Using Technology to Teach Math

by Michael Porter
For some students, math can be challenging. Our first grade teachers are incorporating technology into their toolbox to help their students internalize their basic math facts.
Even with the best of teachers, it is sometimes a slow process to grasp increasingly complex math problems. Knowing the basic math facts, however, is a great start to developing a mastery of the subject. Math facts are solutions to simple equations, such as 2+2=4, which should be learned with automaticity rather than computed each time it’s seen. Increased fluency in math facts facilitates working out more complex equations.
Our young learners may start with counting out objects such as small blocks. To develop the concept of addition, for example, a student may count out a group of six blocks, then add two more blocks with the group. The total count is now 8, so 6+2=8. Using manipulatives enables students to “see” math at work and helps them build an understanding of the concept.
To add a technology component to this, last year first grade began using an app on their class iPads called Manipulative of the Week (MOTW) by Brainingcamp. This app provides virtual manipulatives that support the concepts being taught in class. For example, students can drag colored tiles around the screen and place in different groups. Naturally, the students enjoy using the iPads   to do their work. The added benefits are time savings and no misplaced parts. 
However, teachers are cognizant of the amount of screen time a student uses each day, and still provide opportunities to use hands-on materials to build number sense.
“We are mindful of the screen time and ensuring we are not replacing the importance of hands-on experiences with technology too often,” said Kate Krawiec, first grade team lead.
Teachers found that Manipulatives of the Week has many other features such as place value disks, fractions, XY coordinates, and algebra tiles. For this reason, we purchased a whole school license, and the app was loaded on every student iPad in the school, so it is available to all students through 6th grade.
“The possibilities for using MOTW are truly endless,” said Ms. Krawiec. 
Learning their math facts through drill and practice helps the students become fluent. Worksheets are one tool the teachers can use. (Who doesn’t remember these?) To help make things more interesting, first grade is also using an app called XtraMath to give students practice with simple math equations.
“Students complete XtraMath several times each week in class to help build fluency and automaticity of addition and subtraction facts,” said Ms. Krawiec. “These do not replace textbooks and workbooks.  Instead, they are a way to enhance what the students are doing in the classroom.  We aim to use less worksheets and more hands on and engaging activities, especially in math.”
Students seem to enjoy working on the iPads to practice math. The novelty of using an electronic device to make progress in math is more palatable than worksheets. Many students find it makes the work fun!
XtraMath also scaffolds up to higher levels, making it valuable up through 6th grade. JCDS licensed this product for the whole school, and students can log onto it at home as well.
After all of this practice, there is nothing like a little friendly competition to help make the learning fun. Using the app Kahoot, Ms. Sarah Brinson’s first graders are able to play a game on their iPads, where they have to quickly solve addition and subtraction equations. The first correct answers receive points. Students who know their math facts with automaticity are at a distinct advantage and rack up points faster. 
Our teachers’ selective use of technology in instruction goes a long way toward motivating our students to excel in math and other subjects.