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West Jordan Journal

High-tech tools improve math learning

Aug 17, 2020 03:31PM ● By Jet Burnham

Copper Hills High students use Chromebooks in core subject classrooms. (Photo courtesy of Susan Nelson.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The transition to distance learning in March was nearly seamless for Copper Hills High School math teachers and students, thanks to department head Susan Nelson.

“She is a fantastic teacher and has been instrumental in our math department and their response to distant learning,” said Assistant Principal Mark Halliday. “Susan’s vision for the math department helped shape the response to distance learning. She had already had her department working on Canvas and MathXL, both of which are online resources to help with math.”

Most CHHS math teachers were already video-recording their lectures. Some were using a flipped classroom format in which students watched the recorded lecture—with the ability to pause and rewind as needed to understand the material—before they came to class.

Instead of teaching to a large group of students who are all at varying levels of understanding, teachers using this format have time to work one-on-one with students and their specific questions, Nelson said.

Nelson has cultivated a math department that embraces technology; teachers use online resources, tablets and screen projectors. In her own classroom, Nelson uses a SmartBoard on which she can write an equation and then, with just a tap of her finger, play a video clip that reinforces the concept and engages her students.

“We're constantly looking for new things to make things better and easier and more efficient for the students themselves so that they can learn the math and reach their best potential,” Nelson said.

The math department will begin this school year with a new online math program that promises to further personalize student learning and streamline effective teaching strategies.

With the program, called Big Ideas, all assignments will be accessed online, with step-by-step instructions and examples.

“It gives students more remediation tools and resources,” said math teacher Joanna Gomez. “It gives them a video to watch right away. It has resources in different languages and materials that they can access to supplement our teaching.”

By using online math programs, feedback is immediate.

“They don’t have to wait to turn in a worksheet and wait for it to be graded,” Gomez said. “This helps us, too, so we know faster what students are missing and we can help them that day in the classroom.”

The program also provides up-to-date data on each student’s progress.

“We can pinpoint exactly where kids are struggling so that we can spend our valuable time helping them where they actually need it,” Nelson said.

The program also makes it easy for teachers to quickly create engaging lectures with video clips and graphics.

“It's just going to make it better for the teacher so we're not wasting so much time in preparation and paperwork, so that we are freed up more to work one-on-one with kids,” Nelson said. “That's what's important—our relationship with kids and our ability to communicate well with them and to spend time with them.”

Even before COVID-19 forced online teaching practices to the forefront, Jordan School District administrators were exploring blended learning options. Blended learning provides students with more control over their time with the flexibility of online learning but also includes time spent in a classroom with a teacher. Blended classes were piloted at Riverton High School last year and are now open to all high school juniors and seniors. 

Nelson believes that while technology and online teaching methods can be helpful to students, they can’t replace teachers. She believes blended learning options provide a balance, unlike the emergency long-distance teaching that took place this spring, which she said was the hardest she’s ever worked in 36 years of teaching. She said it is difficult for teachers to meet student needs when they can’t see them and or interact with them.

“That face to face is priceless,” Nelson said. “I would never want to give that up. The online stuff is awesome, and it really is an amazing tool, but that's all it is—it is a tool. It does not replace that personal interaction where you can truly see what a kid is struggling with. You can see it on their face, and you can make adjustments and help them immediately. You don't get that with distance learning.”