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Online Math For Those Kids Who Have Difficulty Learning
Following my experience with my own firstborn, I asked my pediatrician if she would prescribe a “handicap” version of the college algebra course. She told me it’s not advisable because the textbook I took and the software I used were good enough for anyone, even those with cognitive disabilities. “It’s your problem to solve,” she said with conviction.
It’s also probably your problem to solve how to teach it.
Many researchers in the field of computer science believe that learning how to teach that complicated math is a more difficult problem. Not only is it time-consuming (it can take up to an hour to study a brief textbook or program for a few days), it is also difficult for students in general to keep track of what they are learning.
Though our research looked at how to help students with mild to moderate learning challenges, I think many students have trouble with trying to comprehend how to visualize numbers, and so how to tell a table or number from a line chart.
It is also difficult for some students to focus in a learning environment that is often chaotic and crowded. What’s even more difficult is to make complex knowledge understandable and therefore pass the skills on to the next level. Not to mention that some students face a wide range of learning problems in an online environment, and so a classroom-based online learning system may not work for them.
To come up with a solution for the growing need for technology that can help accommodate more than a handful of students, I decided to look to two of the largest online education platforms (BrightBytes and Khan Academy) for guidance on how best to teach math.
Aim for mastery and feel smart
To start, we decided to assess each student’s level of understanding using a series of online questionnaires that asked them to figure out how to solve math problems. For instance, I asked the student, “How many times can you add fractions?” Most students answered “I don’t know” and so we circled “None.” If the student answered “I know” (e.g., “Using two to three molecules will equal three”) and he/she is a novice in this class, most likely it would be best for the teacher to provide self-paced exercises (e.g., working a number tree) to help them build up their confidence in this subject so they can take a number algebra class one day. On the other hand, if a student answered the problem correctly and was a strong student, a skilled instructor would guide them through the exercise and build up their confidence. If both the student and instructor are confident in this type of demonstration, most likely the student will be able to understand the concept and move on.
However, for those who are struggling, my advice is that the instructor should talk to them about an area of the problem that most they have a hard time with and then move them forward in that area.
“There’s plenty of room to learn without ever taking a class,” says danah boyd, an assistant professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “Before they try to teach all aspects of algebra, it’s a good idea to understand the things that are difficult for them so that they can more easily teach the concepts of algebra themselves.”
Likewise, many students find themselves in a jam if they can’t remember the answer or they forgot their class work, so it’s essential that an instructor help students remember these classes by providing clues. Again, a good example would be if the student mentioned “He,” and the instructor could mention “She,” which may be easier for the student. And for those students who are fluent in basic math, it’s easy to teach the conceptual elements of algebra using simple exercises, as opposed to viewing a chart or playing a game, which could take hours.