Winograd Math Stars
Written by Julie Garbus
The pipe broke just when the students had gotten out the iPads. Water spurted out from under the sink of Winograd K-8’s seventh-grade math classroom like a mini-Niagara. The students goggled for a minute. And then they began working on the ratios app they’d been assigned…yet another concrete example that iPads really do capture students’ attention.
Stephanie Mick, their teacher, had begun class by reviewing word problems involving ratios, standing in front of the class just like in the old days. Then she said, “We have an app that does this. We’ll get some iPads in your hands and play with this app.” She showed students how to find and use the Thinking Blocks Ratios app; This app teaches students how to model and solve math word problems by using online virtual blocks to visualize the problems in a new way. Each student took one of the classroom’s set of iPads and worked individually, gathering in groups around the room to discuss the problems and help each other out.
Sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at Winograd all use iPads during math. Holly Bressler, Winograd’s principal, believes that the hands-on learning the iPad makes possible will increase both student engagement and student understanding. Mick picks apps that present visual versions of manipulatives: items students use to learn mathematical or other concepts in a hands-on, experiencing way. “Manipulatives take something abstract such as ratios and make it concrete,” Bressler explained. Students “grab” the virtual blocks, move them around with their fingers, break them up. Besides being tactile, the app teaches kids visually; as Bressler said, “When you have a picture in your brain, you can remember it and do it again.” Seventh grader Delaney agreed. “I love the iPad,” she said. “It’s helped me understand everything. I’m a visual learner. I can listen, but I won’t get the concepts.” Mick added, “I can stand up here all day talking, but with the apps, my kids are getting a better conceptual understanding.”
These Winograd seventh graders are math stars. Last year, when they were in sixth grade, these students scored almost 82% proficient and advanced on their math TCAPs—the highest score in the county and twenty points above the state average. Middle school math is hard for kids. Statewide and district-wide, math scores dip between fifth and sixth grades, plummet between sixth and seventh, and drop a little more between seventh and eighth. Bressler and her staff hope that the greater engagement and understanding that iPads foster will help Winograd’s middle school students buck the trend.
There’s evidence already that it may be working. Last year, through a Success Foundation teachers’ grant, these students had access to a handful of iPads in math, and their 2013 TCAP scores were higher than they’d been the year before. And just recently, during an algebra unit, the class used a visual manipulatives app similar to Thinking Blocks. According to Mick, the kids did “amazingly well” on the test.