students questions about themselves and their lives such as favorite things — sports, subject, color; what they like to do on the weekends, what they like to do with their friends, etc. My students were informed that they want to find out more information about the student — who they are as a whole child.”

Following the exchange, the Iowa State students incorporated the middle school students’ interests and hobbies into the creation of the module.

Collaboration holds future potential

The new online tutorial videos have the potential of being used both at Nevada Middle School, and by the Iowa State students’ future classrooms. Jackson said the methods used to help students better understand math concepts could be extended to other subjects with a few modifications.technology-helps-fifth-and-sixth-graders-content4

Both groups said they found the relationship to be mutually beneficial.

“This growing collaboration has been a wonderful example of a K-12 district-university partnership that directly impacts our students’ mathematics achievement and technology skills development here at Nevada, our professional development as teachers, as well as the pre-service teachers’ growth at ISU,” Wieczorek said.

“It has been inspiring for our students to get to know the undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers. The Iowa State University mentors are true models for our students."