Online math choices
What to look for in an elementary online math program
After a lifetime in teaching, Lorna Jackson knew exactly what she was looking for in an online Math resource for her Grade 2 students in Zimbabwe.
Meeting student needs
After 42 years of teaching I am still building on my experience to refine any learning content to suit the needs of the children in my class. I am currently in Zimbabwe, teaching Grade 2 at Celebration International School. My students are all learning English as their second language and I need to take advantage of every opportunity I can to develop their English skills – for example when teaching Math.
What I am looking for
Online resources are a great help, but I am choosey in what I use. Some platforms seem to be full of scary monsters and violent images, which my colleagues and I not only feel are inappropriate for our primary years students. Animations can be so dramatic and complex, that they end up distracting the children rather than engaging them in any mathematical activity!
Finding a resource which will engage, rather than distract, and focus on helping the students to understand the question, isn’t easy, but well worth the effort as it’s so much better to learn math visually, than working our way through hundreds of boring work sheets! Online activities designed for the early stages of skill development, need to give the students a visual image of the question, maybe giving them clues about the answer, to help them on their way to success. Each corresponding question and illustration should then give gradually fewer clues, as they develop their understanding of how to answer the question themselves.
Tracking individual progress and freeing my time
A well-designed resource will also constantly assess and monitor the children’s progress; supplementing their classroom work. Starting with a few quick activities a really good online resource gauges where each child is in their development, and adapts and assigns the questions accordingly; aligning them to their specific needs.
The beauty of this is two-fold. Firstly, because I know the questions are going to be appropriate for each child’s place on their learning pathway, I can leave them to learn with relative autonomy. Those who are struggling with a particular skill will automatically be assigned more activities with more graphical clues to set them on the path towards mastery.
Not only do most children thrive when they feel they are learning independently and successfully like this, but I am freed up to spend time hearing some of the other children read their English books or work with struggling students.
The other advantage of a good online resource is that while all the children are working on maths activities they aren’t aware of the level that their peers are working at; ensuring that the children don’t know who is slightly behind or ahead.
During lockdown, this way of working gave the class a huge advantage as I was able to use it to supplement the work I was doing with the children remotely. It gave me the comfort of knowing that the children were still learning despite not being in school.
Once back in class, I carried on using the online maths resource for morning procedures and assignment work. I start the day with a whole class maths activity; for example focusing on geometry. The students can then all go off and work on the related activities in the online resource, at their level of understanding.
I now also use our math resource as an early finisher activity: as a bonus. If they complete their work well and early, they can choose what they want to do from a range of activities. They all chose the online maths activities. Historically I remember when my class used to dread maths, now it’s one of the favourite subjects! So much so that I have to limit their online time.
Because my students need to develop their English language skills, the added benefit of our math resource is that the questions and scenarios are all English. The clear animations help them to understand the mathematical terms and questions, so they are not only learning math but are also developing their spoken English. In terms of language, they get to hear the sounds of the mathematical words and scenes set by the question. Maybe Jena is off to the shop to buy various groceries at set costs; all these words spoken by the animated characters, are giving the students real life scenarios for the application of the English language.
And finally . . .
If they wish, parents can also subscribe from home which could be ideal for homework. I’d love them to benefit from the advantage of being able to use our online resources at home, but here in Zimbabwe it can be difficult because of all the power outages that we regularly experience. When we’re in class we have generators, so should we lose power we can carry on working online whereas many children can’t always get on the internet at home.
But perhaps the biggest benefit for our school now we have found our ideal resources, is the cost – or rather the lack of it. Our maths resource, SplashLearn is offered to schools completely free of charge and because of the state of the economy in Zimbabwe, our budget is limited, so this is the icing on the cake!
Lorna Jacksom teaches at Celebration International School in Borrowdale, Harare, Zimbabwe which uses SplashLearn to support its Math and EAL programs.
Images with kind permission from Celebration International School