Teachers are a funny bunch. We are passionate, driven, and responsive-continually evolving our ideas, lessons, and practices to best reach our ever-changing student body. So why is it that when confronted with new technologies-to help us better meet our students individual needs, do we retreat into the sanctity of our classrooms determined to do it without ‘them’? I was one of those. In fear that buying in to the software world would somehow diminish my creativity, or let’s face it-the ultimate fear, that the technology would replace me. So this summer when speaking with a colleague in my capacity of summer school director, I was enticed to pilot a new software program with our math students. What changed my attitude? What made me willing to give it a try? Our students had not met the standards during the school year using our traditional methods, hence they were spending 6 weeks with us over summer break to try again, so “why not try an alternative?” I thought. And let’s be honest, maybe because it wasn’t my classroom or my subject area, I didn’t feel threatened. I trusted my colleague who spoke highly of them, so I jumped.
The company was LearnBop and they were developing a one-to-one tutorial software for Integrated Algebra. In summer school, Algebra, is always one of our most populated classes so I thought this would be a great group to pilot. They obviously had not benefitted from the traditional instructional model and needed remediation to understand the concepts. The dance began. Our students, our data, their software working together to help our kids and their product. They took our teacher’s selection of problems and created the step-by-step supports, hints, and explanations. This was a breath of fresh air. Not to be ‘sold’ question banks but to have someone ask what the teacher wanted and incorporate what the teacher used, created a sense of partnership typically missing from educational products. LearnBop was unique. They talked with us, they listened, they responded and incorporated our suggestions. They treated our teacher like the content area expert and provided the necessary supports to help them bring their students to the next level, as well as offering user-friendly data to instantly analyze individual student progress allowing adjustments to meet student’s needs. The other piece I was impressed with was the time they took, as we transition to the Common Core Learning Standards, to link each splinter skill to the CCLS and grade level. So as a student progresses through a problem our teacher can not only see that the student got the question ‘wrong’ but also the individual foundational concept(s) they may be missing to successfully complete the challenge and master the skill. I have never been a ‘data person’, overwhelmed by spreadsheets, numbers, and technical jargon but realize that data-driven instruction will one of the essential components in our students’ success as we pursue the CCLS. I’m learning, or coming to it slowly, and surprisingly found myself excited about the data that LearnBop provided. It was easily read in color-coded charts and tables, specific feedback, and targeted information that, even I could see, would lend itself to instant use, evolving lessons in the moment. As I said we are a funny group and it took me moving out of my comfort zone, to really realize the benefits that good, solid, innovative technology can bring to ourselves, our classrooms, and our students.