H.A. Snow School Uses LocoMotive Lab’s Todo Math and iPads to Support Self-Paced Learning & Build Student Confidence

April 29, 2014

H.A. Snow Elementary School is one of eight elementary schools in the Newark California Unified School District. Students range from new kindergartners to 6th graders preparing to transition to junior high. The school provides California Standards-based instruction in all the academic areas including language arts, mathematics, sciences, social science and physical education. The school provides instruction to a diverse ethnic population of students and families, and provides specialized services to English learners, and students with disabilities.

Ms. Brandi Wecks has been teaching kindergarten at Snow for six years. Her current class is composed about equally of 25 boys and girls. Her students are primarily English-speaking, but about half of them have come from homes where English is not the first language. About two-thirds of her students attended preschool before coming to Snow. Two students with special needs have documented IEPs (individualized education program), primarily for speech and language.

New Technology Supports New Teaching Methods

Wecks first introduced iPads and LocoMotive Lab’s Todo math application to her class in fall 2013. Prior to the introduction of this new technology, her teaching was based on a text and worksheet approach. Now she’s focusing on a small group/workshop model. In this approach, the students have mini-lesson time with her, and then work independently. This approach, she says, gives her time to work with kids who might need either more challenging work or some extras help on a certain concept or skill.

“We start with a lesson altogether and then children break off into what, I call ‘centers,’ where they’re assigned to a related task of some kind.”

In one of those centers, four students are given the opportunity to engage in self-paced learning using the Todo Math application on iPads. Other center activities include games, activities, and puzzles. All of the center activities are related to the topic she’s teaching that day.

The Big Challenge: On Beyond Ten

Wecks says that the main challenge her kindergarten students face is understanding how much a number means. This can be especially difficult for students this age once they get past finger-counting up to 10.

“Many students have a difficult time understanding the idea of groups of 10, so that’s where I’m really focusing my attention right now. I’m trying to help them build a concept of numbers rather than just memorizing what the representation of a number might look like.”

Wecks communicates this concept by using different kinds of visual representations, including counting, finger-counting, manipulatives, and various kinds of toys or small counter. Todo Math, she says, provides another—and highly effective—form of visual aid.

Introducing New Technology

The Todo Math application is designed to help students develop foundational math skills. It begins by making sure the students understand how the application works.

Wecks introduces students to the iPad by first using it with a document camera. In that way, her students can watch her use the application, and then model their behavior after hers. She uses this same approach as she introduces new math topics.

“Just recently, we started working on subtraction. I took out the iPad and we went through the Todo Math application as a group so I could show them how to use the Todo Math subtraction tools to take numbers apart, instead of putting them together as we had been doing earlier with app’s addition tools.”

A World of Benefits: To Students and Teachers Alike

No single piece of technology is a panacea. It must be implemented by teachers who clearly understand –and experience—the benefits the technology brings not just to students, but to the teacher her- or himself. In other words, schools cannot simply bring new technology into the classroom and expect the technology itself to make a difference in a child’s education. The technology must be fully embraced by the teachers and the administration. Only then can the technology’s full benefits be realized. The following are the benefits Wecks says she and her students have enjoyed by using Todo Math:

  1. Increase Teacher Efficiency: Wecks says that without Todo Math, her goal of providing more small-group instruction would be much harder to attain. As she says,

    “if I have five kindergartners working at my table with me, that means 20 more students have to be busy on their own.”

    “[Todo Math] really gives them something that is highly engaging and independent, and my students enjoy being independent rather than needing the teacher to guide them through every element of an activity.”
  2. Encourage Self-Paced Learning: It has become axiomatic that students learn best when they can learn at their own rate. Wecks says that Todo Math is specifically designed to accommodate the learning levels and styles of each student.

    “They very quickly became aware of the different levels and started choosing the hardest thing they could. I helped them understand that a good fit for them might be different than the kids next to them. Because Todo Math has different levels of instruction, the kids can work on what’s a good fit for them. They get really excited when they finish a whole level and can try the next one. They really feed off of that positive encouragement and the feeling they’ve made a big difference in their own learning.”

    Wecks says that her students who are “fast finishers” can challenge themselves by moving from kindergarten-level games to those meant for first and second graders. Those who are struggling with basic skills can go back and repeat the same activities. She notes that since the games are designed by experienced game designers, they are able to hold students’ attention even as the student repeats the same lessons over and over again.
  3. Close the Gap Between the Classroom and the Rest of the World: Many students live in a world permeated by smart phones and tablet pcs. This constant interaction with technology has, for many of them, become the norm. When they enter a classroom that doesn’t use any of this technology, students can get bored and feel like the work they do is out of date or irrelevant. By providing students with a learning tool that uses the same kinds of technology they use at home, Todo Math keeps kids engaged in the learning process.

  4. Through Correction, Help Students Learn: Unlike printed worksheets or activities, Todo Math corrects students’ work in real time. If the student provides an answer that is correct, the application will correct them or show them where they have made a mistake so the student won’t continue to make the same mistake again. And it does this in a supportive, gentle way to make learning a positive experience.

    “For instance, if I were giving them just a manipulative and a paper mat to work on, they might add the apples up to make 13. But they might have miscounted and actually have 14. Without being corrected, they’ll continue to add one more to a wrong number, and get them all wrong. But Todo Math will stop and tell them, “Oops, you’ve made a mistake,” then help them self-correct and continue independently and correctly without the teacher having to check all of their work.”

Sounds Great. But are Kids Actually Learning?

Some parents and teachers have expressed concern that iPad applications—in fact, many kinds of technology—are really nothing more than sophisticated babysitters that simply grab kids’ attention without providing any real learning.

Wecks is very aware of this concern and so conducts individual assessments with every student on every topic that she’s scoring or grading. Her school does grading three times a year, but Wecks is constantly assessing her class. She works with the kids to see who’s up to speed on the current topic and who might need some extra work—or something a little more challenging. She can then adjust their work for the next week. She gives the examples of two students, one with an IEP primarily for speech issues, and one student who entered kindergarten at an advanced level.

The IEP student, she says, really wants independence.

“He doesn’t want someone sitting with him the whole time; he wants to do the things the other kids are doing. So when he gets a chance to use the iPad and do the Todo Math app during our Math Centers time, he’s excited and very engaged. He loves to bring the iPad and show me how much he’s done and how he’s progressed.”

At the same time, she says, Todo Math helps accelerated learners continue to move at their own speed.

“These kids are going to be really solid in first grade. They’ve got Math Facts memorized. They’re able to solve equations just by looking at the numbers, which is pretty advanced for a kindergartner. I’m not a big fan of just plugging kids in and letting them learn independently. But Todo Math gave me the opportunity to give those kids a push; give them a way to practice and feel like they were being challenged as well.”

From Success Comes Confidence

Wecks says she’s very excited about making new reasoning and higher-order thinking skills a part of the day-to-day skills that she’s teaching. She want her kids to be able to think through word problems and to pose things as a question and to solve them.

“One of the things you’ll hear me say in my classroom a lot is, ‘Solve a problem.’ If a student is having a problem on the playground or with other students, I want her or him to use the skills and the thinking they acquire in math to solve these other problems. Todo Math gives me and my students the support we need to reach that goal.”

By letting students challenge themselves, and then get the corrections they need to succeed, Todo Math helps her students build confidence—no matter what level they’re at. Yes, their confidence has to do specifically with math skills. But Wecks herself is confident that the benefits will be far broader.